Monday, December 04, 2006

Male Members, Electric Toots, and Other Communion Conversation

There were five of us on the second row at Highland yesterday: Anna Claire, Nicholas, and me - three of the usual suspects. Playing the role of Amy and Andrew, who were home because of Andrew's slight fever, were Anna Claire's two new nutcrackers (one of each gender to maintain the appropriate family ratio).

Once Anna Claire departed for children's church, Nicholas and I were left to ponder the great mysteries of the sacraments and corporate worship. I think we broke new ground, if not wind.

As we partook of the bread, we discussed Christ's body and how interesting it was to consider the condition of that body on Christmas day versus Good Friday. Nicholas noted that even though Jesus was a baby on Christmas, that wasn't the first time he'd come to exist. He'd been alive forever. Apparently, the second grade class has graduated past the felt board story of Noah's Ark.

When we shared the cup, I told Nicholas there was blood at Christmas, too, as Christ was being born because birth is such a difficult and painful experience for the mother and the child. He explained that babies emerge from mommies in the same general area as the place where "men have penises." I confirmed his declaration and dabbed my eyes as I imagined how many other Christ-followers throughout history have had such discussions around the Lord's table. (Answer: none.)

Soon, Jerry Taylor made his way to the stage to preach in place of Rev. Cope, who apparently was too busy blogging this week to whip up a sermon for his needy flock. For those who've never seen him 'til now, Taylor is big, black, and baritone. A formidable orator, he's striking a blow against the idea that a mostly-white church can't have a totally-black minister.

Sometime last year, the boys and I were talking football as we drove home from something or other. (You must admit, this is a compelling story so far. Lots of details and vivid imagery.) We decided Marvin Harrison was the best receiver in the NFL right now. I then said, "There's not really any debate over who the best receiver of all time is." And then to jog their memories, I said, "Jerry..." I, of course, was referring to Rice, but Nicholas blurted, "Taylor!" We howled the whole way home at the thought of our associate pastor running corner routes.

I told Jerry Taylor that story the next Sunday, and he laughed until he cried. Nicholas even drew a picture in church a couple of weeks later of a football player reaching the end zone and the announcer saying, "Touchdown, Jerry Taylor!" So when Jerry stepped into the pulpit yesterday, I whispered in jest, "There's the greatest wide receiver in NFL history," to which Nicholas replied matter-of-factly, "Well, he is black."

Strange as it may seem, that remark gives me hope. Just as I was encouraged when Andrew told me as we watched To Kill a Mockingbird Saturday that he'd never 'til then heard the "n" word. (That's also encouraging because it means he didn't sneak off to LA a couple of weekends ago to hear Michael Richards' stand-up routine at The Laugh Factory.)

To Nicholas, the color of the Jerrys' skin is only significant as a point of similarity between the two men. Kind of like when he observes that Andrew is the only one in our family with blue eyes. I know some believe Utopia comes when we no longer notice our differences. That may be. In the meantime, I'll settle for the recognition of differences so long as they're celebrated.

Finally, as church was ending, my phone vibrated with a text message. Nicholas, who was on my lap at the time, looked at me quizzically, then realized what it was and said, "That felt like an electric toot." Electric toots and Highland's auditorium have one thing in common: no pew.

It was more high comedy than high church. But I cherished the chance to worship a Heavenly Father with my earthly son.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Dr. No: From 007 to 008

Nicholas Boone came into the world eight years ago tonight at warp speed and hasn't slowed down since. Within minutes of being born, he was bowing his back and cocking his head, as if to take everything in. He was crawling at six months, walking at nine, running on his first birthday. He had no idea where he was going, mind you, but he was making great time.

He still runs from room to room inside the house, all over the yard outside, and is a study in perpetual motion. Which could explain why he has 0% body fat and eight-pack abs - one for each year. (He has his mother's lean physique. The only eight-pack I have is a box of Pop-Tarts.)

What he gets from me is a love of sports and comedy, which in the case of most of the teams I root for is the same thing. To understand Nicholas' innate interest in entertaining is to see him in his high chair - couldn't have been 9 months - making fart noises with his mouth in a (successful) attempt to make Andrew laugh. His comedic timing is natural and genius. If he senses he has a hook in you, he absoutely won't let go until you've spit out whatever you're drinking and dropped to your knees out of breath. (If you need something to clean up what you just spit out, perhaps you can use this pink sponge he named "Precious McGee" for reasons we still don't know.)

There's nothing contrived about him. What you see with Nicholas is what you get. We used to joke that Andrew was our Pharisee - because he always strived for perfection - and Nicholas our publican, a smidge more mischievous but immediately repentant, as well. Almost as if he's saying, "I did it, and I'll take my punishment if that's what it takes to be right with you again."

Nicholas is keenly observant. When he was three, he learned the mannerisms of both worship leaders at our church and took turns mimicking each in his own praise services in our living room, even occasionally calling out invisible members whom he felt weren't really giving it their best.

His numerous Nicknames have been well-earned:

Monkey Boy - This has to do with his lemurlike proclivity for latching on to my arm or leg and hang on as I walk.

Dr. No - His first response to nearly everything is negative to the point that even he laughs when we call him on it. He doesn't like surprises. Just tell him where things stand. He'll ask me to record games while he's sleeping, but by the next morning, he'd rather you tell him the score than watch it as if it's happening live.

Staremaster - Nicholas has a great stare. He's constantly soaking things in, trying to process them, all while his eyes stay locked in.

Everything with Nicholas is natural. I've never once shown him how to throw a ball or swing a bat. That all came pre-programmed. When he's not playing sports, he's watching it on TV. Or reading about it. There's a program at his school that rewards students for how many books they can plow through. Nicholas couldn't care less. Give him the latest issue of SI or the morning sports page.

I've always had a sense that Nicholas has, from the day he was born, been a bit unsure of his place, so he's determined to make his presence known. It's worked.

