Feb 052015
 

As many of my friends know, I went to Syracuse University. I actually attended an attached state college, but I lived and studied all four years on the Syracuse campus. I had season tickets for sports there, I played club lacrosse there and I wore a Syracuse jersey.  During my time at Syracuse, I fell in love. So when it was announced this week that Syracuse had self imposed a post season basketball ban, I thought I would share my thoughts.

I loathe the NCAA.

And it’s not just sour grapes.

My loathing of the NCAA is grounded in my enduring belief that the NCAA no longer works for major college sports.  They do a fine job with non-revenue sports, but it’s time to completely rethink the way major sports are administered, and to consider whether they should be administered at all.

boeheimThe problems with the NCAA’s management of major college sports are numerous. Even under the new agreement, the athletes doing the work see little of the millions of dollars that the NCAA rakes in. The standards of proper contact with recruits are a joke in the 21st century. It is impossible to prevent boosters, athletes, and teachers from cheating. When a violation is found, it is those who come later who get punished, while the guilty go free. Violations are administered with no accountability, and there is no person or group on earth I trust with such power. I am convinced that there is too much money in major college sports today for the NCAA to be able to wield that power in a way that benefits major sports athletes, fans or member schools.

What I think will happen is that, eventually, the most powerful schools will form a separate organization for their major college sports. The NCAA will continue to oversee non-revenue sports, and will continue to do a good job with those. I think that is a system that would work.

As for major college sports, though, I’m fairly confident that they cannot be policed. Therefore, I think schools in the new organization should just let it go. The major colleges are the ones who get the money the NCAA raises, let them spend it however they want. Let the athletes learn as much, or as little, as they want. These athletes are old enough to be imprisoned, vote, and join the military. Can’t they decide for themselves how much they want to learn?

It’s time major college sports, and the schools that play them, to start treating their athletes like adults. Treating  them like children so schools can make money off of them is more than disrespectful, it borders on criminal.

That is why I loathe the NCAA.

Nov 102014
 

I’m pretty confident I’m not the only American who battles their weight. In fact, I bet most of us do. Recently I’ve been poking around a community of people trying to lose weight on a website called Reddit. The community is called LoseIt, and while I don’t wade into the conversation much because my own struggles pale in comparison to some, I do read it every now and then. I do it partly to be encouraged, partly to encourage others, and partly just because it’s interesting.

Chickpastor and I were talking the other day about weight loss and LoseIt (over breakfast, no less), and we realized that we had made the same observation. That observation was that for most people trying to lose weight, the first option was usually exercise. It seems to be our default. We all seem to think that we should work our way to weight gain. It makes sense.  After all, we’re Americans. We’ve been raised to believe that we can achieve anything through hard work. We apply this to everything: jobs, school, weight loss, relationships. Just work harder, we’re told, and you can have everything you want.

But we have both found that weight loss doesn’t work that way, and most of the folks on LoseIt agree. Exercise alone was not enough for either of us to lose weight. We have both had to reduce our calories. The pace of that decline is such that by the time we’re sixty lunch will be two carrot sticks and an apple. Nonetheless, that was the only way either of us could do it. We couldn’t work harder and lose weight. We had to eat less. We had to take things away.

This doesn’t seem very American to me.  If I just work hard enough, I should have want what I want, when I want it. Of course I want to be super skinny and have chickens wings for dinner and chocolate cake every night. But I can’t anymore. I just can’t. I can’t work hard enough to have it all. I can be skinny, or I can eat a lot of chicken wings and cake. It’s simple, but it’s hard, and it’s harder than hard work. It’s harder to give up things I love than it is to work a little extra. But that’s what I’ve had to do.  Whether it’s weight loss, or relationships, or work, or school, sometimes we need to give up good things if we want something better. No matter how hard I work, I can’t have everything, and that’s the hardest part of all.

Jul 162014
 

If I had read this blog title years ago, I probably would have looked for where to sign up. I’d have been all over a conference called “Rethink.” There are actually many, many conferences called Rethink. There’s one about rethinking education, one about rethinking advertising, and another about rethinking family living (I was scared to click on that one).  Pick a topic and someone has a “Rethink” conference about it.  But I’m not thinking about a conference where we rethink conferences, though I’m sure people would sign up. Instead, I’m rethinking the whole idea of conferences.  I’m rethinking that way of learning. And I’m thinking it doesn’t work so well.

