Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Like many, I was shocked and saddened by the recent death of Tim Russert of NBC News. I liked Mr. Russert. Because of my ministry responsibilities, I don’t get to watch “Meet The Press” on Sunday mornings. I knew him from his commentator/expert analyst role on the various outlets of NBC. Also, I knew him from his appearances of the Don Imus radio program. [Imus in the Morning is one of the Baby Boomers’ guilty pleasures.] He was great on that show, standing up to Imus’ insults, always with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He just seemed like a likeable guy that happened to be very smart.

However, this piece will not further extol him nor elevate him to saintly status as many of the media commentaries have done.

His death impacted me because he was only a few months younger than me, a stark reminder of my own mortality. A casual observation I made to my wife about Mr. Russert’s death continues to haunt me. Mr. Russert died suddenly of a massive heart attack in the midst of his busy day, as he was planning for his usual busy weekend schedule.

Upon learning of his death, I flippantly said “That’s the way I want to go!” No lingering illness, no endless treatments, no prolonged hospital stay, and no nursing home indignities to be endured. However, as I’ve thought about that prospect, I have to ask myself how prepared was I to die suddenly that Friday afternoon or this afternoon? I wasn’t really ready then, or now.
I don’t mean this from a spiritual perspective. I am a Christian, I am confident that whenever I die, I will go to be with Jesus Christ for eternity. I am not afraid of death from that perspective.
However, there are other areas of life in which I am not at all prepared.

From a practical point of view, I would not want leave my wife with our financial records as disorganized as they are. I am not a good record keeper. I use the “pile and file” method. It would be tough for her to know what needs to be paid when or how to put together the income tax return. I need to have our financial records in much better order—and keep them that way.

Another practical financial matter is my will. I have a will in my financial papers, but it’s not official. I have never had it registered. That’s another thing I need to get in order and keep it that way.

There are relationships I need to put in order as well. These are seriously unfinished.
For one whose profession includes public speaking, I am not very good at telling people I love how much they mean to me. I don’t tell my wife Karen nearly often enough how much I love her and how precious she is to me. Most of the time, I just talk about day-to-day stuff and keep my feelings to myself.

I do the same thing with my children—who are now adults. It is much easier to talk with my son and daughter about anything other than how much I love them. I am sure they don’t know how blessed I am to be their Dad.

Being nothing if not consistent, I also have unfinished business with my Mom. I had a great childhood but our family was not expressive about our feelings. Before my Dad died of cancer, he and I said our “I love you’s’ to each other and I made sure he knew how thankful I was that he’d been my Dad.

I have not done that with my Mom. I need to find a way to have those same conversations with her without being under the shadow of a terminal illness.

There are people who were once important in my life, who were dear and cherished friends with whom I have lost touch. I would like to reconnect with them but I haven’t done it. In this age of instant communication there is no excuse for not getting in touch. I would hate for them to not know how much their friendship and shared memories mean to me.

On a personal level, there are things that I have wanted to do, that I would enjoy doing, and that maybe would benefit others that I have put off. I busy myself with day-to-day “stuff” that most of the time is urgent but not important. There are people I’d like to meet and talk with, books I’d like to write, places I’d like to see, adventures that I’d like to experience, dreams I’d like to see fulfilled, and fun I’d like to have.

I must confess, in a lot of significant ways, I was not ready to die like Tim Russert on June 13. For me, his death was a wake-up call; it remains to be seen if I’ll just go back to sleep or make the changes in my life necessary to live in such a way that I am ready to die at any moment. I suppose that is what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the woman who taught us a great deal about facing death, meant when she said “It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth--and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up--that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had."

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I am writing this on the morning of March 6. For most of you this date has little special significance. For me it’s almost like a religious holiday. On this date in 1836 a band of less than 200 defenders—which included the famous Davy Crockett— of a broken-down mission turned fort outside of San Antonio, Texas, were overwhelmed by the forces of Mexican dictator Santa Anna. All of them died in the battle. It became immortalized in the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” when the Texas army defeated that same Mexican army six weeks later at the battle of San Jacinto.

