Writing Prompt 2.17.21

What is your idea of a perfect summer?

Summer means baseball, so my perfect summer would be catching a ballgame at every MLB stadium over the course of the season. Add to that a trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and I would call that the dream. Checking off every stadium is a shared dream of many baseball fans, if not all. Checking off every stadium in one season is kind of the ‘Holy Grail’ of road trips for baseball fans.

For the sake of getting some writing in tonight, here is a list of the few stadiums I have visited (some of which are no longer in existence) and some of my favorite memories.

Jack Murphy Stadium

The Murph was my home stadium growing up. My dad chose our first house in San Diego after drawing a circle around the stadium on a map. He had season tickets for most of the time we lived in San Diego, and I went to a ton of games. My favorite part of the stdium itself was the walkway all around the plaza level that allowed you to walk around the whole field while keeping an eye on the game. Currently it is in the process of demolition after being home to the Padres, Chargers, Aztecs and many more events for about 50 years.

The Astrodome

My uncle was the bullpen catcher for the Astros for several decades, and my extended family lived in Houston for almost 60 years, so I had many visits to the Astrodome as a kid. I remember loving walking into the dome after working with my Grandad all day in the Houston heat and humidity, and thinking the 72 degree controlled domw felt like a freezer. I also remember baseballs bouncing off of the Astroturf like it was a trampoline.

Minute Maid Park

The Juicebox has to have the closest seats to the game in all of baseball. The field feels small and you get the sense that any foul ball is gong to come your way. The food is great, no suprises they stick to standard Texas cuisine which is phenomenal. The air conditioned games during the summer are great because the giant windows in left field let in enough natural light that you almost forget that you are indoors. On the rare occasions where I’ve been to a game with the roof open, it feels like a completely different ballpark, which is a great change of pace in the Houston heat. Bonus points for one of the first fields with an intentionallly odd shape that creates unique angles for baseballs to rochochet. And props to them for removing the hill in center field that haunted OF for several years.

Angel Stadium

I still enjoy going to Angel Stadium. The parking there is $10, and by far the easiest stadium to get in and out of. The fans are great, and despite limited options the food is great too. It’s by far the better overall baseball experience in Los Angeles. Me and a group of friends from across SoCal try to catch at least one game there every year. My favorite game was one of Mike Trout’s first home games bac in 2011 or 2012. I’ve never been that immediately impressed with a ballplayer, and am glad that he’s lived up tot he hype. If they would drop the Los Angeles from their name I would definitely be a much bigger supporter of the team. Bonus points for lighting up the halo on the ‘Big A’ after every win.

Dodger Stadium

My first experience at Dodger Stadium was having beer poured on me from the upper decks for sitting in the visiting family section. I was three. So you’ll understand if I’m pretty jaded on this one. I moved to the LA area after college and went to quite a few games there. The positives: the view is a mazing around sunset, easily my favorite place to be in LA at that time of day. Dodger dogs are great. And the field is probably the most immaculately kept grass in all of baseball. The negatives: The traffic getting in and out of the stadium is a nightmare, plan on over an hour coming and going just to get to and from the freeway, then you get to regular LA traffic. Unless you plan on sitting in the high price seats behind home plan on getting harrased and threatened with violence if you’re not a fan of the home team. If you want anyhting besides a Dodger Dog… good luck.

The Kingdome

I was fortunate to move to Seattle in time to see the concrete monstrosity that was the Kingdome. It was a pretty run of the mill multi-use desing from the mid 60’s when concrete was a standard design element. Fortuantely, I got to watch Griffey in his prime, along with a young A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and other local faves like Jay Buhner and John Olerud. I was also fortunate enought to attend some of the 1995 playoff games between the M’s and the Yankees featuring a young Derek Jeter and the rest of their great dynasty.

Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park

On a sunny day, Safeco is probably the most underrated stadium in baseball. The views of Puget Sound are great, the feel of the ballpark is perfect, and the food there is second only to my home stadium. When the weather isn’t great and the roof is closed you feel like you are in giant hangar. It takes a second to get used to, but it is definitely one of the most unique expereinces in baseball. Even when the roof is closed the stadium is open to the elements so you get that genuine Seattle experience. My last game there started out sunny and 72 and ended with enough rain to force the roof closed and me into a northface jacket. Throw in some Ivar’s clam chowder in a breadbowl and I was a happy camper.

