Thursday, September 29, 2011

What a night...

I've been a baseball fan all my life, but over the last few years that passion has shifted from major league baseball toward college baseball, and in recent years our local minor league team. I absolutely love spending a day or evening at the park, but TV baseball doesn't always grab my interest. But last night was different. Just wow!

If you are so separated from the sports world that you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a summary:

And if you haven't seen the two key moments of the evening, here they are. Keep in mind that they happened only THREE MINUTES APART!

First, the Red Sox lose opening the door for the Rays:

And three minutes, later former Montgomery Biscuit Evan Longoria slams the door:

It truly was the most amazing night of regular season baseball ever. Thanks to cable and, I saw it all. And I'll never forget it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Les Mis: It never gets old

This past Thursday night I went to see the touring production of Les Miserables in Birmingham. I love this musical and try to see it any time I get a chance. The music is wonderful, the sets are spectacular, but more than anything, I love it's a story of grace, redemption, and the importance of standing up for something bigger than yourself. What a contrast it draws between living in the light of God's grace and following the letter of the law without any concept of God's love and forgiveness.

Every time I see it, I get something new out of it. This time, it was a theme that has always been there but had never grabbed me before. When I mentioned to my nephew, he was like, "Really? That was new?" Well, not really new, but it was never at the forefront like it was this time.

You see, after the forgiveness of a kind priest had turned the life of Jean Valjean around, he eventually had the opportunity to show the same to a young woman who had been abandoned and left with a small child. When he failed to protect her from an evil boss, he eventually promised her - on her deathbed - to take care of her child. Her orphan.

It's amazing how life experiences influence what you see. I had never before focused on the fact that the ultimate expression of his faith was taking care of this defenseless young girl and raising her as his own. But in the light of what God has been showing me through my trips to Africa and the people I've worked alongside, it just jumped off the stage at me. The main way we know that Valjean has God's love in him is the way he loves this adopted child.

And so it is. True faith leads us to love others more than ourselves. To take care of those who can't care for themselves. And to obey his command to care for widows, orphans, and the oppressed.

At the end, Valjean is taken to heaven and receives his reward. While it isn't in the play, I can just hear Jesus saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant." What a legacy those who follow his example will leave, and what a reward they will receive.

Les Miserables. A wholly secular vehicle that God has used to teach me and others wonderful life lessons about grace. May it run for another 25 years.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paul is dead?

In a conversation with my nephew Hunter tonight, I learned something I did not know. I'm a little embarrassed I didn't, because I pride myself on keeping up with popular culture. Nevertheless, I didn't know...I didn't know that the rumor of Paul McCartney's death is still alive and well.

The source of the rumor is well known by fans of the Beatles, and it was widespread back in 1969. A good description of how it started and the "clues" is in this Wikipedia article. For months many fans believed he had been killed in an accident, but the rumors were squashed after Paul was interviewed publicly.

I knew all that. But I didn't know that there are many who believe it to this day. They believe that Paul was replaced by a lookalike who had won an impersonation contest and that there has been a massive cover-up ever since. Hunter told me that, for instance, there is a belief that John Lennon was assassinated by someone who was in on the conspiracy to keep the plot quiet. Hunter believes it could actually be true.

We Americans love conspiracies, don't we? JFK - who really killed him? Elvis faked his death and is still alive. (Maybe he's disguised as Paul. Ha!) The Apollo missions were faked and man has never been to the moon. And now, I have learned, there has been a 42 year cover-up of Paul McCartney's death.

I don't know whether any of these are actually true, although I'm pretty dang sure that some of them are not. But what I do know is what it tells me about our nature. We love mystery. We want there to be something out there, something that is true even though it strains credibility. And probably most of all, we want to be insiders on something that other people don't know or refuse to believe.

Where does this desire come from? Why so we love mysteries so much? I can't help but believe it comes from deep inside our souls, from the knowledge that there really are things that are incomprehensible. Things that are so mysterious that we can never explain or understand them...and yet are true. Deep down, we know there is a God whose ways are beyond our understanding and that he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, who performed works that we can't quite get our arms around. There are things that are hard to believe, and yet are true. We know that, deep down.

Is Paul dead? Have we been fooled by a doppelganger for 42 years? Some believe so...I may want to dig a little deeper myself.

Is Jesus alive? Oh yeah. The historical evidence is overwhelming, and it stands up under investigation. And this truth can satisfy our longings. Not because we understand the mysteries of the universe. But because we can know the One who does.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Where is Peter Bishop?

Observer 1: "You were right, they don't remember Peter."
Observer 2: "How could they? He never existed. He served his purpose."
Just four days until we begin to get answers, as Fringe Season 4 commences on Fox. So is anybody besides me anxious to get on with it? Well, just take a look:

So...where IS Peter??