Why would this matter to someone from Sussex County, Delaware? The answer is simple: the power of television and movies to influence an impressionable child.

Like most Baby Boomers I was part of the Walt Disney inspired Davy Crockett craze of the mid-1950’s. I had a coonskin cap and I knew [and still do] all the words to “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” However, I was only six years old and I didn’t really understand what happened at the end of the final episode as Davy is swinging his rifle “Ol Betsy” as the enemy soldiers surround him.

Five years later, I saw John Wayne’s movie “The Alamo” in the darkened Ball Theater in Millsboro, Delaware. [My parents let me go to the movies alone at 11 years old with no fear that something would happen.] The movie climaxes with the final battle scene where Jim Bowie, Col. Travis, and Davy Crockett [portrayed by John Wayne] all die onscreen. Those images and emotions were seared upon my soul. I can still remember walking out of the theater stunned beyond description that the Good Guys all died! Something happened to me in that experience.

In the years since, I have read everything I could find on the battle and particularly about Davy Crockett. He became an ultimate hero for me. He embodied the courage to stand up for what’s right no matter how great the opposition and of never surrendering or giving up. That is what the Alamo and Davy Crockett came to stand for in my heart. Some years ago I was able to visit San Antonio. I cannot describe what it was like to stand on the actual ground those men defended, to stand on the very place Davy and his men defended and where they died. It felt like what it must feel like for a Muslim to visit Mecca—a pilgrimage.

Reality can be a real intrusion into such deeply held passions like the Alamo. As one who loves history, my reading has caused me to take a fresh look at the Alamo and Davy Crockett. In fact, it is unlikely that Davy died swinging “Old Betsy” or with his last effort blowing up the powder magazine. Historians generally believe he was captured during the battle and then executed on order of Santa Anna. That doesn’t make his death any less brave just less dramatic. This was depicted in the 2004 film “The Alamo” with Billy Bob Thornton portraying a dead-on Davy Crockett. This film was the most historically accurate of any Alamo film yet it bombed at the box office. Myth always makes better drama.

Almost 50 years removed from that night in the Ball Theater, I am still moved to honor this date. Don’t underestimate the power of media upon youngsters. It causes me to still Remember the Alamo.

Monday, January 21, 2008


[To those faithful few regular visitors to this blog: my apologies for having not posted anything recently. Thanks for still checking in.]

I have always been interested in politics and current events. I was the news junky [before there was the term “geek”] who won the Time magazine current events test in my school. In college I minored in political science. I even toyed with the idea of a career in political campaigning. [Am I glad that God had a better plan for my life than that!] As a minister of the Gospel however, I have always been careful to separate the message of Jesus from politics, unlike too may other well-intentioned Christians.

I tell you this so that you can understand my long-term perspective and interest in politics from which the following ideas come.

The media—print, radio, television, Internet—pride themselves on exposing conflicts of interest. Mike Wallace and “60 Minutes” made their reputations and fortunes exposing conflicts of political, economic, and even religious leaders. Essentially, a conflict of interest is where someone profits or enjoys benefit from something in which he/she has significant influence. For example, a politician who owns a company that gets contracts from a government committee of which he is chairman is a conflict of interest. Media journalists thrive on exposing such situations.
However, these self-appointed protectors of society are overlooking a glaring conflict of interest—themselves. Here we are in the heart of the 2008 Presidential campaign. Many candidates are vying to become the 44th President of the United States. Daily, the various forms of media give us every detail of the competition.
There is endless analysis of the various candidates, who is the leader for the nomination, what the others are doing to try and gain. The candidates feverishly try to get their message to the voters in order to win. The media relentlessly tells us how important this election is to the future of our great nation. They keep us, the people, stirred up and eager to get more information about the candidates.
Where is the conflict of interest?

