29 December 2008

dolphins really do win!

At the beginning of this NFL season, I told people I was predicting that the Miami Dolphins would be at least 100% better than they were last year. (Of course, they only needed to win two games to accomplish that.) Going from 1-15 to 11-5 this year, they not only tied the all-time record for best improvement, but they finished as the AFC East champs!

As happy as I’ve been with Miami’s amazing turnaround season, I’ve been just as unhappy with the disappointing Dallas Cowboys. (I don’t think HBO will feature them in their series Hard Knocks next summer!) I’m not sure which team was the bigger flop this season: the 0-16 Lions or the 9-7 Cowboys. For a team which many sports “experts” were saying would go all the way to the Super Bowl, their crushing loss at Philadelphia yesterday ended a season in which they too often underachieved.

I’m just glad I can answer my blog post of last year, dolphins win! dolphins win!, by saying, “Dolphins really do win!”

27 December 2008

hello, little sunny face

As with much of the northern US, we’ve had an ice storm or two in the past couple of weeks. There was a coating of ice on the sidewalks and streets that’s been difficult to remove. I’ve salted and scraped with a snow shovel the sidewalk in front of our house, but I’ve still been limited in how far I can walk my dog. After slipping a few times, he became more cautious.

Today the temperature soared into the 50s. Ice has been melting in abundance. And at 5:00 this afternoon, I noticed a single dandelion. It had sprouted in a place where, only a few hours earlier, snow and ice had control.

I will welcome the return of winter weather—in the form of snow, not sleet or freezing rain! But for now, I’m happy that a sunny little friend has been able to pay us a visit.

(The lower photo provides some perspective on where the dandelion sprouted in the yard: the tiny yellow dot in the center foreground.)

26 December 2008

years of a dog

The 28th, the day after tomorrow, signifies a number of things: the first Sunday after Christmas, the fourth day of Christmas, and the feast of the Holy Innocents (see Matthew 2:13-23). But there’s something else, as well. It’s our Shetland Sheepdog Duncan’s 12th birthday!

It’s only recently that I decided to challenge the conventional wisdom that one year equals seven “dog years.” That’s because, even though Duncan may have lost a step or two, he doesn’t resemble any 84 year-old I’ve ever met. And sure enough, veterinarians say that the “1=7” formula is quite inaccurate. After all, dogs reach adulthood at about one year from birth. A seven year-old able to conceive would be an interesting scientific case. (And interesting in other ways, as well…)

One website that puts Duncan’s age in dog years at 61 sounds about right. I can see him as a 61 year-old. Still, it is a rather inexact science, as another website places him at 64. (I guess that’s not much of a difference in “dog years.”)

Truth be told—and I know none of us are guaranteed tomorrow—I suppose I wanted to reassure myself. I’m not ready to lose him yet!

17 December 2008

an annunciation like none other

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 1:26-38, the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. I believe what we routinely affirm in the creeds, that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary” (Apostles’ Creed)—that he “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” (Nicene Creed). Still, I’m also well aware that only Matthew and Luke among New Testament writers mention Mary’s virginity.

For many, that’s a problem. For me, my faith doesn’t stand or fall on whether or not Mary was a virgin. As I say, I believe the creeds, but either way, I wouldn't see it diminishing the honor the angel pays her with the announcement, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (v. 28).

Some say the idea of a virgin birth came from Greek mythology. There are a number of biblical concepts that have been borrowed from other cultures. Others say Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. Clearly, one of the sad facts of life during a military occupation is the rape of local women and girls.

Our local PBS station carries the Worldfocus news broadcast at 6pm on weeknights. (After watching that, it’s interesting to see how inward looking the other nightly news shows at 6:30 are!) Last night, they presented a story of a depressingly familiar reality, rape as a weapon of war. The focus was on eastern Congo, over which various armed factions have been fighting for a decade. Several countries are involved in what’s been called “Africa’s world war.”

What if Jesus actually were the result of such a violent conception? I don’t think such an occurrence would have to be true, but if it were, how much more could all the violated women and girls through history be able to identify with Mary?

The image is "The Annunciation" by Brigid Marlin.

12 December 2008

I'm just visiting

Who is Richard Jenkins? That may not be a name that reaches out and grabs you, but he’s an actor who’s been in, oh…about a million movies and TV shows. His role as the dead Nathaniel Fisher in the HBO series Six Feet Under is probably the one that would jog the memories of most people.

In the movie, The Visitor (2007), he plays an economics professor named Walter Vale. Vale, a widower, leads a dreary, nondescript existence. He’s sent by the chair of his department to a New York City conference to present a paper that he supposedly co-authored with someone else. When he arrives at his apartment in the city, he finds it inhabited by a young couple, a Syrian man and a Senegalese woman. Some unscrupulous character named “Ivan” has been accepting rent for the apartment.

After some initial confusion, Vale invites them to stay with him. It’s obvious who “the visitor” in this movie is. Haaz Sleiman plays Tarek, who introduces Vale to the wonders of the djembe, the African drum that’s one of the joys of his life. His other joy is Zainab, played by Danai Gurira. Another “visitor” is Tarek’s mother, Mouna, played by Hiam Abbass. (All of these actors are, of course, household names!) I suppose the greatest sense of being “the visitor” comes when Vale confesses to Mouna, “I pretend.” He pretends to be busy, to be a writer, to have a life. He’s a visitor in his own life.

This is a very fine film about the ways we pretend—the ways we sometimes hold back and say, “I’m just visiting.”

11 December 2008

acedia and me, truly

I’m getting close to the end of Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me. She describes many years of a journey—a journey of often painful self-discovery. She details her struggle with acedia, the “deadly sin” better known as sloth. Our friend Kathleen shares some wisdom of the desert monks in their battle against it.