Happy birthday, Nicholas. You are my son, and in you I am well pleased.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Grant Me This

Here's the link to a piece I wrote on last week about the passing of golfer Darren Clarke's wife at the age of 39. I received more than 100 e-mails in the first 24 hours from at least 3 continents and 5 or 6 countries, many from those who had either recently experienced loss or are watching loved ones die now.

It may've been the first column since I started that didn't have at least one reference to Will Ferrell, Austin Powers, flatulence, or all of the above.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Peach

Few things have awakened me from blogging slumber over, lo, these last three months. But then every day isn't August 7, the day our firstborn was first born.

Andrew is 10 today. And this is how it happens, i.e. the passing of time. He'd never learn to drive or graduate from high school and college or get a job or get married or give us grandchildren if he never turned 10. So I'm preemptively blaming all of my future and wistful reminiscences of his childhood on today.

I remember everything that's ever happened to Andrew.

The night he was conceived. (Sorry, no details other than to say Amy was there, too.)

The time a couple of weeks later when Amy sang "Breath of Heaven" in a Christmas musical at church, completely unaware that she was, like Mary in the song, carrying a baby boy.

The day he was born. Morning had broken along with Amy's water. Several hours later, we were in the delivery room at a hospital in Dallas named for the same St. Paul who once told the church in Galatia he so desperately wanted them to be like Christ that it was like he was himself experiencing the pains of childbirth. (Out of sheer self-preservation, I opted against quoting that particular passage to Amy in labor.) Paul wouldn't have lasted two contractions as a hospital chaplain before a postpartum mommy mob strung him up by a giant Philippian tube and took turns giving him a homemade epistle-otomy until he retracted every reference which dared to suggest he had the first clue what it was like to have a mass of humanity rearrange his indoor furniture and emerge from his loins.

As Amy endured the literal travails of childbirth, I cheered her on vigorously, if not truthfully. When the doctor said he could see the top of Andrew's then-gigantic melon - I have no idea whom he got that from - I took one peek and grabbed a Snickers because it was obvious, in my medical opinion, that we weren't going anywhere anytime soon. But I figured what Amy didn't know wouldn't hurt her, which was good because what she did know was hurting plenty. As she labored, I kept cheerleading, "You're doing great! You're almost there!" All while thinking our son would be in kindergarten before we got him out of there. But he made it safely and promptly aced his first exam, the APGAR, which is taken 10 minutes after delivery and measures Activity, Pulse, Grimace, Appearance, and Respiration. If they'd have given me the same test, I'd have flunked.

I remember the first night at home when we'd determined we might as well get him used to his crib instead of letting him sleep in our room. No use in coddling the boy. After about two hours of being good parents, we caved and brought him into bed with us where he proceeded to show us what he thought of our tactics by detonating his bowels all over the sheets as we slept.

I remember thinking my dad's favorite baby moniker, "Peach," fit Andrew's plump, infant exterior and fuzzy noggin nicely and calling him that from then on.

I remember when he was 2 and forgot the term "threw up," instead telling us he "dropped out" and one time later, in mid-retch, reassuring us, "It's okay. I'm happy." The happy hurler.

I remember being at the dinner table when he was 3 and prayed, "Thank you, God, for drinks," which wasn't funny until Amen when we realized we'd forgotten to pour him one.

I remember when he learned to read. At 4.

I remember the first time he saw Madagascar. The map, not the movie. He was maybe 5 when he got one of those talking globes with the stylus you point to find out about this place or that. Sitting at a restaurant with Amy's folks, he said, "Papa, did you know the capital of Madagascar is 'Antananaweevo.'" (I won't bother to give the correct spelling. Trust me, it wouldn't help.) Our friends, Texas State Representative Bob Hunter and his wife, Shirley, were seated nearby. She turned, looked at Andrew incredulously and said, "Did he just say what I think he said?" We're afraid so.

He's both absent-minded - whistling to himself as he steps over his backpack, which Whistler's Mother puts by the door so he won't forget - and a professor of both facts and faith, having never met a man, woman, or child with whom he wouldn't be happy to share a story and get to know.

He gorges on chocolate and music and literature, sometimes simultaneously. He treats people kindly for no other reason than simply their humanity. He adores his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, preferring nothing above everyone being together. His best friends are the brother and sister who share his room. He respects his mother and honors his father.

I've witnessed him willingly give away his best toys to a family who'd lost everything in a fire. I've seen him laugh 'til he cried and cry when his heart was tugged. And I've heard him a million times sing at the top of his lungs to a God he believes is good and loves him dearly.

He's not perfect, chiefly because he half-came from me. But he is 10. Today.

This is my son, Andrew. And in him, I am well pleased.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What do a nearly naked Britney Spears and a nearly neutered grizzly bear have in common? You guessed it: the 61st U.S. Women's Open.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

For those of you spewing invective in my general direction for not yet offering part two of our baseball trip up north, I'll refer you to the apostles Peter and Paul:

1) "With God, a day is like a thousand years."
2) "Equality with God isn't something to be grasped."

So look for part two no later than June of 11006.

In the meantime, you'll have to settle for my musings on the just-completed U.S. Open, as first posted on

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mudders Day: Statue of Limitations, Bronx Cheers, and Other Dirt From a Wet and Wild Weekend Abroad

The great American priest, Father James Keller, once wrote, Every mother has the breathtaking privilege of sharing with God in the creation of new life. She helps bring into existence a soul that will endure for all eternity. Amen.

Sadly, Father Keller died before the advent of Frequent Flier Miles. Otherwise, I'm sure he would've added something to the effect of, "So for cryin' out loud, take the occasional weekend off already." So Amy and I did. On Mother's Day weekend. Thus enjoying the equally breathtaking privilege of pawning off on Nana and Papa the three lives she helped create. (Before you object, remember those souls she brought into existence will endure for eternity. What's three days?)