Who profits from this interest in the election process? According to Adweek, the magazine and website for the advertising industry, $4.5 billion will be spent in the 2008 Presidential election process by the candidates for political advertising. Where do all those dollars go? To the corporations that own and operate the various media outlets! They go to the local television station, the local newspaper, and to the multinational corporations that own the television, print, and Internet giant media outlets.
In other words, the more important the media convinces us that the elections are, the more money candidates will spend to give us the information we demand. The more controversy that is stirred up, the more money candidates will spend. The greater the number of candidates focused upon by the media, the more money they will spend.
The news media would argue they are doing a public service by bringing the message of the candidates to the people. However, they don’t bring every candidate’s message, only those who can afford to purchase the advertising. Besides, corporations like CBS, ABC, CNN, Comcast, and Gannett [publishers of USAToday] do not exist to provide public services—they exist to provide profits to their stockholders.
You see the point. The media directly profits from a process they strongly affect. That is a classic conflict of interest. Who will confront “60 Minutes” and all the others in Mike Wallace fashion? Remember that the next time you see Mike Wallace, Bill O’Reilly, The New York Times, or WBOC [my local television station] tell you how important this election is.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Imagine It Is Your Birthday

Your birthday is special; it’s a time you look forward to celebrating with friends and family. But imagine if this is what your birthday was like.

Imagine it is your birthday. At first just your family and a few friends celebrate it with you. It is a quiet celebration.

However, as time goes on, more and more people get to know you. They decide they want to celebrate your birthday as well. The birthday parties become more elaborate and widespread. Every so often someone comes to your birthday party who doesn’t know you personally but you don’t mind, you’re glad they are having a good time.

As the years go on, more and more people hear about you. Even people in other countries know about you and decide they want to celebrate your birthday as well. They come up with many strange and different ways to celebrate you birthday.

Somewhere along the way, in addition to giving you presents for your birthday, people start giving presents to each other. This idea becomes really popular. Before long, even people who have no idea who you are begin giving and receiving presents on your birthday. They even start making up lists of things they want to be given on your birthday!

People begin having parties on your birthday but never mention you or even give you a second thought. They are having so much fun celebrating by giving presents to each other they don’t even bother giving you any presents. They send out birthday cards to each other that have nothing to do with you.

Then one day, someone says to you “I don’t think we should invite you to the birthday party anymore. You make some people uncomfortable. Please just go away and let us have the party without you.”

Imagine your birthday was like that. How would you like it?

Isn’t that what has happened to Jesus Christ’s birthday? Hasn’t it become a birthday party at which He is not welcome?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Second-Hand Profanity

Recently, my wife and I were having dinner in a restaurant that is near the campus of Salisbury University. It was an early Saturday evening so, not surprisingly, the crowded restaurant had many patrons in their 20’s.

The restaurant was noisy, which was to be expected. What I did not expect was the second-hand profanity made up the ambiance of the restaurant. Several nearby groups of young diners had free-flowing profanity as a major part of their dinner conversation. They were particularly fond of using f-bombs. Not only were these groups co-ed, some of the women were using the f-bombs right along with the guys. These groups didn’t give a second thought to others in the restaurant, including several families with young children.

I really enjoy this restaurant but the second-hand profanity ruined the evening for us. What’s more, since it was several groups using this offensive language, I didn’t go from table to table and ask them to stop—it seems we were in the minority.

I am intentionally using the term “second hand profanity.” Second-hand smoke has been recognized as a real hazard and irritant. Smokers have had to accept the fact that their freedom to smoke doesn’t give them the right to inflict that smoke upon others. I think the same principle applies to second-hand profanity. Someone’s freedom of speech expressed as profanity does not give them the right to inflict it upon bystanders.

As a Christian, I believe that words have great power to either help or harm. Words can inspire or leave scars that last a lifetime. I think profanity is a careless use of offensive words that have no positive effect and in fact have great potential to harm.

According to studies, profanity is becoming much more common and accepted in our culture. The halls of our schools echo with language that would have embarrassed sailors a couple of generations ago. However, being more common doesn’t make it right.

Perhaps restaurants and public facilities need to separate the profane and non-profane. Perhaps there can be a “cursing-free section” in restaurants, theatres, athletic arenas [Ball games are another location where profanity has become not only accepted but expected!], etc. Of course, if we who are offended by profanity are indeed a shrinking minority, we may find ourselves as social outcasts like the forlorn smokers forced outside to grab a smoke.