In chapter 14 (p. 275), she speaks of John Cassian (c. 360-c. 435). “‘From acedia,’ he writes, ‘[are born] idleness, somnolence, rudeness, restlessness, wandering about, instability of mind and body, chattering, [and] inquisitiveness.’ If I allow myself to reach this stage I will be a distracted tourist rather than a pilgrim, and am likely to turn away from the very things that might bring me to my senses. I have learned that nothing will erase my susceptibility to acedia, for it is a part of who I am. But this does not mean that I am helpless. I can look for the seed of hope in my despair, and pray with the psalmist: ‘Bring my soul out of this prison, / and then I shall praise your name’ (Psalm 142:8).”

The so-called “seven deadly sins,” besides sloth, consist of envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and wrath. Like Norris, I would have to say that my greatest temptation comes from acedia. On the first Sunday of Advent, I preached a sermon titled “Acedia, the Enemy of Advent.” Norris has especially struggled with the facet of acedia that manifests itself as depression. That’s really not me. In my sermon, I spoke of something else.

There can be the feeling that life itself is absurd. It’s the feeling that there’s no meaning to what we do anyway, so what’s the point? Acedia mocks the repetition of daily life. It says, “You get out of bed, eat food, do whatever you busy yourself with, go to bed, and do the whole thing again tomorrow. To what end?”

There have been times when I’ve been tempted by that dreary outlook. I’ve sometimes noticed it when I’m watching someone perform a job with repetitive motions, especially if I’m at a distance. I can’t hear them; I can only see them, maybe shuffling things around. And that outlook can be expanded to the entire world. People everywhere: being born, doing whatever with their lives, and then going back to the earth.

Giving in to that kind of outlook sucks the life out of you. It sucks the hope out of you. But for Christians, hope is not an option. Hope is a command; it’s a command to resist acedia—to say “no” to sloth…It calls us to welcome the One who comes—the One who, instead of letting us slothfully dream life away, gives us the grace to live the dream.

10 December 2008

a knight who really is dark

"Why so serious?"

I saw the Christopher Nolan-directed The Dark Knight (2008) twice in the theater last summer. Banu and I watched the film on DVD last night. I enjoyed his "memorable" movie Memento (2000), with Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss. Watching Insomnia (2002) as the fatigued Al Pacino chases Robin Williams makes me sleepy--but that's a good thing!

When he did Batman Begins (2005) with Christian Bale, I felt like I was seeing Batman the way he should be portrayed: as truly a "dark" and conflicted character, not the cartoonish buffoon we've too often seen.

As much as I like Christian Bale, it's the late Heath Ledger who is the star of The Dark Knight. He truly explores and inhabits the insanity of the Joker. If someone else deserves the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a name.

"Let's put a smile on that face!"

09 December 2008

a day for hope

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day. It’s also the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (That’s why the 10th of December is Human Rights Day.)

For a couple of weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the entire world was sympathetic towards America. We finally felt some of the pain they had become accustomed to. Even the Iranians sent messages of understanding! Rarely had there been a moment when we had the opportunity to work with our allies and enemies toward a common goal. But the Bush administration decided to go the other way. Bush belligerently bellowed, “Either you’re with us or against us.” Cheney famously declared that we would have to work “sort of the dark side, if you will.”

I’ve posted a couple of cartoons with the feeling that, as terrible as the past eight years have been, we aren’t inspired by endless rehashing of mistakes. I find that as tedious as anyone else. As someone who voted for Barack Obama, I actually am hopeful that a new era for America is at hand—one in which we really can take the time to listen to others, rather than loudly announcing how it’s gonna be! (And I really haven’t “drunk the Kool-Aid” of believing Barack can solve all our problems!)

06 December 2008

Counter Terror With Justice


Freddy Rodriguez does a voiceover on something we've become used to overlooking, as the video suggests.

05 December 2008

forever at night

In the early 90s, CBS had some rather cheesy late night shows called “Crimetime after Primetime.” Among them were Silk Stalkings and Sweating Bullets. There was one show, however, that I found myself watching on a fairly regular basis. This was when I was at seminary, and she who would later become my wife got me started on a strange show about a vampire detective (Nick Knight, played by Geraint Wyn Davies) who wanted to atone for his crimes and regain his mortality. Banu introduced me to Forever Knight! (An extremely devoted fan has a website dedicated to the series.)

The premise of the show required several leaps of logic. I wondered how Nick could have joined the Toronto police department to begin with. Don’t they have physical examinations? He explained his need to work only at night due to a severe skin reaction to sunlight. (I suppose that would be true.) But that’s part of what happens when I start analyzing shows like this!

I’ve now watched some of the episodes on DVD, and I’m brought back to those times when I had finished my reading and paper writing early in the evening. I always tried to get my work done sooner than later, so I could relax while my fellow students were cramming and killing themselves. Besides, what better time to watch a vampire show than at the midnight hour?

20 November 2008

acedia in ecclesiastes—everything sucks

In the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes, the author uses the word hebel almost forty times—that’s as much as in the rest of the Bible! It literally means “vapor” or “breath,” but most translations use the word “vanity.” Our writer (“Qoheleth” is the Hebrew word), after describing some human endeavor, proclaims it “vanity.” On several occasions, Qoheleth wearily cries, “All is vanity.”

But saying “all is vanity” doesn’t quite capture “the frustration that comes from the pit of the stomach,” as Elsa Tamez puts it. It still feels too scholarly—too removed from where we live. No, I think if Qoheleth were speaking today, he’d say something more like “everything sucks”!

His lament that “there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9) speaks to the apparent absurdity of human actions that are repeated over and over. In her book, Acedia and Me, Kathleen Norris speaks of her struggle with that illness of the spirit. Acedia mocks the repetition of daily life. It says, “You get out of bed, eat food, do whatever you busy yourself with, go to bed, and do the whole thing again tomorrow. To what end?”

Norris cites an example from her youth—her reluctance to make her bed. “‘Why bother?’ I would ask my mother in a witheringly superior tone. ‘I’ll just have to unmake it again tonight.’ To me, the act was stupid repetition; to my mother, it was a meaningful expression of hospitality to oneself, and a humble acknowledgment of our creaturely need to make and remake our environments” (p. 13).