Amy's always wanted to go to Fenway Park in Boston, so we made plans to be there when the Red Sox hosted a weekend series against our beloved and beleaguered Texas Rangers. When we realized the Rangers' road trip continued in New York, we figured we'd do a little Texas two-step on over to the Big Apple.

Two round-trip tickets to New York? 50,000 AAdvantage Miles.
One night at the LaGuardia Courtyard? 20,000 Marriott points.
Having the smoking hot mother of your children insist you take her on a whirlwind tour of American League baseball shrines? Priceless.

Little did we know, there would be a worm inside that Big Apple and a fly in our chowder.

We alighted Saturday afternoon at LaGuardia (Italian for "9 dollar hot dog") International Airport, which I believe was named for the former mayor of New York City, Fiorello H. La Airport. No sooner had we landed than I learned the Rangers game in Boston, still six hours away from the scheduled starting time, had already been called because of rain. Not encouraging.

Undaunted, we hopped in our rental car, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, and headed straight for Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan where we hoped to catch the ferry over to Liberty Island to see the Lady and her Lamp. After finding a parking garage a couple of blocks from the ferry, we surrendered our keys to a guy who knew enough English to say, "Don' worry 'bout a t'ing." Which immediately made us worry.

The walk through Battery Park was incredible. Not a cloud in the sky, temps in the 60s. Tourists, locals, and sidewalk merchants enjoying each other's company and soaking in the sun. The smell of fake Rolex in the air...

Rounding the sidewalk, we saw her. Lady Liberty. For so long, I thought she wasn't real. That she was just some Hollywood fabrication like the Lunar Landing and Paris Hilton. But there she was, across the Hudson River, perched proudly out in Upper New York Bay. We had to see her up close, so we got in line for ferry tickets at Castle Clinton. With only 20 people ahead of us in line, the bad news made its way backward like a New York cabbie's multiethnic body odor: no more ferry tickets today. Lady Luck, she wasn't.

With our initial plans thwarted, we cried in despair, Is there anything else to do in this city? Turns out, there was. As Jack Lemmon replied in The Out-of-Towners when his wife couldn't get over the size of the city, "Of course it's big. Why do you think they call it New York?"

We walked north, which we felt was a strong tactical maneuver, seeing as how the only thing south was the East River. Before long, we'd reached Ground Zero. There aren't really words to describe how you feel when you stand on that spot, so I won't try. Except to point out an interesting sign on the fence which fronts the on-going construction of a memorial on that sobering sidewalk. The placard asked visitors not to give any money to peddlers or panhandlers out of respect for the sanctity of that site. Apparently, one man's sanctity is another man's supper. There were at least a dozen town criers and t-shirt salesmen, all with their mouths open and their hands out.

With the rest of Manhattan there for the taking, we went underground to hop the #1 train headed north to 42nd Street and Times Square. What a gas. Literally. The neon lit up the city block otherwise darkened by the sun-shielding skyscrapers pari passu. We had a slice of original New York pizza, dodged the trash bags on the corner, strolled through Central Park, and generally acted like tourists for the better part of the afternoon. (That's me with the big head and my mouth open. No, you're looking at Shrek. I'm the one with my hand up.)

As evening approached, we made our way back to the car - it was there! - and began the four-hour journey to Beantown. We thought we were heading to Massachusetts; we wound up instead in a State of Emergency.

(Coming soon, part two)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Borderline Christians, Cups, and Other Protective Measures

Golfer Fred Funk's caddy, Mark Long, does a dead-on impersonation of 5-time major champion and dashing Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. One of Long's best routines is of Seve recounting a disagreement with his brother, Vicente, who was carrying his bag during one particular round at The Masters. Mark-as-Seve says, "We were on de 15nce hole. My broder, Vicente, say, You hit 5-iron. I say, No is a 4. He say, 5. I say, 4. Finally, I say, Okay. I hit 5-iron straight into de water. I make a 10. Vicente? He no longer my broder."

I feel a little like Seve today as I digest these disturbing results of a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, as reported by USA Today.

*64% of white evangelicals agreed with the statement, "Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care."

*51% of white mainline Protestants agreed with this: "The growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values."

If these results are accurate, all I can say is Pew. And I hereby renounce my whitehood, as well as my association with anything mainline or remotely evangelical. In the true spirit of a Protestant, I protest.

Although I'm not particularly loco about aligning myself with Rev. Sam Rodriguez either, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who wants amnesty for immigrants. He said his constituency supports traditional family values such as heterosexual marriage and a ban on abortion, so he expects reciprocal support - that traditional political value - in this case from white evangelicals.

Since when did entitlement, protectionism, and back-scratching become Beatitudes? I don't care where you stand on this very complex issue, please quit identifying yourself as a God-follower if you're primary concern is shooing away the pests trying to infest your big honkin' slice of American pie.


Another poll shows President Bush's approval rating having plummeted to historic lows. According to the latest numbers, it's now at only 32 percent, down from 50 percent just last December.

But before you Bush bashers rub it in, keep in mind that the margin of error in that poll is 3.1 percent. That means his approval rating could be as high as 35.1. So there.


Nicholas (7) is now the proud owner of his first protective cup, having discovered the hard way the necessity of said apparatus during his first stint as catcher for his Little League baseball team (The Thunder). Cup acquisition is one of those time-honored rites of passage that young boys have experienced for centuries, right up there with reaching the final level in Star Wars Battlefront on Xbox.

The other day, Nicholas was having trouble putting his cup and the attendant slingshot-style holster on before his game, and Amy wasn't able to provide much in the way of experiential advice. This conversation ensued:

Amy: Keep in mind, I really don't have any idea how those things fit.

Nicholas: Didn't you ever play softball?

Amy: Yes, but I never wore a cup.

Nicholas: Why not?

Amy: I don't have a penis.