The Ballpark At Arlington

Most of my enjoyment of my time there was getting to watch a game with family and friends. I remember the food being over the top and very Texas, which is a good thing. The stadium itself was relatively nondescript, which I ejoyed because it made focusingon the game that much easier. The big question though, is who thought it would be a good idea to put an open-air stadium in the middle of Texas?

Fenway Park

Fenway gets the historical nod because it is, and feels a hundred years old. Fortuantely, it was easy for even this Boston sports antagonist to enjoy a game there. The Green Monster is iconic, and the energy around the stadium is phenomenal. And with there only being two levels, every game is packed with a rabid fanbase. I dare you to not sing along to ‘Sweet Caroline’ while sitting the the centerfield seats a mile away from home plate surrounded by a bunch of construction workers who have dropped their ‘Rs’ at the end of words for generations. I didn’t bother with food there because the pubs around town are the real winners, but there is plenty of beer sold on site to make sure the stadium is turning a healthy profit. Minus point for cramped seats and walkways, huge bonus points for cheap standing-room-only tickets for military.

Old Yankee Stadium

My first trip to Old Yankee Stadium was perfect. By the time the train dropped us off across the street we were lost in a sea of pinstripe jerseys. If there was a Mecca for baseball, this was the place. Monument Park boasted the legacy of the team, and the fans there did the same. I was fortunate enought to catch a Yankees/ Red Sox game there in 07 while that rivalry was still in it’s prime and I’m still looking up some of the words I learned that day. I don’t remember much about the food or concessions, that’s not why you go there. Yankee Stadium was a sacred place with a tough reputation and that is exactly what we saw. And at some point walking around I got hit with who had graced that field. Ruth. Mantle. Maris. Dimaggio. Berra. And the guys that we got to see… Jeter, Posada, Pettite, Rivera. Absolutely unreal.

New Yankee Stadium

New Yankee Stadium is definitely the ‘House that Jeter Built’. Take everything that was great about Old Yankee Stadium, update it, make it a little more grand, and viola, you still have one of the best homes in baseball.

Wrigley Field

Hands down my favorite experience at a classic ballpark. I had one day to spend in Chicago, and knew exactly where I would spend that day, so I purchased a ticket in the ‘Steve Bartman’ row and took the L up to the North Side. Wrigleyville surrounding the stadium is electric, even on a Tuesday at lunchtime before a day game. The lower part of the stadium seems to go up for miles. If there’s a hundred rows below the grandstand I wouldn’t be suprised. The field is immaculate, and the lack of ads around the stadium transport you back into time. The beer vendors there only work one aisle, and they never slow down. The term ‘pure baseball’ comes to mind whenever i think of that stadium.

I sat next to a guy in his 60s and his dad in his 90’s who had season tickets in their family for over 75 years. They knew every single player that had played for the both the Padres and the Cubs. It was just after the time that Tony Gwynn had passed, so we chatted about him, Maddux, and other greats for the whole game. Fortunately, they didn’t harbor much of a grudge for the 84 playoffs where the Padres upset the Cubs, even though they were there for those games. Full disclosure. They bought me a beer for spending my only day in Chicago at Wrigley. And another beer for the story about how I arranged for our trip to Chicago (we were going to a conference in Indianapolis). And another beer as an apology for calling me ‘Mr. Padre’, a hallowed name reserved for Tony Gwynn himself. There was another beer for not moving to cover when it started to rain. After the game they found me coming out of the team store with a Wrigley shirt and invited me to celebrate the Cubs win with another beer at their favorite watering hole in Wrigleyville.