Fortunately, the acedia in Ecclesiastes doesn’t have the final word. But I think we can benefit from recognizing that even biblical authors recognize, and express, a struggle that we too often try to ignore. Of course, ignoring it only gives the slothful demon more control!

The image is “All is Vanity” by Lyamkin Alexander.

19 November 2008

slothful about acedia

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Kevin Spacey’s unforgettable line from the movie The Usual Suspects (1995) is something I thought of as I began reading Kathleen Norris’ new book, Acedia and Me. I’m only about one-third of the way into the book, but it verifies something that I’ve long suspected: of the so-called “seven deadly sins,” sloth is the worst.

The original word, “acedia,” became lost in the term “sloth,” which most of us think of as laziness. (Plus we have the image of those cute critters hanging from trees!) It is laziness, but not the kind that means you’re a couch potato. (Well, I suppose that can be part of it!) Acedia literally means a “lack of care.” It’s a deadly spiritual apathy, a condition of lethargy, in which the person afflicted is unwilling or unable to care about much of anything at all. In early monasticism, it was called the “noonday demon.” What brought Spacey’s line to mind was this passage in Norris’ book (pp. 45-46):

“I am intrigued that over the course of the last sixteen hundred years we managed to lose the word acedia. Maybe that’s one reason why, as we languish from spiritual drought, we are often unaware of what ails us. We spend greater sums of money on leisure but are more tense than ever, and hire lifestyle coaches to ease the stress…We are tempted to regard with reverence those dedicated souls who make themselves available ‘twenty-four/seven’ and regard silence as unproductive, solitude as irresponsible. But when distraction becomes the norm, we are in danger of becoming immunized from feeling itself. We are more likely to indulge in public spectacles of undemanding pseudo-care than address humanity’s immediate needs. Is it possible that in twenty-first-century America, acedia has come into its own? How can that be, when so few know its name?”

Obviously, we don’t need to know the name of something for it to control us. Are we too “slothful” to identify and resist acedia?

17 November 2008

a divine milieu

Last Sunday, my sermon text was the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. I placed it within the framework of “playing not to lose.” I noted my heartbreak and horror on Monday night in 2000 when my beloved Miami Dolphins blew a 30-7 4th quarter lead to the New York Jets. By playing not to lose, they did exactly that—lose!

Bruce Epperly at Process and Faith reflects on the parable. He says, “Often, we act as if we live in a ‘closed system’ in which no new energies or possibilities can emerge. Often, we see ourselves in terms of what we lack rather than the surprising and life-changing possibilities residing within our concrete limitations. We have not, because we ask not—and dream not!”

I recently finished Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s classic work, The Divine Milieu. In his afterword, he sounds a similar note. (Please note: this was written in the 1920s!) “Where is the Catholic [or any Christian, in general] as passionately vowed (by conviction and not by convention) to spreading the hopes of the Incarnation as are many humanitarians to spreading the dream of the new city? We persist in saying that we keep vigil in expectation of the Master. But in reality we should have to admit, if we were sincere, that we no longer expect anything.”

Some questions I posed to my hearers—and to myself, definitely—were these: what are some ways in which we play it safe? What are some ways in which we play not to lose? And going beyond that, can we see how that demonstrates fear and mistrust, rather than love and faith?

15 November 2008

how I wish I were wrong

When Sarah Palin was saying Barack Obama "pals around with terrorists," and people were screaming "kill him!" at rallies which came close to resembling mobs with torches, I predicted what would happen when you stir the pot of hatred and racism. Numerous news sources are now documenting a higher than usual increase of death threats against Obama. The threats on Obama's life, according to the Secret Service, began to spike right when Palin started questioning his patriotism.

Of course, if John McCain had exercised some good judgment, Sarah Palin would never have been placed in the position of consideration for VP. His campaign wasn't exactly vocal in putting to rest the irresponsibility of Palin. TV commercials with an ominous voice asking, "Who is Barack Obama?" only feed the paranoia already present in too many fringe elements. What's worse, it seems to give the stamp of approval to those willing to take that extra step toward violence.

11 November 2008

on a dark night

In a recent sermon on Psalms 42 and 43, in which I did the first half and my wife Banu the second, I spoke about the phrase, “the dark night of the soul.” That phrase goes back to a poem written in the 16th century by St. John of the Cross. As he advanced deeper in his life of prayer, he began to experience periods of extreme loneliness and emptiness. The light and joy and peace he first received from God began to wither away. This was his “dark night.”

Last year, when some of Mother Teresa’s letters were made public, we saw how she also spoke of feeling abandoned by God. Her dark night of the soul was a dry wilderness of pain that lasted for many years.

The thing about these experiences “on a dark night” is that they aren’t signs of God’s displeasure: very far from it! Our psalmist, St. John of the Cross, Mother Teresa—and many other people—aren’t being punished by God, even though it may feel like it. I think we can agree that we’re not talking about slackers in the spiritual life! These unpleasant experiences are instead a sign of God’s love; they’re a sign of purification.

I’m not saying that so-called “dark” feelings, in and of themselves, are good things. I am no masochist; I don’t enjoy pain or fear or suffering! But there are lessons we can learn only by attending their school. As Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

Without death, there can be no resurrection. And that’s not simply a matter of coming back to life; it’s a matter of coming back to superabundant life.

The image posted is “Christ of St. John of the Cross,” by Salvador Dali.

05 November 2008

a time for joy, even if it's brief

Last night, I watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago's Grant Park, as did hundreds of millions of people all over the world. I won't deny that I was (almost!) moved to tears. I'm mindful of some words in G. K. Chesterton's hymn of 1906, "O God of Earth and Altar": "From all the easy speeches / That make our hearts rejoice."
That doesn't open the way for cynicism, which works against the faith and hope the hymn proclaims. And to my mind, this is a time for celebration. True celebration is born out of faith and hope—qualities we Americans have allowed to slip away. We've replaced them with less noble qualities mentioned by Chesterton: "The walls of gold entomb us / The swords of scorn divide."