Nicholas: Oh. Right.

Considering how, um, "self-aware" Nicholas has been getting in and out of the bathtub all his life, I'm not exactly sure whether the cup will prove more protective against outside forces or from himself. We'll see.


The Academy Awards needs to add an Oscar for Best Grimace in a Movie Preview. Harrison Ford and Denzel Washington would be the only nominees each year.


There's a guy I've known off and on for nearly 20 years who's asked me for money every time I've been with him. It's very annoying. And a good reminder of how people feel when I ask them to give to Continent of Great Cities.


I don't know anyone under 50 who uses a handkerchief.


I made a New Year's Resolution to make sure I didn't agree with Don Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, on a single societal issue. But, alas, we came down on the same side on the utterly ephemeral TV show, Book of Daniel, which was cancelled after just a couple of episodes. Albeit for different reasons.

Wildmon was livid about the program's portrayal of a priest who didn't seem to care that his kids were either gay, horny, and/or selling pot. I, meanwhile, was furious over the show's suggestion that Christians are such bad actors.


I'm concerned at some of the recent reports I've seen of Saddam Hussein screaming incoherently and going on a hunger strike. This could really damage his credibility.


The other day, my friend, Bill, said, "You know those black and white billboards that are supposedly God talking to us, like 'They're commandments, not suggestions?' I'd like to put up one of those signs and have it read, 'Hey, Abilene. Why so many churches?'"

Good question. The answer? You can only put so many white, mainline, evangelicals in one building.


Finally, I take my equally-enormous size 8 hat off to Kevin Mench, the Texas Rangers slugger, who Friday night became the first right-handed batter in Major League history to homer in 7 consecutive games. The streak began last Friday after a specialist suggested the foot problems he'd been experiencing were due to the fact that he needed to wear a size 12 1/2 shoe instead of a 12.

Some guys might want to consider getting their cups resized. Seeing as how approximately 112 percent of all baseball players on television still get caught in the act of "adjusting themselves," it appears Nicholas wasn't the only one who learned how to strap it on from Mom.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Halfway Home

The first two rounds of The Masters are in the books, and I'm in my underwear. But perhaps even more important to golf fans, Chad Campbell is in the lead by three with each of the top five players in the world under par and on his heels. Tiger Woods, who'll begin the weekend five shots in arrears, couldn't be happier that my arrears are here and not there.

I've attended four of the previous 10 Masters "tunamints." Tiger's 0-for-4 with me standing on the premises and 4-for-6 when I'm not. That's a stat exclusive to premium subscribers to the boone box, which is currently defined as any organism which - however unwittingly - stumbles onto this site and/or isn't force-fed my columns via e-mail. So my money's on Tiger, despite the fact that it looks like he's putting with a fly swatter these days. The only thing worse than the pace of his putts right now is his inability to read greens. It's like his caddie isn't Stevie Williams but another Stevie...Wonder who?

But nobody's perfect. Take my in-laws. Please! (rimshot) Seriously, these people are Godly, brilliant, witty, and productive. It's their reproductive skills I'm questioning. And not their capability of progeneration - even the O.J. jury couldn't ignore the existence of three children - but their carelessness. Sure, they had the prescience to beget their firstborn (and my beloved) in Boone County, Missouri. Very clever. But conceiving a child nine months before Masters week is, well, inconceivable.

But, alas, a lass they delivered, Amy, on April 7, 1970, the Monday preceding that year's Masters. It's fitting the Green Jacket went to Billy Casper that week 'cause I haven't had a ghost of a chance - friendly or otherwise - of reconciling these two events ever since.

For me to make The Masters is to miss Amy's birthday, and vice-versa. I know what you're thinking, This is no contest! Any numbskull knows there's only one place to be! But you have to understand how much Amy enjoys having me home for her birthday.

(Yes, that was a joke. No, Amy didn't laugh.)

My first Masters was 10 years ago, the year Greg Norman went in to the final round with a 6-shot lead and came out with a 5-shot loss. But no one blew a bigger advantage that weekend than I did. Told of a lottery conducted by Augusta National that would select about 50 media members to play the fabled course the Monday morning after the tournament, I threw my name into the hat. Sure enough, the hat spit me back out as one of the lucky winners.

Never mind the fact that I didn't have my clubs with me. Or shoes. Or even a single tee. (Someone told me later that I did have balls, but I'll get to that in a moment.) About the only thing I knew I had for sure was a job interview at CNN. On Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. In Atlanta. Not to mention a flight back to Dallas where we lived at 6.

My winner's envelope included specific instructions to arrive at the club at 6:45 a.m., sharp and ready to play. Perfect! I'd rented some clubs from a nearby golf shop and bought the rest of the stuff I needed Sunday night. And with a 6:45 a.m. appointment, I could play all 18 holes and still have plenty of time to drive the two hours to Atlanta for my interview.

That's when my Master plan began to fall apart as completely as Norman the day before. Apparently, I wasn't the only one with a tee time that morning. When 8 a.m. came and went without my name being called, I got a sneaking suspicion this wasn't going to end well. I called the head of CNN Sports - back when they had both a head and a sports department - to ask if I could push the interview time back a couple of hours. He said 2 was his last open appointment of the day and asked why. When I told him I had a chance to play Augusta National, he told me to forget about the interview and take the golf. I told him I appreciated the offer but that I'd keep the appointment. Looking back, that's probably when I lost the job.

I still had hopes of a quick 18...until the clock struck 9. By 9:30, I figured the best I could do was squeeze in nine holes. They were sending groups off the 10th, but at 9:30, they said I could go right away off 1 or keep waiting to play the "second nine" as it's known at the National. I took the former and let it rip. It was everything you would imagine a dream round to be. Except for the rental clubs. And the cheap shoes, fresh out of the box just 3 hours earlier. And the otherwise makeshift assortment of necessities.