Free beers aside, Wrigley Field is an absolute masterpiece of a stadium, second only to my home field…

Petco Park

Petco Park is the perfect stadium for San Diego. Even when the team is terrible (see the 2010’s) the stadium draws great numbers over the course of the season. The food choices are second to none. The row of local craft brewery options are seeimingly endless. the concourses are open and wide, with amazing views of downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bay. There’s a park in the park where you can sit on the grassy hill and watch a game with a cheaper ticket. The park features a mini diamond for kids to play on, and it all sits under the presence of the statue to San Diego’s hometown hero, Tony Gwynn. The left field foul pole is the hundred year old Western Metal Supply Building, which was renovated and included as part of the park design. I’ve sat in almost every area of the park and there simply is no bad seat. The Stadium was part of a downtown renovation project so heading out to the Gaslamp District before or after a game is a must. Bonus point for riding the trolley to the stadium picking up fans decked out in brown and gold as you go.

Writing Prompt 2.16.21

If you could book a flight tomorrow for anywhere in the work, where would you go and why?

I’ve always wanted to visit Norway, and find the farm where my ancestors came from. Supposedly, I have distant cousins that still work that land that has been in the family since the 1400’s. My grandad did some pretty extensive research after his retirement, and traced our family tree to Bagn Valley, a couple hours North by Northwest of Oslo.

When my grandfather passed a couple of years ago, I was given a bowl that was given to him by our relatives in Norway. It is hand carved, and has a custom lid. There are faded Nordic patterns around the sides, and the year 1555 carved into the bottom of the bowl. It doesn’t necessarily stand out without context, but it is nice to have something that ties the family line together.

Pain, Protests, Bill and Ted, and the Thorn in our Flesh.

Like many others, I’ve been hyper-emotional lately. The 2020 cocktail of Covid 19, quarantine, the threat of war, constant arguing, and our Black brothers and sisters crying out for help have me wearing my emotions on my sleeve. I’m tearing up at the drop of a hat lately. Quiet time to process has become a necessity. 

Last weekend I stood watch at the future site of our church building as planned protests happened a few blocks away at Escondido City Hall. A few days earlier protests down in La Mesa turned to riots. I watched the neighborhood hundreds of yards away from my best friends’ home, a place that I consider a second home still, turn into a riot zone. Places that are a part of my history went up in flames. People that I care about were angry. We were all angry. Sitting there in front of our upcoming church home I prayed for peace, and for a clarity on how to navigate these emotional times.

As I was talking with a friend, the protest turned down the street to our place, and almost immediately turned around and headed back north. Whoever was praying for our place that night… I have a few other prayer requests I’d like to send your way. The night ended peacefully. The protesters did a phenomenal job of speaking their mind, making their presence known, and staying peaceful. The police did a good job of allowing the crowd freedom to roam, and speak their mind with support. 

It is hard to think of anything else right now. That gives me a glimmer of hope that change through policy is on its way. But in the back of my mind there is an underlying fear, and an underlying knowledge that haunts me. 

In the midst of this struggle, the teaser trailer for Bill and Ted: Face the Music was released today. I’ve loved Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure since day one, and have been looking forward to this movie for years. I’ve been following production of the movie on social media, and am excited that the creators of Bill & Ted, as well as the stars of the movie are excited to bring these characters back to the big screen. As I was reading up on the plot of the movie today (no big spoilers, this is all a click away on google) I was taken back by the premise of the movie. In the original film we find out Bill and Ted are destined to make music that brings the world together, and becomes the basis for a utopian society. The new movie finds them 25 years later, wrestling with the fact that this still hasn’t happened. They know their destiny, and have to wrestle and come to grips with the fact that it hasn’t come to fruition yet.

In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about a vision from heaven, and a thorn in his flesh that was given to him to keep him from being conceited. There is much debate over what is meant when Paul uses the term ‘thorn’, but he follows that statement up with this passage;

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I think the throw in Paul’s side is (among other possibilities) knowing what needs to happen, knowing that it hasn’t happened yet, and the struggle of living in the space between Jesus victory over sin and death, and the time until His return when all things are made right.

The truth is we know the answer to the plague of violence that threatens our Black brother and sisters. It is to unconditionally love each other, humble ourselves before each other, and be willing to sacrifice our comforts for the betterment of others. It is for all of us to be filled with Christ, and be steadfast followers of His ways. To put it succinctly, Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbors. 

We believe that Jesus provided us the answer, the example, and the way. We also believe that eventually God will make all things right, that heavenly justice will prevail, that there will be no more tears. And yet here we are, waiting. Waiting for the song that will unite the world, that hasn’t been written yet. 