But my words don't match the images of last night, so I'll stop here, lest I become guilty of "lies of pen and voice."

31 October 2008

First Hack-a-Shaq 5 seconds into the 08-09 season


Who says Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are dull and have no sense of humor? Shaquille O'Neal even had to crack a smile at this one. Of course, it would have been nice if they had beaten the Suns on opening night!

29 October 2008

barack the vote

I watched Barack Obama's "infomercial" this evening. And I understand that the camera shots, the music, the montages, etc. are designed to portray Obama in the best possible light. I also didn't need this thirty minute program to "sell" me on Obama versus McCain. That was never a consideration. My only other option was to go for the Green Party candidate, Cynthia McKinney.

What it did do was to underline, once again, the vast difference in appeal of Obama versus McCain. On the one hand, we have someone calling us to, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "the better angels of our nature." On the other hand, we have a person desperately trying to scare us into voting for him. Hope versus fear.

But even that isn't the determining factor. I won't claim to agree with everything Obama is about. No one is flawless. (What political figure is?) But I don't mind saying that I see Barack Obama as someone who comes along maybe once in a generation. He's someone who has the potential to inspire and to lead us. What an amazing concept--to inspire and to lead!

28 October 2008

fractalicious

Did you know that everything in nature has an infinite number of sides? The little bit I already knew about fractals taught me that. Tonight's episode of Nova, "Hunting the Hidden Dimension," explores the ways in which fractal mathematics and geometry are opening up new avenues of research, from anticipating diseases in the human body to anticipating the scope of climate change.

Plus, if you go to their website, you can design your own fractal image!

NFL joy #2

For the second time this season, all three of my teams have won on the same weekend. (I would like for this to be a routine occurrence, so I plan for this to be my last blog post of this nature.)

The Miami Dolphins knocked off the team that's currently at the top of their division, their archenemy the Buffalo Bills, by a score of 25-16. In one of their uglier wins in team history, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 13-9. Considering how badly the Cowboys have played in October, an ugly win is better than no win at all. And on Monday night, the Tennessee Titans took care of the Indianapolis Colts, 31-21, to remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.

22 October 2008

good news instead

I'm tired of writing about depressing stuff. I want to give God the glory. Today I visited my neurologist, and he told me that there's no reason for me to keep having my occasional MRI scans. There's been no sign of regrowth of the brain tumor, and so, I need not continue with the procedures--which, by the way, have decreased in frequency over the years. In any event, it's good news!

(This is the cartoon I mentioned a few days ago when I went in for my scan.)

I don't want to be proven right

As I suggested a couple of weeks ago in my post, "thinking like reptiles," when political leaders carelessly toss incendiary labels around, like feeding red meat to hungry wolves, don't pretend to be surprised when violence is the result.

As the despicable incident at Western Carolina University shows, it only emboldens those who are already prone to act first and think later. That's a lesson I would hope Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin would have learned long ago.

16 October 2008

will justice be served?

As I watched (most) of "Torturing Democracy" on PBS tonight, I wondered if the Bush administration's attitude of impunity would be its undoing. Will they be called to account for the disgrace they've brought on America? Will anyone in that administration be charged with the war crimes that they themselves have refused to bring against the hundreds they've arrested and tortured?

If our presidential candidates could talk about something other than Joe the Plumber, I might feel better about justice finally being served!

15 October 2008

in love with the church

I’ve now finished André Dupleix’s 15 Days of Prayer with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. As I said two weeks ago, it’s helped me to rediscover why I like him. For a man who was so misunderstood and criticized by church authorities, Teilhard displayed immense amounts of love in return.

Dupleix shows how desperately in love with the church he was. Speaking of it, Teilhard says, “It seems that it gives me a great deal of peace…I hope, with God’s help, to never do anything against the Church, apart from which I discern no course of life with a chance to succeed.” (p. 81) On another occasion, he proclaimed, “Happy are we with the authority of the Church! Left to ourselves, just how far would we drift away?” (p. 83)

It would be easy to dismiss as ludicrous someone who describes the church as “the portion of the world which is reflexively Christified, the principal focus point of interhuman affinities through super-charged charity.” (p. 82) But that requires taking the time to figure out what such a person is actually saying!

In love with the church? Imagine such a thing!

13 October 2008

when your style gets cramped, literally

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 1995. Following that was surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. I’ve had numerous MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans since then to check for re-growth of the cancer. I can thankfully say they’ve always been clear. Today, I had an MRI as a check-up for the first time in two years. Something happened that has never happened before: I had a couple of moments of claustrophobia.

The technician’s assistant asked the usual questions beforehand, like, “Do you have any metal in your body?” I noticed a cartoon on the wall in which a woman is being rolled into the MRI tube. The doctor tells her that they need to scan her brain to figure out why she has claustrophobic episodes! I laughed about that with the assistant, saying, “Yes, let’s put you in this coffin and figure out why you have claustrophobia!”

But when they rolled me into that tube—I don’t know what it was—my brain started working. I thought about that idea of a coffin and being buried alive. I remembered the movie The Vanishing. (By the way, the original Dutch version, 1988, was far superior to the American remake, 1993, with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland. The American film had a predictable happy ending.) That image of waking up, buried alive in a coffin, kept coming back to me! Then I thought about people in prison, crammed into tiny cells.

A couple of times I was on the verge of squeezing the little signaling device they give you. I didn’t want to disrupt the scanning process, but I was also ready to get out of that thing! Some deep breathing (and some prayer) enabled me to get through it.

As I left the building and got in my car, I realized that I’ve never understood how terrible it must be for those who have claustrophobia. (Or for that matter, people who have panic attacks and post-traumatic stress syndrome.) I’m almost always a pretty calm person. Maybe I should be thankful for getting a tiny taste of what so many people routinely experience. It goes a long way toward better understanding.