I played pretty well. Hit a bunch of good shots. Soaked it in. And, after nine holes, walked away. Ran, actually. I high-tailed it to Atlanta, only to have my interviewer at CNN greet me with a handshake and this, "Great to meet you. Thanks for coming by. We'll call you if we need you." (Apparently, they never did.)

I left his office with my high-tail between my legs. After stumbling around CNN Center for a couple of hours, I made my way to the airport and finally home.

Hindsight is 20/20 - for example, my in-laws learned from their poor judgment and had their remaining progeny in August and September - and love is blind. Had I known that my interview would consist of a handshake and a validated parking sticker, and/or that CNN wouldn't even have a sports department five years later, of course I would've stayed and played. But I owed it to my wife (who, after all, during her birthday week had given me the present of my absence) to keep that interview and hopefully get a better job.

Eight years later, the day after the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, I skipped the back nine of media day to catch the only flight that would get me home on my second son's first day of school. With that, I moved halfway toward, yes, a "Walkoff Grand Slam." (I can't wait to stiff the U.S. and British Opens.)

As crazy as it sounds, I'd make those same decisions again, regardless of whether such small sacrifices were ever rewarded. (And one of them was in October 2004 when a magnanimous friend and Augusta National member hosted my Uncle Pat and me for 45 unforgettable holes. If you're keeping score, that was two full rounds plus an extra tour of the second nine...perhaps the one I left behind so many years before.)

My greatest reward isn't being home with my beloved on the day we celebrate her birth and life but having the privilege of simply sharing my life with her every day.

Happy Birthday, my dear. I'll get dressed now.

Friday, March 31, 2006

From Nancy...

This arrived a few hours after I e-mailed Nancy Grace the letter you read in the previous post. I was touched. This is how honest dialogue happens. It's about two sides sharing their hearts, then trusting one another to receive those feelings in the spirit in which they were intended.

I think Nancy and I made a little breakthrough, and I'm sure neither of us will be the same. What do you think?

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

To Nancy...


Rubel Shelly is a personal friend of mine. He is a man of great intelligence, having taught courses at both Vanderbilt and Duke Universities on subjects I didn't even know existed. He is also one of the most gentle servants I've ever known.

I wish you could know him outside of the monitor in which he appeared on your show.

I think there could come a time in which you'll want to ask his forgiveness for the way in which you treated him in front of a national television audience.

What's great is that he not only will forgive you, he probably already has. When you follow Christ, how can you not forgive a fellow human being when you realize how much you've been forgiven by a holy God?

Those of us who're members of the churches of Christ now ask your forgiveness for not having made a powerful enough impact on our world that you would know us by our love, our mercy, and our service to others. On our best days, we mimic our Lord. On our worst, we fight over petty issues that really don't make much difference in people's lives.

My prayer is that you'll forgive those of us who may've responded to you in anger or bitterness for the way in which Rubel was treated. Our Lord compels us - by his words and by his actions - to return blessing to those who mistreat us.

So our final prayer is that the love of God and the peace of Christ will dwell richly in your heart today.

Grant Boone

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

4 Anna Claire, On Her Birthday

A special day calls for a special treat, so Anna Claire and I stopped at Starbucks this morning for a kids hot chocolate and some coffee cake en route to Stepping Stones, her preschool. Thankfully, the turning of the calendar hasn't untwisted her tongue...

Can we thtop at Thtawbuckth on the way to Thtepping Thtoneth?

Looking at it in type, it might appear my daughter is Tweety Bird. It's actually much cuter. Especially when I'll say it like she says it,

Do you want to go to 'Thtawbuckth?'

And she'll say, Not 'Thtawbuckth,' THTAW-buckth. Like, Come on, Dad, you know that's not how you say it...

I hope we never quit having conversations like the one this morning:

AC: I'm four now.

Me: Yes you are.

AC: So you can't tell me I can't turn four anymore.

(That's our little game. I'll say, I may not let you turn four, you know, and she'll say, You have to; that's the way God made me! Except she doesn't use semicolons when she speaks...)

AC: Is this February 28th?

Me: Yes it is. This is the day you were born.

AC (in a funny voice but partially to double check): But I'm not borned today. Today, I'm four.


AC: Does 'A' make any other sounds?

Me: Well, 'A' makes the 'ay' sound, like 'Amy.' It also can make the 'a' sound like 'Anna Claire,' and it can make the 'ah' sound like 'father.' I am your father.

AC: That's what Darth Vader says when he's on the dark side - I am your father - to that man on the good side. Remember when he takes his helmet off and he can't breathe?

Me: Yes.

AC: He's good then, but then he dies.

Me: Right.

AC (pointing in excitement): Thtawbuckth!!!

Start getting your dowries together now, boys. Here's a girl with a sky high foo-foo quotient and a predilection for the pink and poofy who's also - thanks to her two older and beloved brothers - fluent in Star Wars, Power Rangers, army guys, and baseball (during Rangers games last year, Ith that Alfontho Thowiano?).

My favorite regular exchange between the two of us:

Me: Daddy looooooves that girl.

AC: That goll luuvth haw Daddy.

My favorite move of hers right now: how she's constantly hiking up the back of her drawers because they won't stay up on her little hiney.

My favorite daily routine: her giggly excitement before bedtime when she announces that she's going to sleep on her sleeping bag in the brothers' room. As if she hadn't done the same thing every night for the past year and a half. When we talk about the best and worst things about their day each night, she always says, Sweeping wif the bwutheth (sleeping with the brothers).

When Amy was pregnant with Nicholas, I had trouble imagining how I was going to find room in my heart to love another child besides Andrew. And then I did. When we were expecting Anna Claire, everyone said to prepare for a little girl to wrap me around her finger. And it's happened.

I think the main reason daddies love their girls - not more, but differently than their boys - is so simple that it's actually quite profound:

Guys like girls. And guys really dig it when girls like them back. That's why Anna Claire and I have worked for these four years.