I would be interested to hear if profanity bothers you and if so how you handle it in public situations. If it doesn’t bother you, I’d be interested in your defense of profanity.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Taxes…The Beatles were right again!
What do the Beatles and Maryland’s current special legislative session have in common?

As a Beatles’ fan for more than 40 years, it never ceased to amaze me how much insight into life these young men from Liverpool showed in some of their songs. Remember how the song “Eleanor Rigby” so eloquently expressed the haunting pain of loneliness?

Well, they knew much about government and taxes as well. Here are the lyrics written by George Harrison in angry response to the abusive taxes in Great Britain all those years ago.
Let me tell you How it will be.
There's one for you,Nineteen for me, '
Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.
Should five percent Appear too small,
Be thankful I don't Take it all.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman. I
f you drive a car,I'll tax the street.
If you drive to city,I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold,I'll tax the heat.I
f you take a walk,I'll tax your feet.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.
Don't ask me what I want it for,
If you don't want to pay some more.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.
And my advice to Those who die.
Declare the pennies On your eyes.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman,
And you're working for no one but me.
This brings me to the current special session of Maryland’s legislature. This session was called because of the “crisis” of a huge budget deficit of $1.6 billion facing the state next year.
[These things are always portrayed as crises, which demand urgent drastic measures. Were there no accountants around when the legislature passed all these spending bills to warn them they were spending more money than the state would take in?]
Now we are told drastic measures are needed. What is their creative response to this “crisis?” More taxes! Income taxes are going up, sales tax is going up, car titling tax is going up, and cigarette tax is going up. [Here’s my prediction for the not-to-distant future: when people stop smoking in large numbers, another budget crisis will cause the desperate search for new taxes to replace lost income from cigarette tax.]
Harrison perfectly caught the attitude of politicians and taxes: “don’t ask me what I want it for if you don’t want to pay some more…you’re working for no one but me.” Enough is enough.
Even though Maryland is effectively a one-party state, I urge you to take a hard look at the candidates you vote to send to Annapolis. If we send enough political leaders with a heart to serve the people, maybe we can change the attitude of the Taxman.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is That It?

Could there be a less fulfilling World Series than the one just concluded by Boston and Colorado? There have been Delmarva Shorebirds-Hickory Crawdads series with more excitement. [These are Single A minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburg Pirates respectively.]

Is it the fact that I’m getting older or has baseball--all professional sports for that matter—lost its magic?

I have been a lifelong baseball fan. I remember when people anxiously anticipated the outcome of World Series games. Long before there were sports bars, you could go into many a local business and the World Series would be on the radio by the cash register. People talked about the games in the barber shops, around the water cooler at work, and in the coffee shops.

How different it is today. Quick, without looking it up, who was the winning pitcher of the deciding game of this year’s World Series?

The biggest baseball news of this Fall has been from the team which didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs, the New York Yankees. The best player in baseball, Alex Rodriquez, opted out of his contract to play anywhere else but for the Yankees. The manager who won four World Series’ championships, Joe Torre, was effectively shown the door and told to not let it hit him in the butt on the way out.

[By the way, Joe is not the only Yankee manager to which such a thing has happened. Charles Dillon Stengel, known to everyone as “Casey” and “The Old Professor, had an even more successful career and a more ignoble departure as Yankee manager. Casey like Torre managed the Yankees for 12 seasons. During that span they played in 10 World Series and won 7 of them. His clubs included Joe Dimagio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. Yet after losing the 1960 World Series in 7 games to the Pittsburg Pirates because of the late inning heroics of Bill Mazeraski, Stengel was dismissed being told by management that he was too old to manage.]

Frankly, baseball and all sports have become overexposed. We know the most intimate details about the players which as a result makes them seem smaller somehow. Cal Ripken may be the last baseball hero. We have sports saturation as a result of cable networks like ESPN which have an insatiable appetite for events to hype and fill their 24/7/365 schedules.

By the time the championship is finally decided, we are weary of it all and just anxious for it to be over. As a result, the World Series is anticlimactic. By the time it concludes, we really don’t care. We lifelong baseball fans ask ourselves “Is that it?”