09 October 2008

thinking like reptiles

While watching the news tonight, I saw the incident at a John McCain rally in Wisconsin in which a man with a microphone, proclaiming his anger, described Barack Obama and other Democrats as “hooligans.” My first reaction was, “Does this man know the definition of ‘hooligan’?” Does he actually believe that Obama is a hoodlum who runs through the streets, picking fights and vandalizing? I also thought that he must have been planted there by someone in the McCain campaign. But after seeing McCain’s obvious unease with the man, I don’t believe that. He tried to remind the crowd that “all of us are Americans first.”

But when you begin stirring the pot of racial animosity and carelessly labeling people as “terrorists,” as he and Sarah Palin have done, don’t act surprised when hatred and violence are the result. Especially in tough economic times, many people are looking for someone to blame. We humans do not think very clearly when we’re filled with anger. When you appeal to the basest part of human nature, that’s exactly what you can expect to receive.

05 October 2008

NFL joy

This is, admittedly, a blog post of a less serious nature. Still, I can't remember a day when it's been true that I could state these facts about my favorite NFL teams.

First, that the Miami Dolphins have defeated in two consecutive games the teams that reached the AFC title game last year (New England and today, San Diego). By winning their second game, they've already doubled their win total from one season ago. Second, my number 3 team, the Tennessee Titans, are the final undefeated team in the AFC.

And finally, by beating the Bengals, my beloved Dallas Cowboys managed to keep pace with the New York Giants and the hated Washington Redskins in the NFC East. (What Cowboys fan wouldn't feel that way about the Redskins? By the way, if there's a team with a racist name, the "Redskins" are almost by definition the picture of it!)

04 October 2008

feasting with Francis

Today is the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226). He’s one of the most dearly loved figures in all of church history. People admire him for many reasons—his dedication to the poor, his love of animals, and even the stigmata he received late in his life. But his commitment to peace is a quality we would do well to notice. There’s the well-known prayer attributed to him which begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

The last part goes as follows:
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

I’m especially struck by the line in which Francis prays not so much “to be understood as to understand.” He would rather understand than be understood. What a world this would be if we all had that kind of determination! Imagine how our political landscape would be altered. Imagine how the church would be. We might actually start listening to each other!

01 October 2008

praying with Pierre

For many years, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) has been one of my favorite theologians. He’s been one of my heroes since the mid-80s. But as with other people I admire, I’ve had trouble figuring him out. I’m rediscovering him in 15 Days of Prayer with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by André Dupleix (English translation, 1999). (By the way, click here for the pronunciation of his name.)

When I first discovered this priest and paleontologist, I was fascinated. He was the living embodiment of faith and science that the 20th century had lost. There is much to say about him, but his comments about the resurrection of Jesus are what compelled me today. Teilhard is radically Christocentric—he sees Christ at the very heart of matter itself. His deeply Trinitarian perspective sets him apart from many so-called “new age” movements that claim him as a forerunner.

“But how do we understand the Resurrection?” Dupleix asks. “For Teilhard, in addition to the action of Christ and his work of salvation, the Resurrection has a decisive significance for the evolution of the universe: ‘We seek too much to see the Resurrection as an apologetic and temporary event, like Christ’s short sojourn in the tomb. The Resurrection is something altogether different and much more than that. It is a “formidable” cosmic event. It signifies the actual taking of possession, by Christ, of his functions as the universal Center.’” (p. 11)

This is an affirmation of Paul’s idea of the cosmic Christ which is stated, among other places, in Colossians 1:15-17, where he says that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

The cosmic Christ isn’t some Christic spirit disconnected from the Jesus of the Bible. To underline that, Dupleix reminds us that for Teilhard, “hope, which the world needs desperately, does not presuppose a flight from earthly realities or a suspicion of the visible or the tangible. To the contrary, hope integrates, into their full dimensions, all of the aspects of history and existence. That is so because Jesus, the eternal Word and the man from Nazareth, was raised from the dead.” (p. 12)

Now that’s some hope you can sink your teeth in!

25 September 2008

apologies to a sheltie

This photo represents how I imagine my dog, Duncan, feels. I've hardly even left the house this week, being afflicted with a sinus cold and fever. (Not a pleasant combination!) I was ill at the same time last year. When I'm sick, Duncan also suffers, because he doesn't get his frequent walks around the neighborhood.

Note to self: apologize to the dog.

16 September 2008

it's both wrong and illegal

Here's what I hope will happen: we all will realize that the upcoming election isn't a reality TV show. I'm hoping that we'll get beyond the immature attacks on people's personalities. Maybe we can quit stirring the pot of the "culture wars" and waiting to see what flotsam rises to the surface.

Can Barack Obama make a commitment to take the high road and not be dragged into stupid name-calling? Can John McCain remember what it's like to be tortured, and like the "maverick" he claims to be, say "no" to this practice that dehumanizes everyone who gets near it?

How about voting for human rights? Don’t say I’m a dreamer! My snarling Sheltie might have something to say about it!

feast or famine

Tonight's game, in which the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-37, was a display (at least on the Cowboys' part) of both spectacular and awful play. Of course, the Eagles' DeSean Jackson cheated himself out of a touchdown by deciding to celebrate before getting into the end zone. By the way, am I the only one who wishes that Tony Kornheiser was not part of the ESPN broadcast team on Monday night?

Anyway, Tony Romo and his teammates got the job done. How 'bout them Cowboys?

12 September 2008

I feel the pain

Watching Charlie Gibson’s interview with Sarah Palin on ABC news was almost painful. Last night, when he asked her if she supports the Bush doctrine, her response was first, a blank gaze, then a reply which indicated that Gov. Palin has no idea what the Bush doctrine is. Gibson had to tell her that it refers to this administration’s policy of pre-emptive war. Palin then gave him, as she did tonight, the usual political slogans, while demonstrating that she has only the faintest grasp of international relations.

The McCain campaign has said that Alaska’s proximity to Russia means that she has the requisite foreign policy awareness necessary to be vice-president (and by extension, president). By that logic, the governor of every state that borders Canada and Mexico also qualifies, since they, too, are at an international border. (We should probably also include the governor of Florida, which is very close to both the Bahamas and Cuba. Maybe we could toss in Hawaii, too, since it’s way out there in the Pacific, all by itself.)

