Last Words

“I won’t get down. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–” (Gen John Sedgwick)

“I’ll show you, it won’t shoot.” (Johnny Ace, before losing at Russian roulette)

“You’re right, it’s time. I love you all.” (Michael Landon)

Some people, such as the above, have some very famous (if occasionally ironic or even amusing) last words. This is something I was thinking about after attending the always outstanding Dave Alvin concert Tuesday night at the Birchmere; I absolutely love his shows and this happened to be the tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of his iconic album, King of California. The title cut is the story of a young man who leaves his love “east of the Ohio River” to head west and make his fortune, promising to “return to claim your hand as the King of California.” Unfortunately the song ends poignantly with the young man dying of a gunshot wound after killing another man in a fight; his last words are recalling his promise, left unfulfilled on this side of life.

It’s said that people on their deathbeds sometimes catch a glimpse of what’s to come; some report seeing angels up by the ceiling over their bed, for instance. Steve Jobs’ last words were, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” I can only imagine what he saw that impressed him so much. I can’t remember my dad’s last words to me; my mom’s were, “I’m tired.”

Not that I have any plans to need any last words anytime soon, but just as an amusing thought experiment, what last words would one have on coming into the Kingdom in its fullest? Some thoughts (add your own in the Comments):

  • “Huh, it’s bigger on the inside” (Nice Doctor Who reference)
  • “They’re all wearing Astros jerseys.” (Said of those ceiling angels; because heaven will be a home game for my beloved Houston Astros)
  • “What are you doing here?” (And let them wonder whom I’m seeing…)
  • From John 20:28: “My Lord and my God!”
  • “I get it now.”
  • Or just go with the classic: “Jesus.”

What do you think?

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Wait A Minute…*We* Win?

In all my celebrating about the Astros amazing World Series win (yes, I’m wearing my “World Series Champs 2017” Astros logo hat even as I write this, why do you ask?), I’ve noticed something about the conversations people have with me, and I think it betrays a little something about how readily we get caught up in The World instead of The Kingdom.

I’ve lost track of how many times I heard some variation of the following addressed to me, since Game 7:

  • “Congratulations on your win!”
  • “You guys had a phenomenal team this year.”
  • “You should celebrate, you had a great Series!”

Notice anything? I’m being addressed as part of the collective “you” of “the Houston Astros,” as if I personally had anything to do with their win, was personally part of a phenomenal team, or personally had a great Series. I’ve had to catch myself often, instead of saying “Yeah, we had a great game,” I have to remember that “they” had a great game, and I got to watch. Sure, I’m a fan, and have been so for four decades. (Ugh.) But I have never had the privilege of being part of the Astros’ roster.

For years, smarter people than I have written about the science and the psychology behind fans’ identification with their teams. Fans of teams can become over-the-top exuberant when they win, or literally unable to go to work the next morning after a tough loss. It becomes part of some people’s identity as much as their nationality, their heritage, their…faith?

Huh.

See, there’s where I think The World is at play. By identifying so closely with a team that we address each other as if we were actually part of the squad, we do two things wrong. First, we run a risk of placing something ahead of God. And I’m not just talking about skipping church to watch the Big Game (like the Simpsons did). If I put my hopes in a baseball team, and the quality of my next day or days depends on the outcome of a game…then I’ve lost sight of God.

Second, by allowing or encouraging the notion that somehow I was part of the reason the team won, then I ascribe to myself a role I just didn’t have. (I certainly didn’t hit the double, three pitches in to the start of Game 7, that started the win for the Astros. Pretty sure that was George Springer.) When I do that, I forget about the gifts and graces God has uniquely given me, and I try to lay claim to ones that I most assuredly don’t have. God gave the men of the Astros–and yes, the Dodgers–some amazing skills, to be sure. And I honor that. But he also blessed me with some pretty cool ones, ones they may not have. I should be celebrating my own gifts and my own blessings from God, instead of trying to lay claim, even vicariously, to those of others.

This might seem a little “out there.” So please understand, I’m in no way saying that we shouldn’t be fans of a sports team if we’re to be Christians. Don’t get me wrong. Instead, what I’m trying to say is, we need to keep perspective in all our dealings with The World, so that we don’t get lulled or drawn into it, even by something as innocuous as the language we use to describe a World Series win. The Tempter would like nothing more than for us to puff ourselves up falsely, to lay claim to something that isn’t ours, so that we lose sight of the claim that really is ours–the claim on eternal life by staying rooted in Christ.