On any given day seismologists detect hundreds of tiny earthquakes as tectonic plates shift across the globe. And yet we only feel the ones that have intense ‘friction’. We’re feeling those intense quakes today. I’ve heard the term ‘friction’ applied to this time by many pastors. We live in the ‘friction’ between knowing that God’s righteousness will ultimately prevail, and that there is still so much pain in the world. It is our thorn. We live in the torment of now and not yet.

Today we feel that friction. We march knowing the answer to the problem, and knowing that the answer may may not come today. We cry out to the Lord, “how much longer?” and “how many more names will we have to hear?” And we raise our voice while we bow our heads knowing that today was not the day all things were made right, but we will keep on pressing towards that goal, boasting in the power of God despite our weakness.

We keep this arduous adventure moving forward, declaring the words of Christ, “love your neighbor”, and their echo in the famous words of Bill and Ted, “Be Excellent To Each Other!”

Kobe, Comic Con, and the Quest for First.

It’d be disingenuous of me to say I was a huge Kobe Bryant fan. I think he was a phenomenal athlete, but I mostly checked out of the NBA after the Sonics left Seattle, and have only checked back in over the past few years as Giannis has captured my attention. I’d put Kobe on the Mt Rushmore of all time great basketball players, but out of respect to those who are deeply mourning, I wouldn’t call my self a huge fan. So I was a little shocked at how hard the news of Kobe’s death hit me. Over the course of the day, as details came to light and I watched those who are huge fans mourn, my heart began to break for them. I lost my sports hero a few years back, and know that pain is real. 

When Kobe died, I immediately went back to the emotions of losing Tony Gwynn, which took me back to the emotions of losing my dad. Multiply that type of emotional train by millions of Kobe/Lakers/Basketball fans and yes, the death of Kobe Bryant is a catalytic moment for many to collectively mourn together.

I can’t really add anything to the conversation about who Kobe Bryant was. He was a fierce competitor, someone who never settled for second place, and was relentless in his pursuit of being the best. He is definitely someone to look up to, admire, and use as inspiration. From what I’ve read of his work ethic, nobody would outwork Kobe, and that is why he was a winner.

A few years ago me and a friend scored some free passes to Comic Con here in San Diego. It was an odd mix of people dressed up as characters that I’d never heard of, and booths and panels for shows and movies that’d I never knew existed. Me and my friend checked the schedule and the only event that looked remotely interesting was a panel for the Big Bang Theory. We both sporadically watched that show and thought it would be fun to be part of the crowds for the advanced screenings and sneak peeks that Comic Con is known for. As we walked into the room two giant hands grabbed our shoulders and pulled us back. Security asked what we were doing, and we told them the Big Bang Theory panel sounded cool. He pointed at the line out the door and around the convention center and said those thousands of people in line had the same idea. It was a line measured by blocks to see a glimpse of a few celebrities, and the first new scenes from the next season of the show.

Our culture thrives on being first. First to see the sneak preview, first to comment, first to arrive, first to… fill in the blank. We treasure first. 

I say this as someone who has spent the past two weeks with notifications set on my phone so that I can stay updated constantly with Padres trade rumors.

We want to be the first to know. And we want to be the first share.

Watching the Kobe Bryant story unfold over the course of Sunday was like living in a Twilight Zone episode premised on the dichotomy of being first in our culture. Somebody had inside information about a helicopter crash, and a notable name that may have been involved in that crash. They gave that info to a less-than-ethical news site who went on to release that info into the sphere of social media. Friends and family started receiving texts from people hearing this ‘news’. Fast forward to a family finding out about the death of their loved ones from an instagram post.

Picture this cycle: I see a car wreck on our street,  and I see Famous Person behind the wheel so I take a picture. I can sell that picture of Famous Person to a sketchy news outlet  and make some money, or I can post that pic to social media. Either way, that picture is out there and spreading fast. I calculated that my personal social media footprint could potentially reach 100,000 people within minutes with a reasonable conservative amount of reposting etc. 