I hope McCain's choice of Palin isn't simply about winning an election (which it appears to be). It would be like couples who put their effort into a wedding, but not a marriage. As a pastor, I have encountered that!

10 September 2008

pretending to be outraged

Am I the only one tired of the manufactured hysteria over Obama’s criticism of McCain’s plans for change as “lipstick on a pig”? Am I the only one who recognizes it as a saying that’s been around for years? Am I the only one who sees the Republican claims that it’s a sexist attack on Sarah Palin as completely disingenuous? Am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous to even be discussing this?

This isn’t even about politics. This isn’t about conservative or liberal. It’s about character, which was so loudly trumpeted at the Republican National Convention last week. Can John McCain show some of the character he developed while a POW during the Vietnam War and denounce the cynicism and false outrage of this alleged scandal? Or does his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate demonstrate the depth of his character?

03 September 2008

anniversary number 14

For Banu and me, today is our 14th wedding anniversary. The traditional gift for anniversary number 14 is ivory. But that is now frowned upon, due to the wanton hunting of elephants for their tusks. At a more spiritual level, 14 can be seen as seven—the divine number of perfection—times two.

So that’s it. I celebrate my wife: perfection doubled!

28 August 2008

dreaming under fire

The movie Under Fire (1983) was on cable this morning. Starring Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, Gene Hackman, and Ed Harris, it’s a story about reporters in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution. Even though it came out twenty-five years ago, it doesn’t feel quite that dated. We’re no longer concerned about Marxists, but there’s still plenty of fighting going on.

Because the US-backed regime of Anastasio Somoza and his National Guard was so horribly brutal and corrupt, the film goes a bit too far in painting the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front) as a revolution of “poets.” That’s shown at the end of the film, with Nick Nolte’s character, a photographer, questioning Ed Harris’ character, a mercenary who fought alongside the National Guard. “What the hell are you doin’ here?” he asks during the Sandinista victory parade in the capital, Managua. “It's a free country,” he responds. “I mean…it’s free now anyway.”

I have a personal connection to this movie. It was one of the prime factors in my developing the romantic notion of being a journalist in a war-torn country. Of course, this was when the Reagan administration was training the contras to commit acts of terrorism, blowing up villages and infrastructure in Nicaragua.

However, it seems that God had other plans for me. The journalism that I studied in high school and college didn’t quite get me hooked!

21 August 2008

letters and papers—and poetry

In my last post, I mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. In the New Greatly Enlarged Edition, his friend and editor Eberhard Bethge includes some letters that were sent to Bonhoeffer, as well. In one of Bethge’s letters to him (dated 26 August 1944), he speaks of poetry.

Speaking of Bonhoeffer’s “Stations on the Road to Freedom,” he says, “You can’t give anything more personal than a poem. And you could hardly give me greater joy. There is no greater self-sacrifice, no better way of signifying an otherwise unattainable nearness than in a poem. And it is probably the form, because it makes visible the inwardness that is bound up and held in check with it…Its touch is steadier and more far-reaching than that of a letter.”

In that spirit, let me share another of Brian Turner’s poems from Here, Bullet. It’s entitled, “A Soldier’s Arabic.” He prefaces his poem with a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “This is a strange new kind of war where you learn just as much as you are able to believe.”

The word for love, habib, is written from right
to left, starting where we would end it
and ending where we might begin.


Where we would end a war
another might take as a beginning,
or as an echo of history, recited again.


Speak the word for death, maut,
and you will hear the cursives of the wind
driven into the veil of the unknown.


This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.


(By the way, I’ll admit that the image I posted probably doesn’t inspire feelings of such a sublime nature!)

16 August 2008

letters and papers

Last month, I mentioned how I’ve been reading (again) Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. In the book, as well as in his good friend Eberhard Bethge’s biography, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we see how an upper middle class German struggles with his faith when confronted by the brazen assaults of Hitler and the Nazi Party. On the day after the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life (which Bonhoeffer supported), we read this in a letter to his friend Eberhard (it’s dated 21 July 1944):

“…it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities…That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [repentance]; and that is how one becomes a [human] and a Christian.”

Bonhoeffer said only a little more about what he meant by “this-worldly” Christianity. He was executed before he could develop his thoughts in detail. Many along the theological spectrum, from conservative to liberal, claim him as part of their heritage. To me, that only speaks of how true to the path of Christ he was. He was aware of his weaknesses; you can see that in some of his letters. His decision to cast his lot in with the conspirators against Hitler continued to weigh on his mind.

I like something he says toward the end of this letter. I think it speaks to us well today. “May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.”

08 August 2008

speak the truth!

During the last two weeks of July, we were visited by our nephew Kaleb. One day we were watching the movie Justice League: The New Frontier (2008). We were commenting on which of the heroes we liked better. I said I always preferred Batman over Superman. I also noted Wonder Woman’s lasso, which forces anyone she ensnares with it to speak the truth. What a cool power to have! Just lasso somebody, and they have to tell the truth.

The current issue of The Christian Century deals with something like that. In Andrew Root’s, “If the truth were told,” he looks at the Fox TV show The Moment of Truth (in which people speak of very personal and inappropriate topics) and applies the question Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked over six decades ago: “What Does ‘Telling the Truth’ Mean?” His article inspired me to get Bonhoeffer’s Ethics off my shelf (that’s the book in which his unfinished essay with that question appears).

According to our friend Dietrich, who was executed by the Nazis, telling the truth is not about adherence to some abstract principle. Truth is incarnate; we speak the truth when we use it for the healing of relationships, when we speak the truth “in love.” That’s not the same thing as saying that the truth doesn’t exist!

Bonhoeffer warns us, “It is only the cynic who claims ‘to speak the truth’ at all times and in all places to all [people] in the same way, but who, in fact, displays nothing but a lifeless image of the truth. He [or she] dons the halo of the fanatical devotee of truth who can make no allowance for human weaknesses, but in fact is destroying the living truth among [us].”