Because when it comes right down to it, the only “we win” we can claim is the biggest win of all–victory over the grave. And that’s worth keeping in front of us, even after a great Astros victory.

We Win!

Yes, yes, I know, this is a blog about exploring the path to and with Christ. But hang with me a sec, I have to take a detour here into something else I’ve had most of my life: my passion for the Houston Astros.

Game Seven of the 2017 World Series wasn’t the back-and-forth absolute gem that Game Five was. Nor was it the pitching duel of Game Four, the one Mary and I had the chance to attend (pic above is the view from our seats!). But in the end, for the first time in their 56 year history, the Astros shed their Disastros, their Last-ros, their baggage of all their horrible seasons and stood atop Major League Baseball as World Series Champions. And it was a marvelous, amazing feeling that in some ways I’m still getting used to.

I remember all the letdowns over the years, all the close-but-no-cigar games where playoff victory could have been ours. The long rivalries with the Braves, the Cardinals, and yes, the Dodgers that ended so many times in disappointment, were now all swept away. Being a longtime Astros fan is to know what heartache means. And still we had faith. And still we root for our Astros, hoping that one day we will know what victory feels like.

I came to follow the Astros when I was 8, the year my dad was reassigned to Texas for a year, the year I began discovering this thing called baseball, and your choices were the Astros or the Rangers, and the Rangers stunk even worse. And I stayed with them the rest of my childhood, into teen years–my first MLB game was when my dad took me up the road to Montreal when the Astros were in town. In fact, until only about 10 years ago I’d never been to an Astros home game–I was always watching them on the road, being the only one in the park with Astros gear on.

The first time I walked into Minute Maid Park, I had a feeling like coming home for the first time. I was no longer the oddity, no longer the outcast–I was surrounded suddenly by tens of thousands of other Astros fans, all in their Astros gear. I had come home, I was with my people, and they were beautiful,

I had the same experience last weekend, bringing Mary there. Sometime around the sixth inning, I remember looking around Minute Maid Park and just taking it all in, and commenting to Mary, “I don’t know why this feels like home to me, but it just does.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we too are fans of a team we’ve only ever seen in road games. We’re often in the role of being the one oddity, the one who doesn’t fit in, because our hearts are already in the Kingdom. And one day, we too will walk into our home stadium, be surrounded by those who follow our team, and finally feel completely at home for the first time.

I can’t wait!

Go Astros!

Ever since I spent a year living in Texas (in third grade!), I have been a lifelong Houston Astros fan. I came to love their history of amazing pitching–J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Roy Oswalt. And as only a true Astros fan can do, I came to know their penchant for the late-season fold, the never-fulfilled promise, the hundred-loss seasons as well. Not for nothing is the traditional Opening Day greeting of the Astros fan, “Wait ’til next year!”

I remember watching the deciding sixth game of the 2005 NLCS against the despised Cardinals, with my heart in my throat, scarcely able to watch for the final out. And then it came, joyous release, the win-and-in, and the ability for the first time in 44 years of baseball in Houston to say, “We have a World Series team!”

Of course, we all know what happened next: the sweep by the White Sox; the dismantlement of the team by trades, retirement, and yes, scandal; and the three hundred-loss seasons in the early part of this decade. It was a dark time for the Astros fan.

Last night’s victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS was a sweet, sweet vindication of the wait and the loyalty. Once again, a young exciting team has the right to host a World Series. Once again, we will play the Dodgers, after years of torment at their hands in the 1980s. And once again, hope and joy reign.

And I’ll get to experience it firsthand. Next Saturday, Mary and I will be in the stands as the Astros host Game 4. Minute Maid will be on. Fire. And we’ll have the chance to be caught up in the joy, for as long as it lasts.

But it required faith, and perseverence, to get through the tough years. Just as it requires faith and perseverence to get through the tough years in a job, or a marriage, or anything else this world has to throw at us. Which is why I’ve said, being an Astros fan is a great introduction to Christianity: requiring y-e-a-r-s of love in the face of bitter disappointment.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Astros’ journey…and Christ’s. So let’s go Stros!