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy birthday, Mom 2011

In 1929, September 16 was the most significant day of the year - the day my mother was born. She was so amazing!

I was reading my post from last year, and it contained the wonderful tribute from my cousin Chip at her memorial service. So, I think the best way I can remember her in this space is to share a link to last year's post. So, here it is:

Link - 2010

I love you, Mom!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A charmed life

When I last left Pennsylvania, Hurricane Irene had swept past leaving uprooted trees, power outages, and some flooding. Two weeks later, I was headed back with my nieces Macy and Haley for the Bama-Penn State football game. Now the state was reeling from Tropical Storm Lee, and flooding was extensive. Flights canceled, roads blocked...a general mess as between 8 and 10 thousand Tide fans were trying to make their way north. Did we make it? Oh yeah; we were determined, even if we had to drive. but we didn't.

Now, I  could make this a very long post by describing all the funny things that happened to us, and how every time we had to make a change to our travel arrangements the new ones were better than the old. We even got to spend alot more time with my PA friends than we originally planned. Better flights. Better lodging arrangements. More time in State College. But two stories illustrate just how amazingly things fell into place. Here they are:

We arrived in State College late Friday morning and went to the Enterprise counter to get our car. As we were filling out the paperwork, the guy asked us where we would be parking the car. I said, "Johnstown". He replied, "Johnstown?? That's almost a two hour drive! You're going to drive there today and then back here for the game tomorrow?" As I explaining that we had little choice (seeing as we had to change our reservation at the last minute due to the floods), he said, "Let me make a call."

Well, it turned out that his wife ran two hotels in town, and the one where she had a room was within walking distance of the stadium. When you factored in the gas of drving back and forth a couple of times, the cost was similar. Yes, that's right! We ended up staying on the edge of campus because we happened to puick the right rental car company.

It was about three hours before kickoff and I was trying to meet up with some friends from Alabama who had driven up for the game. We wanted to hang out, and also I had their game tickets with me. so it was kinda important, you know? Well, if you've ever tried to communicate around a football stadium on game day, you know it can be dicey. Cell towers were not designed to handle 100,000 phones in such a small area.

So one of my friends in that group, Stephanie, calls and leaves a voicemail. Then she texts me. So I try to call her back. After going around with that a cojuple of times, I call an finally reach her. Right as she answers the phone and we greet each other by name, I hear someone call out, "Donnie!"

Well, my first reaction was a little bit of frustration, because I had finally reached her on the phone and now I was going to be dstracted by someone else I knew. I promise I am not making this up. The one who called my name was her sister Stacy, and they were standing not 10 feet away from me. So there we were, in a crowd of over 100,000 people, trying to find each other by phone, and we were in the same place! What are the odds??
It was an amazing weekend, filled with all the things I love about college football season and about traveling.

A whole weekend hanging out with some of my family.

Hanging with friends I don't get to see much.

Great food and a beautiful campus.

And of course the excitement of the game and it was topped off with a Bama win.

 But I never will think about Penn State again without thinking of flood waters, my friends the Greens and the Swanks, messed up travel arrangments that just kept getting better...and "the phone call".

As always...Roll Tide.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Desperation Block"

Boy, do I have a story to tell! This has already been one of the wildest I can ever remember in terms of constantly changing situations and plans. Flexibility has been the key to surviving as Macy, Haley and I have made pour way to State College for the Bama game.

But that story will have to wait for another day...mainly because it isn't over yet.  We're still hear, there's still flooding and we may end up making even more adjustments. So when it's over, a story for you.

In the meantime, I can't help but think back to 22 years ago and my last trip to Happy Valley. It is a sweet memory because it is the only football road trip I ever took with my mother - just her and me. It was so cool spending time with her in that way. So as I sit her in my hotel room on the eve of the game, I am do missing her.

She would love that I'm here with two of her granddaughters though, and that makes me happy.

I still remember the sheer joy on her face in the moments after Thomas Rayum blocked a chip shot filed goal, preserving the Tide's undefeated season to that point. And on mine, not just because we won the game, but because this special trip with my mom was ending so well.

So in memory of her and that trip, I close with this clip of the decisive moment in that game. Mom, I love you.

Here it is:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What comes around...

Years and years ago, in what seems like another life, before I had ever even heard of what an actuary was, I was a teacher. A middle school math teacher for three years. Does anybody even remember that far back? Somebody did.

Last week I was driving home after work and a couple of errands. I entered I-85 from Taylor Road using the circular ramp, and saw a motorcycle cop sitting there. Ok.

About a half mile down the road, I looked in my rear view mirror and there he was, blue lights a-flashing. I looked down at my speedometer, and nope, I wasn't speeding. (I'll pause a moment for the collective shock out there to wear off.) Why was he pulling me over?

As I rolled down the window, the officer walked up and said in a loud voice, "Donnie Manis!" It was the sound of someone greeting an old friend, not someone who was about to send you to jail...or cost you alot of money.