Too much of what passes for truth today isn’t meant to heal; it’s meant to destroy. Because of that, we allow the various issues on which we’re divided to tear us apart. The world desperately needs us to demonstrate truly Christian ways of disagreeing! (I wonder, would Wonder Woman’s lasso be of help in that?)

01 August 2008

"Alhazen of Basra"

No big issues here, just one of my favorite poems from Brian Turner's book, Here, Bullet. He served seven years in the US Army. He had tours in Bosnia with the 10th Mountain Division and in Iraq as an infantry team leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

This poem is titled, "Alhazen of Basra." He says this about him in his notes: "Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (965-1040 AD), known as Alhazen to the West, was an eminent physicist whose contributions to science remain vital and relevant to the present day."

If I could travel a thousand years back
to August 1004, to a small tent
where Alhazen has fallen asleep among books
about sunsets, shadows, and light itself,
I wouldn't ask whether light travels in a straight line,
or what governs the laws of refraction, or how
he discovered the bridgework of analytical geometry;
I would ask about the light within us,
what shines in the mind's great repository
of dream, and whether he's studied the deep shadows
daylight brings, how light defines us.

31 July 2008

lowering the bar?

One of the lesser-noted results of the multiple, and seemingly endless, wars the Bush administration has embarked upon is lowered standards in the military. That applies not only to recruits, but more seriously, to noncommissioned officers (NCOs). The haste with which those with E-4 rank have been promoted to E-5 (sergeant) has been documented. The results are what one might expect.

There are a number of reasons for lowering the bar. As the Salon article states, “After years of war, many of the Army’s most experienced sergeants have retired, left the service, transferred to noncombat posts, or are recovering from battlefield injuries.”

As I was thinking about the lowered standards among those who are literally fighting, killing, and dying, it occurred to me that there is (perhaps) a parallel effect at work in attitudes toward the church and the ordained ministry.

I can appreciate much of the anticlericalism in our country today. Those in the church and among the clergy with a spirit of entitlement could benefit from being brought down a peg or two. I also realize that there’s more than just some necessary corrective at work. There are shifting paradigms in the way we view reality.

A concern I have is that, in a society deeply ignorant of the Bible and church history, a lowering of the standards for clergy won’t help matters. Perhaps it’s inevitable; I hope not. I won’t delude myself into thinking that my grasp of the faith rivals that of my Presbyterian (and other) ancestors.

Perhaps we are in a time of relative “quiet” regarding the power of the church. Perhaps what we need—and I what believe is indeed building—is a democratization of the Spirit that will make all of our talk of standards and bar-setting look like empty prattle.

29 July 2008

social (cause) network

If you're on Facebook, and you encounter a group called "Facebook Youth," that admittedly might be too generic a name to get your attention. It sounds like something a sociologist would use as a label for those currently in their teens and twenties. But if you had to picture it, you might come up with any of the thousands of inane gatherings that compose our vast digital wasteland. Certainly, it wouldn't be anything to inspire fear in government officials.

Unless you live in Egypt. The government there has arrested members of the so-called Facebook Youth for helping to publicize a general strike, something the government didn't like. Hosni Mubarak, a US ally, has been president of Egypt since 1981, right after Anwar Sadat was assassinated. He has been in power, and delaying democracy, for 27 years. I don't care who you are, that's way too long for anyone! (By the way, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe came to power in 1980.)

18 July 2008

no longer a puppy, dr. sheltie

Today, Dr. Sheltie is one year old. This blog is no longer a puppy. To commemorate the occasion, Kaleb is busy at work in the kitchen, whipping up a nice recipe. It's nice to know that someone is taking the time to prepare something tasty!

Can we give Kaleb a hand?

17 July 2008

picture of a visit

To the left is pictured my wife Banu, our dog Duncan, and my sister's younger son, Kaleb. Yesterday, we drove down to Pittsburgh to pick him up at the airport. He'll be with us for two weeks. Among the things he loves that Banu is already on record about are cooking and swimming. Something he loves that I am now on record about is watching those crazy street dance movies.

The key word in that last sentence is "watching."

14 July 2008

why I am a Presbyterian

I became a Presbyterian on 10 December 1991. This was during my first semester at an American Baptist seminary, and after having been in the Assemblies of God for the previous five years. (A side note about that date: I didn’t think of it at the time, but that date is when International Human Rights Day is annually observed. Having been a member of Amnesty International for several years before that, I could appreciate it.)

I traveled from just north of Nashville up to Eastern Baptist Seminary (now Palmer Seminary) in Philly. I made the trip by plane; the decision to leave my car behind was deliberate. I didn’t want to have to fool with it. I knew I was going to a place with sufficient mass transportation. So I started attending the church across the street from school, which just happened to be a Presbyterian church—I joined it in December. I say “just happened”; I’ve also said that I was predestined to become a Presbyterian!

Of course, it was more than just happenstance. Besides the worship and the theology of that congregation (Overbrook Presbyterian), I also came to value the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). That’s composed of the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order. I was interested in both of them, but it was the Book of Order that especially intrigued me. It seemed to me that having a Book of Order is a good way to keep everyone on the same page, so to speak! My previous experience of church was Pentecostal, and the Pentecostals I knew would have asked, “Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this?”

But I’m convinced that following the Book of Order in an open, loving way is an excellent way to remain in tune with the Spirit. It can easily be reduced to some slavish, legalistic mode of operation—I’m not talking about that. What the Book of Order can provide us, at its best, is a hedge against excess and abuse of many kinds.

There’s also a certain accountability that it provides. This runs contrary to the rebellious spirit that resides somewhere in all of us. (It definitely is in me!) This is an accountability that is especially emphasized in the questions during ordination and installation, be it of ministers of Word and Sacrament, elders, or deacons. It is put to the congregation, as well. For me, the key word in those questions is “faithful.” We are called to be faithful. We’re not called to be either tyrants or cowards.

That’s a little bit of why I am a Presbyterian!