Daddy loves that girl. And for now at least, that girl loves her Daddy.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Son (And Daughter) Of Sucker Punched

We told the kids about Kerri's passing Wednesday night as they were going to bed. Thursday morning at breakfast, we discussed it again. They asked some questions, reminded me that Kerri was in heaven, and ate quietly for maybe 90 seconds. Then commenced with the business of being 9, 7, and about to be 4.

I was not impressed with their grieving. I wanted them to be more somber, maudlin. I would've settled for pensive. Goofy was not what I had in mind.

They have no idea of what lies ahead for Carlee and Jolee, Kerri's daughters who are roughly the same ages as the oldest two of them. Of what it will be like to grow up without the mother who's raised them, been everything for them all their lives. They just know Kerri's where she's always wanted to be. That's enough for them.

Ignorance. Bliss.

Then I thought about how I respond to the news of genocide, the worldwide AIDS epidemic, entire cities being wiped out by natural disasters, widespread poverty, corruption, evil. About the only difference between my reaction to those things and the kids' response to Kerri's passing is how long I eat quietly before commencing the business of being 36. I rarely wait 90 seconds. It's not that I don't care. It's more like a feeling that God will ultimately sort everything out.

Ignorance. Bliss.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sucker Punched

I've been had. All those preachers. All those sermons. All that nonsense about asking, knocking, believing, supplicating, persisting, petitioning, praying, pleading, anointing with oil, jumping through hoops in hopes that God would do what you begged Him to do.

It's a bill of goods. They were selling. I was buying.

I bought the crock about getting what you asked for. So I prayed and begged and pleaded and pounded on my neighbor's door at midnight for my friend, Kerri Lane, to be healed of her cancer. She died tonight. At 44. She leaves two daughters, 9 and 6. And a giant crater in the heart of the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas.

I'm fine with God being omnipotent, omniscient, all the omnis. I'm fine with Him knowing what's best and having ways that aren't my ways. I'm fine with the fact that there's a time to die and that all things work together for good for those who love Him. I'm fine with all of that. I believe He still knows what He's doing. And that He's still good. And that Kerri's with Him right now.

But don't trot out those texts about mustard seeds and moving mountains any more. They're not true. Jesus must've meant something else. Something more mysterious. Something. But definitely not that you'll get what you ask for.

It's my fault for believing it. It's absurd to think that God would alter the course of human events because I want something. Half the time I don't even know what I want. In this case, I did know. I wanted Kerri healed and to live to an old age and to raise her daughters and serve us Communion and keep feeding the hungry and reminding us by her example that our job is to live out the mission of Christ.

That's how she lived. And died. To my knowledge, she never asked God to heal her if it meant superseding His will. She wanted what He wanted.

Right now, I can't fathom how a mother being taken from her daughters - ostensibly what He wanted or at least allowed - accomplishes anything remotely equivalent to her being miraculously healed and permitted to continue being Christ incarnate to everyone she touched. But I even understand the idea that I can't understand it.

What I can't understand is how all those preachers could tell me with a straight face that all I had to do was ask. If it's true that there's a sucker born every minute, then I've truly been born again. No more.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Steal City: Officiating The Pitts, Gives Steelers Super Edge

Okay, I was wrong. Make it 21-10 Steelers. I was never good with math. But these numbers tell the sad story of the game: Seattle had 86 yards of offense and a touchdown nullified by referees' whistles in its Super Bowl XL loss to Pittsburgh. An Xtra Large number when you consider that in addition to the 86 positive yards taken away, the penalties moved the Seahawks backward another 70. More than 150 yards difference in the biggest game of the year.

The men in Black and Gold weren't nearly as formidable as the ones in black and white.

It wasn't just that Seattle was whistled 7 times to Pittsburgh's 3 (or 70 yards to 20). It was when the flags flew. A couple of 18-yard completions deep into Steeler territory (one at the 1 and the other at the 23) were wiped out, as was a 34-yard punt return across midfield. Throw in the highly questionable ruling on Ben Roethlisberger's (pronounced "'s") end zone dive - which from no camera angle showed the ball ever crossing the goal line - and the ridiculous 15-yard penalty on Matt Hasselbeck for the unconscionable act of tackling Ike Taylor following Taylor's 4th quarter interception, and you have all the makings of a Let's-Don't-Ruin-This-Jerome-Bettis-Homecoming/Retirement-Love-Fest-By-Letting-The-Other-Team-Up-And-Win-This-Thing conspiracy theory that'll have Seahawk fans sleepless in Seattle all summer.

I can't remember a meaningful game decided by 11 points that seemed like it could have gone the other way by at least that many.

I'm happy for Bill Cowher. He's won me over through the years with his passion, his system, and his love for his wife and three daughters. He deserved a championship. Ditto for Bettis. The Steelers certainly made some big plays, none more so than Antwaan Randle El's reverse heave to Hines Ward with 9 minutes left to provide the final margin of victory.

Seattle kicker Josh Brown didn't help by Vanderjagting two long, but makeable field goals. And Seahawks' coach Mike Holmgren - while getting big ups for his taste in spouses (his wife, Kathy, and their oldest daughter missed the game because they were on a medical mission trip to the Congo) - is anything but a sympathetic figure in the aftermath thanks to a shockingly uninspired coaching performance. Seattle ran its hurry-up offense at the end of each half with all the efficiency of an Edsel, blowing precious opportunities to score in each case. And if you're a Seahawks fan, can you really spend the offseason satisfied with Holmgren's decision to punt from his own 48 on 4th and 13 with 6:28 to play and Seattle down 11? At that point, your hopes are hanging by the last thin thread on the Go Daddy girl's spaghetti strap. If you make it, you've got plenty of time to score, kick off, force a punt, and get the ball back with a chance to tie or win the game. Even if you don't get a first, you either force a field goal or a punt, and you're still within two scores. Punting in that situation seemed so...decaf. And 'Hawks fans will have a latte time to wonder "What if?" If that's Seattle's Best, I'll pass.