Well, it turns out that this policeman was in one of my math classes way back then. He was surprised to learn that I was not still teaching. So after catching up on old times a little, I asked what I had done wrong. It turns out that I had somehow forgotten to renew my tag in June, and so he stopped me for not having an up-to-date sticker. Oops.

And then he said this to me, and this is the crux of this post: "You gave me a break a couple of times on tests when you could have failed me, so I'm going to give you a break today." No ticket, just an admonition to get the tag updated ASAP. (I did the next day, and you can see the evidence in the photo at the top of the post.)

One other funny thing about the incident. I wasn't sure whether the I had failed to pay the tag or just forgot to put the sticker on - yes, I am that absent minded. So he offered to look it up for me and invited me to go back to his motorcycle and see for myself. Before you know it, a police car pulled up, lights flashing, and parked behind us. I learned something: Since drivers are not supposed to get out of their cars when stopped, my standing there with the officer was a signal to the other one that there might be trouble. So there I was, pulled over, with a motorcycle, a car, and two policemen. I was sure somebody I knew would drive by and think I was in BIG trouble. Fortunately, that didn't happen.

How do you treat people every day? You know, I have no idea what I did specifically that this young middle school student remembered. I'm sure it wasn't out-and-out letting him get by without learning, but I must have shown some mercy. And because I showed mercy, he showed mercy. It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 18:21-35. A servant who was forgiven a great debt turned around and showed no mercy to someone who owed him a little. not good. We have been forgiven the greatest debt ever, and so we should forgive and show mercy to each other.

When we do, God blesses us with his mercy and forgiveness, which is everything we'll ever need. And every now and then, when we do it expecting nothing in return, we are surprised by how it comes back to us.

It did for me, and I am grateful. And I'm renewing my tag on time next year.

Monday, September 5, 2011

And so it begins...

It's finally here - college football 2011. It was a great opening weekend, complete with all the things I love about it. Here are some thoughts on a few games, along with a video for most of them. (Feel free to skip the videos if you're short on time.)

Alabama 48, Kent State 7

A great start to the season, as the Tide displayed a suffocating defense (90 total yards) and an offense with alot of weapons. AJ McCarron appeared to create some space in the battle for the starting QB spot, but we should probably not be too quick to jump to conclusions from one game. The offensive line had too many missed assignments, but they will get better.

More importantly, most of the family (sisters, nieces, father) gathered to watch football, eat too much food, and basically spend all day Saturday together. (Haley - sorry I forgot the sugar cookies.) That's what football Saturdays are really about. It was awesome to start it back up again. Can't wait to head up to Penn State this weekend with Macy and Haley.

Here is a highlight video on the game from UA:

Baylor 50, TCU 48

This may have been the most exciting game of the weekend. Definitely the best 4th quarter. We watched the end of it after a great meal at Outback Steakhouse (a game weekend tradition). TCU, a team that went undefeated last year, came back from 24 down to take the lead, but then Baylor drove to a last minute field. It was awesome!

Here are highlights of key plays from that 4th quarter:

Boise State 35, Georgia 21

Georgia's power ranger uniforms may have gotten most of the pre-game attention (they were ugly), but alot was on the line for college football fans in this game. Could the Dawgs beat the Broncos and spare us all a season of listening to pundits talk about the ridiculous notion of Boise State being in the national championship game?


Boise QB Kellen Moore was impressive and the Broncos are obviously a very good football team. But that's all - a very good football team. Not anywhere close to the best in the nation. Now Georgia is one of my favorite teams - yes, a non-Bama SEC team that I actually like - but they are not currently at the top of the conference or a national contender. I hope they go on a tremendous run the rest of the season (starting with the USCe game this week), but they were 6-7 last year and beating them does not prove that Boise is an elite program. Sorry, Broncos. You are very good, but not great.

SportsCenter highlights from the game:

LSU 40, Oregon 27

The Bengal Tigers provided a bright spot for the conference, and looked physically dominant against a team that played for the national championship last year. For the second straight game, Oregon showed that its finesse offense is no match for the physical defenses in the SEC. LSU plays tough, hard-hitting football and that style is the reason that the conference has five straight BCS titles.


Florida State 34, Louisiana-Monroe 0

Finally, there is alot of buzz in Tallahassee about the program that Jimbo Fisher is building, and rightfully so. Here was a game, much like Alabama's, against a team that the Seminoles were expected to dominate physically. And they did. Hard-hitting, smothering defense produced a shutout and quarterback EJ Manuel had a great day. This is a team that will have a say in the national picture. I can't wait to see the big game against Oklahoma in person two weeks from now (thanks, Steve).

Highlights of the ULM win are in this link (embedding was disabled in youtube).

Yep - a great start to the season...can't wait for next week!