Meanwhile, legitimate news sources are looking at this photo of Famous Person, and they have to decide wether or not to run with the story because nothing has been verified yet. If they wait, they run the risk of being irrelevant, but have the better chance of getting the facts straight. If they move on the story, they get the chance of ‘breaking’ the news, but they also run the risk of missing important details. In the end, we can see which news outlets choose which approach on which story.

Here’s a real scenario. Kobe’s helicopter crashes on 1/26/2020. On 1/26/2005 a Marine Corps CH53E Helicopter crashed, killing 30 Marines and 1 sailor. So people searching for ‘helicopter crash’ or related terms on that day get information about a crash from 15 years ago. In an effort to share that news first, and probably meaning well they repost the article to social media as breaking news. Only its not really breaking news at this point, its the anniversary of a historical event. On my personal feed, that story was posted 17 times by different people. My dad was a CH53E pilot, and that was his old squadron. I remember the crash well. So you can imagine the “Dear God not again” heartbreak that immediately sets in as I click on the headline. And then the subsequent halt and crash of adrenaline as I read the dateline of the story only to realize that this is not another deadly crash. The heart is pumping, the emotions are revving up, and I’m suddenly blindsided by another reminder of the passing of my dad.

I don’t share that to invoke sympathy, plenty of people were hurting more than I possibly could on that day. I say this as a means to pause.

Maybe we rethink what it means to be first.

On a day where we celebrate and mourn a man who went after being first the right way; hard work, high standards, and discipline, maybe we use those principles to hold ourselves accountable with our obsession with being first.

Is our first the result a product of hard work, or a need to cut corners?

Is our first training us to become a better person or does it tempt us to do the bare minimum?

Is our first the result of our identity, or the basis of our identity?

The Bible tells us there is wisdom in being ’slow to speak’. Jesus told us that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. I think both of those verses have many applications, and this week gives us a prime example of how we can put into affect Godly wisdom. In an age of instant information, may we consider the benefits of not having to be first, especially when it means sacrificing our best.

Looking Forward.

[Post 3/3]

Last week we announced my transition from youth ministry into an Associate Pastor role at New Vintage Church. I’ve received a ton of great feedback, and plenty of questions about what exactly I’ll be doing from here on out.

The short answer is, whatever I can to help our church grow. 

I’m leaving that intentionally vague because one thing I have learned in my years of ministry is that we don’t always know the specifics of the trail, but that shouldn’t preclude us for climbing the mountain that God puts in front of us. 

One of the unique joys of ministry, is that we don’t always know what is in front of us. At least, we don’t know everything in front of us. There has always been a balance of the planned and unplanned, the routine and the extraordinary. As a person who regularly seeks adventure, but draws strength from a solid rock to jump off of, I couldn’t be more excited. 

Since day one at NVC, I’ve worked outside of youth ministry. At first it was out of necessity. We started with zero kids and I wanted to contribute to the team. As we have grown, I have always set aside some ministry horsepower for projects that don’t fall neatly into one area or another. I’ve done graphics, advertising, service projects, counseling, housekeeping, community relations, preached, organized events… the list goes on and on. My new role has a few tent pegs to give me a solid structure, and plenty of free space to engage whatever opportunities God brings our way.

My heart is drawn to helping every ministry at NVC creatively engage our community, and build the Kingdom. The developing plan is for me to take a few ministries under my mantle, develop them, hand them off, and repeat the process. 

I feel like God has allowed me to help build this amazing ship at NVC, and my next role will be helping it set sail on the open waters. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned so far, and use it to pour into the church that has given me so much. My hope has always been a lifetime in ministry, and being able to take this step is an answer to many prayers. 

On a personal level, I’m excited for the chance to push myself in new directions, to become a student of a broader nature, and build upon my foundation in ministry. It’s been a while since I’ve had to push myself this hard to learn, grow, humble myself, and lead. To say that I’m excited about that challenge is an understatement.

Thanks for showing interest in the journey, and thanks for all of the support so far. Seeing what God has done in my first 20 years of ministry has me confident that the next 20 years should be approached with eager anticipation.

One more analogy. A few years ago I heard Dallas Willard say, ”God’s grace is fuel for the soul, and the saint burns through God’s grace like a jet burns through fuel during takeoff”. I’ve always loved that quote, and I’m ready to burn through some fuel. 

Let’s go.