Still, the Seahawks weren't their own worst enemy in their maiden Super Bowl voyage. The refs played that role. Even if a couple of the calls were technically correct, the infractions were nothing worse than you see on nearly every play of every NFL game. Worse yet, this crew breached the fraternal order of referees' one and only rule:

Call Such A Good Game That No One Notices You're There. Instead, head ref Bill Leavy is now to Seahawks fans persona non grata. And make that a Venti with extra foam at the mouth.

Actually, Pittsburgh probably had some good fortune coming after nearly having its checkered flag at Indianapolis taken by one of the worst rulings in NFL history. Kind of like trebled damages. You get the win plus two more. And it was in Detroit that another official used a single coin to take the Bus for a ride. On Thanksgiving Day 1998, Bettis called tails at the overtime coin flip, only to have referee Phil Luckett rule that he said heads. It was tails, the Lions got the ball to begin OT and promptly went downfield for the game-winning score.

An official can sleep off a Turkey Day blunder. (That particular fowl, after all, is known for its natural sedative.) But blowing the biggest game of the year by constantly interrupting the flow of the game and sucking the life out of one of the contestants by overofficiating is an entirely different animal: a goat. One that will no doubt be roasted over the open spit of Seahawks fans forever.
Pittsburgh 24
Seattle 10

Monday, January 16, 2006

After Further Review...I Love Lamp

This weekend's NFL playoff games answered a number of important questions, not the least of which was: What would it look like if Brick Tamland, weatherman for the Channel 4 News Team, was the league's head of officiating? ("I ate fiberglass insulation. It wasn't cotton candy like the guy tummy itches.")

In a stunning series of incompetence that amounted to their own version of a three-team parlay, NFL refs gave Denver a touchdown on a bogus pass interference call against New England's Asante Samuel; took a legitimate interception away from Pittsburgh's hirsute hitman Troy Polamalu (pronounced "polamalu"); and failed to penalize Chicago for delay of game, thus penalizing the Bears when Rex Grossman (pronounced "polamalu") was intercepted on a play that should've never happened. Good work, men.

In a statement that appeared to have been written by Colts' QB Peyton Manning, the league's real head of officiating, Mike Pereira, fessed up...that someone else made a mistake. Pereira acknowledged that referee Pete Morelli botched the Polamalu play and announced that all four officiating teams from this weekend will be reassigned to the Memoir Research Division at Random House Publishers where they will edit all of James Frey's future manuscripts.

As for Manning, his psyche must be in a million little pieces today. And his big game failure is anything but random. With Manning ruling the roost, Indy laid an egg in an embarrassing 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh, wasting a 13-0 start to the season, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and another team (Denver) doing their dirty work by ousting their nemesis, New England.

Worse than underachieving on another postseason stage, the two-time NFL MVP threw his offensive line under the B-U-S, this after the Steelers' "Bus," Jerome Bettis, fumbled on the goal line, nearly giving the Colts an undeserved victory. In the postgame presser, Manning said he was trying to be a "good teammate" by not going into detail but only saying his line had "protection problems." Well, at least he tried. That's like the captain of the Titanic saying in his Purgatorial press conference, "I want to be a good crew member here. Let's just say we had some water control issues."

I'm a huge Peyton Manning fan. Have been since he played for Tennessee. But even the most shameless apologist can't ignore his stunning inability to beat the best opponents. I may've sneaked a glimpse into Manning's makeup during an ESPN profile Sunday morning. They showed some home video of the three Manning boys playing football in their backyard. Peyton's the middle of the three and was probably 7 in this particular footage. He was running with the ball when his older brother, Cooper, grabbed him by the collar trying to make a tackle. Peyton started whining, "You grabbed me like this! You can't do that!" From that five-second piece of video, I just got the sneaking suspicion he was one of those kids who was such a sore loser that he'd do whatever it took, like complaining about an illegal tackle, to make sure he won. I could see him playing basketball in the driveway and pretending he was taking the last shot to win a game, "3...2...1..." He'd miss but keep counting, "1..." and miss again and keep counting, "1..." until he made it. I'm not sure he's grown out of that.

Maybe it was being the middle kid and having an older brother who was a great athlete as Cooper was. Like he's always been trying to prove something but never quite can. So when he'd win, he'd happily share the glory with teammates because he was inwardly fulfilled. But losing made him feel like such a failure inside, he couldn't stand the double whammy of others thinking he was to blame, so he'd find a scapegoat. Of course, the grown up Manning is media savvy enough to know you can't blatantly call out your teammates, so he gave the "good teammate" line. But in reality, he was being exactly the opposite. And those O-lineman won't forget it.

That psychoanalysis was free of charge. Now back to the sarcasm.

Almost as spoiled a sport as Manning was Patriots' coach Bill Belichick in the aftermath of his team's bid for a third straight Super Bowl being derailed by the Broncos, 27-13. Granted, he's not Tony Robbins in the best of times. But that sour puss series of one-word, p.o.'d, smart alecky answers was an embarrassment to the otherwise classy dynasty he's helped create.

Then there's Tony Dungy. How many truly gentle men have coached Super Bowl champions? Tom Landry (1972) comes to mind and maybe...Tom Landry (1978). Seems like more often, the best coaches are the spaz (see Jon Gruden and Brian Billick) or the cold-blooded dictators (Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, et al). I hope Dungy gets a ring someday. He's everything good about sports in a day when so much isn't. But I'm beginning to wonder if that style resonates in such a violent sport.