11 July 2008

a benedictine feast

Today, the 11th of July, is the feast of St. Benedict. After becoming a Benedictine oblate a few years ago, this is a day that has increasingly come to my attention. Looking at today’s reading in the Rule of Benedict has provided me with something that has increasingly become a challenge. In chapter 33, he refers to private ownership as an “evil practice.” He includes this quote: "All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes ownership of anything (Acts 4:32)."

Most people would immediately reject his idea as something to be followed only in a monastery. Others, of a more political mindset, would see this as the basis of the failed philosophy of communism. (A philosophy, I should add, which when implemented, never had love as its basis.)

In her commentary on Benedict, Joan Chittister says, “We take things and hoard things and give things to control our little worlds and the things wind up controlling us. They clutter our space; they crimp our hearts; they sour our souls. Benedict says that the answer is that we not allow ourselves to have anything beyond life’s simple staples in the first place and that we not use things—not even the simplest things—to restrict the life of another by giving gifts that tie another person down. Benedictine simplicity, then, is not a deprivation. It frees us for all of life’s surprises.”

In a world awash in consumerism, life’s surprises come with a price tag. And how often do we give gifts that really do “tie another person down”? I’m not to the point where I’m ready to abandon private ownership. But I also know that I can lose everything in an instant—whether by fire or storm or theft or whatever.

So I’ll celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, and I’ll try not to enslave others or myself with things.

09 July 2008

is "betrayal" too strong a word?

Today, the Democratic-led Senate voted to update FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). They granted retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who broke the law by illegally assisting the Bush White House in spying on Americans. The image is of an ad that appeared in today's Washington Post.

I don't want to sound like the shrill ideologues (be they on the left or the right), so that's why I ask the question: is "betrayal" too strong a word? This isn't about posturing; it's about the rule of law. I don't expect the TV networks to give this the coverage it deserves. (They haven't so far.) We'll continue to hear about the increasing price of gasoline.

I'm not under any illusions that Barack Obama is a political messiah. I'm just disappointed that he sided with the Republicans and a handful of Democrats in passing this shameful legislation.

05 July 2008

shamelessly at home

Years ago, I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. Two or three years ago, I got the “Greatly Enlarged Edition” of the work, edited by his close friend, Eberhard Bethge. Recently, I picked it off my shelf, where it had been crying to me, “Are you ever going to finish reading me?”

In a letter dated 1 February 1944, Bonhoeffer writes to his friend about a loss of “moral memory.” Saying that its loss is “responsible for the ruin of all obligations, of love, marriage, friendship, and loyalty,” he adds, “Nothing sticks fast, nothing holds firm.” He wonders how Germany could have declined so far, so quickly, politically and ethically. Dietrich writes to his friend Eberhard, “The [one] who feels neither responsibility towards the past nor desire to shape the future is one who ‘forgets,’ and I don’t know how one can really get at such a person and bring him to his senses…You put it very well recently when you said that people feel so quickly and so ‘shamelessly at home.’”

I ask myself: how would I have behaved as a German citizen in the 1930s and early 40s? Would I have voiced my opposition to what was going on? Would I have held my tongue, kept my head down, and joined the many who felt “so quickly and so ‘shamelessly at home?’”

Obviously, our nation has not declined politically and ethically anywhere to the extent that Germany did under National Socialist rule. Those who equate Bush with Hitler only display a lack of clear thinking (and an alarming ignorance of history). However, we’ve no doubt taken a big step backward in many areas—not least of all in protection of human rights and observance of the rule of law.

But I must confess to a certain resignation at times, a feeling that we’ll just have to “wait this one out.” Still, there’s a real danger to becoming so “shamelessly at home.” As Bonhoeffer puts it in the prologue, “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.”

02 July 2008

in the dark silence

A few days ago, I commented on Barbara Brown Taylor’s When God is Silent. My focus was on how our noisy words hinder our prayer. She addresses not being able to hear God’s voice. She presumes that when we can’t hear that voice, it means we aren’t listening. However, she says:

“But even if that is true most of the time, it is not true all of the time. The death of Jesus taught us that. From the moment he came down from the mount of the Transfiguration, the memory of God’s voice was all he had left. He prayed to hear it again in the garden of Gethsemane, but the only voice he heard there was his own. He was arrested, tried, and convicted without so much as a sigh from heaven. From the cross, he pleaded for a word, any word, from the God he could no longer hear. He asked for bread and got a stone. Finally, in the most profound silence of his life, he died, believing himself forsaken by God.”

Maybe she’s exaggerating the point, but if so, it’s not by very much. Do we really believe that Jesus lived a human life? Do we really believe, as the creeds say, that he was truly human? How could he have not experienced the feeling of desolation, of forlornness, that sometimes plagues his brothers and sisters? She continues:

“Will anyone suggest that he simply was not listening? I do not think so. In the silence surrounding his death, Jesus became the best possible companion for those whose prayers are not answered, who would give anything just to hear God call them by name. Him too. He wanted that too, and he did not get it. What he got, instead, was a fathomless silence in which to cry out. Forever after, everyone who has heard him bellow into it has had to wonder: Is that the voice of God?”

Unless Jesus has experienced the deepest depths of despair—unless he’s plummeted to the bottom of the bottomless pit—how could he understand the tears of the tormented? Fortunately for me, this is a theoretical question. I haven’t yet been down that road of shadows. But it’s good to know that someone has preceded me into any dark, forbidding silence that may lurk on the path of life. And it’s not simply a case of being there; it’s a case of showing the way—of lighting the lamp.

28 June 2008

turkish delight

The Germans put an end to their thrilling race through the Euro 2008 tournament. In a 3-2 cliffhanger of a semifinal, the Turkish team was eliminated. After their lackluster opening match against Portugal, the Turks were easily the most exciting team playing. In four straight games, they managed heart-stopping comebacks, including the semifinal. But the sheer number of injured and suspended players took its toll.

For anyone who believes that soccer (that is, football) is boring, make this "note to self": review the Turkish performance in Euro 2008.