Goofiest Postgame Quote of the weekend goes to Colts' kicker Mike Vanderjagt, whose last-minute attempt to tie the game went further right than Jesse Helms (who actually couldn't have done any worse): "From the Polamalu interception reversal to Jerome's fumble, everything seemed to be lined up in our favor. I guess the Lord forgot about the football team." Just a suggestion, Mike: next time, try giving Him a little something to work with. He has a pretty good track record of widening the otherwise impassable, but that banana ball wouldn't have hit the Red Sea if you were standing next to Moses. The only bright spot for Vanderjagt was that his kick was so off-target, conspiracy theorists had no ammunition to suggest he threw the game.

So it's Panthers-Seahawks and Steelers-Broncos this weekend with the Super Bowl awaiting the winners. Brick Tamland's referees won't be doing the game, but he would like to extend to everyone an invitation to the pants party.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Right Of Passage

I was 10 when my blood turned Tennessee orange. My cousins from Jackson came to Nashville for Thanksgiving, bringing with them tickets to the Vols' "home" game at Vanderbilt. (Contrary to folk legend, Miles Standish did not offer the Wampanoag Indians that same bounty at the first Thanksgiving. The Vols were away that week.)

It was just one UT game, but I was hook-and-laddered. I'd been an Oakland Raiders fan my whole life, fulfilling every mother's dream of having her precious little lamb tack a Jack "The Assassin" Tatum poster up above Curious George. But suddenly, my Silver and Black Sundays were following Big Orange Saturdays. I'd rooted for both teams, through good times (three Super Bowls and a national championship) and bad (there aren't parentheses large enough to encompass just the Joe Bugel era alone), ever since.

Until now.

One weekend this past September, after staying up late on back-to-back nights watching my beloved teams lose to their archrivals while my true beloved went to bed without getting from me so much as a kiss goodnight, I decided I'd let my passion for pigskin override what really mattered: The Texas Rangers. Seriously, I couldn't justify the involuntary, physiological reactions to my teams' wins and losses any longer. The most common side effect was what my wife calls "getting splotchy." Sounds like something 50 Cent might do with one of his shorties, but it's actually the matching red patches that form on either side of my neck during especially tense moments - like the coin toss and TV timeouts - of Vols and Raiders games.

So, 26 years after that first Thanksgiving as a Tennessee fan, I made the decision to go cold turkey. Or at least lukewarm as far as the Vols were concerned. I would no longer watch games unless there was nothing else going on. And I'd quit rooting for the Raiders - whom my wife detests - all together. It was time to grow up.

That's when I got religion, specifically Catholicism. Kind of. On September 24, in a game against Washington, the game stats will show Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage was a 13-yard completion. What the numbers won't show is why the head coach of the Fighting Irish, Charlie Weis, chose to call a pass play from his own 1-yard line. The week before, Weis went to the home of Montana Mazurkiewicz (pronounced ma-zur-kie-wicz), a 10-year-old Notre Dame fan whom doctors said would never be an 11-year-old fan of the Irish because of an inoperable brain tumor.

Weis told the boy about his old college roommate at Notre Dame, Joe Montana, for whom Mazurkiewicz was named. The two talked football until the pain became too much for the boy. Before he left, Weis signed a football for young Montana and asked him if there was anything he could do for him. The two agreed that the boy could call Notre Dame's first offensive play that Saturday against Washington, which he did: "pass right."

Charlie Weis has one of the most brilliant minds in all of football, having served as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots as they won three of the last four Super Bowls. But the greatest play he ever called wasn't a complex code of numbers and football mumbo jumbo. It was the simple request of a terminally-ill 10-year-old, "pass right."

Montana died the day before the game, but Weis kept his word. Yea, though his team walked in the shadow of its own end zone, Weis feared no evil. While conventional wisdom was screaming, "Run it up the gut!" Weis instead listened to his heart and called Montana's play.

Quarterback Brady Quinn rolled right and hit tight end Anthony Fasano for a 13-yard gain. The Irish won going away, 36-17, and afterward Weis had his players sign the game ball, which he later presented to the Mazurkiewicz family.

I felt like Michael Corleone in The Godfather III: "Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in!"

Stories like that one (the "pass right" thing, not The Godfather) remind me why I've always gotten so worked up over sporting events. The final score may not matter in the broader scope of world history, but how people get to those results often represent the best human beings have to offer one another.

Remember the scene from City Slickers when the guys are discussing baseball minutiae and Bonnie incredulously says, "I like baseball. I just don't memorize who played...third base 1960", to which the guys immediately and in unison say, "Don Hoak!" She thinks that proves her point and proceeds to tell them that her friends and she talk about important things like relationships. Then Phil says, "All I know is that when I was 15 and my dad and I couldn't talk about anything, we could always talk about baseball."

It's true. For every tantrum I've thrown over my team losing a game, there've been a hundred tears spilled over something heart-wrenching like the time Waverly (Ohio) High School abandoned what should've been a shutout of Northwest High and let Jake Porter score a touchdown.

Why do I still remember where I was (at our house on Starsdale Road in Memphis), what I was wearing (my Oakland A's pajamas), and how old I was (4) the night I watched Brian's Song and bawled like a...well, like a 4-year-old when Billy Dee Williams-as-Gale Sayers said about his dying teammate and friend, "I love Brian Piccolo...and tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him." And why do I still tear up when I read that line?

I think it's because sports aren't inherently anything. They're merely a vehicle by which we see the best and worst in ourselves and each other.

So now, as the NFL playoffs begin, I'm wondering if giving up my favorite teams was a bit extreme. Maybe I should just wash down a chill pill with some decaf and try watching games like a kid again, enjoying them for what they are instead of making them a matter of life-and-death. Death is what happened to Indianapolis Colts' coach Tony Dungy's eldest son three days before Christmas. No victory in and of itself - not even a Super Bowl title - can stanch Dungy's grief. What might be meaningful, though, is the relationship he has with his players and coaches and the journey they take together.

And that idea's worth cheering for. No matter how old you are or what color your blood runs.