I reached this conclusion just after attending Wild Goose in June. I went to Wild Goose 2014 expecting a life changing experience. That’s what the reviews had led me to expect. What I found was basically a conference, with speakers and questions and all the usual conference things. That bothered me. I was disappointed. Then I started wondering why that bothered me, and why I was disappointed. I mean, conferences are good, right? Right? As I looked back on the conferences I’ve been going to for the past fifteen years, I realized that they were good, and that was the problem. They were only good.  I wanted more out of Wild Goose. I wanted great, and I didn’t get it. As I thought about the conferences I had been to, I realized that the same was true of almost every conference I had been to. They were usually good, but none were great. And good is no longer good enough.

My first church conference was a Bill Easum conference in 1998. At that conference Bill painted a different vision of church, one in which lives are being transformed and the Kingdom of God comes to earth. Helping church be more like that was why I became a pastor, so I asked Bill how to do it. “I led a bible study on Acts,” he said. So I tried it. Didn’t work. I went to another of Bill’s conferences a few years later and asked the same thing. Bill told me that doing a bible study on Acts wasn’t enough. I had to disciple them. Once again, he couldn’t tell me how. “You just disciple them,” he said. Thanks, Bill.

Since Bill couldn’t tell me, I started going to other conferences. Maybe Bill and I just weren’t connecting. But no one else could tell me how to bring this vision about. No one. Name a church growth or leadership group, and I checked them out. No one could do it. I went to two dozen conference in all before I finally went to a conference by a group called 3DM.  Over fifteen years after I started looking, I found someone who could teach me how I could be part of God bringing transformation through the Kingdom of God. And here’s the kicker:

I didn’t learn how to do it at the 3DM conference. 

I’ve been to seven 3DM conferences, and they were all helpful, but the real learning from 3DM came in the small group mentoring that 3DM provided. And the more I’ve talked with other people who have had transformative experiences, I’ve discovered that this is almost always how it happens. 3DM was not exceptional. Most of the people I know do not have transformative experiences at conferences. They have transformative experiences through mentoring. That’s how transformation happens. That’s how the Kingdom of God comes.

Conferences are good, but if that’s what we’re after then we’re setting the bar too low. We should be after great. We should be after amazing. Good can be the enemy of great, and for years I settled for good. No more. I will probably still go to a few conferences. They occasionally have good information, and my friends go, so they’re almost always fun. But I won’t go to another conference expecting to learn much. If I want to learn, grow, and be transformed, I know where to look. I’ll look for a mentor. I’ll sit at their feet and let them teach me as Jesus taught his disciples. That’s how God speaks to me, how God changes me, and through them God can bring about the Kingdom better than any conference ever will.

May 212014
 

Our heroes today are celebrities. Those are who emulate. Our heroes are athletes, singers and socialites.  They are who we want to be. They are who we emulate, who we model our lives after.

Having had a taste of the celebrity life, I can see the appeal. I never waited in line or paid a cover charge while I was on the publicity tour for Get Low. I never even paid. It was all taken care of. Several times I got bags of free stuff. I got my picture taken, I was in interviews, I was on television and online. People lined up to see my movie, and though they weren’t there to see me, they were there partly because of me. It was a heady feeling.

celebsI will forever remember the day after Get Low premiered. I had lived out a dream the night before. The crowd had given us a standing ovation. Ten years of working and waiting had paid off in magnificent fashion. I had put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that movie. It was a tremendous accomplishment and a life changing moment. But when I woke up the next day, I immediately knew that I hadn’t changed. I was the same jerk I had been when I had woken up the day before. Celebrity changes your surroundings, but it doesn’t change you. If you’re a jerk before you’re famous, you’ll be one after. If you were a saint before, you’ll be a saint after.

When I think of what a hero should be, it seems like they should inspire me to be better. Inspire us all to be better. Celebrities don’t do that. All they inspire us to do is to look prettier and have nicer stuff. It’s all superficial. A hero should be more than that.

Like my sister.

Fifteen years ago my sister weighed over three hundred pounds. Last weekend she won her age group in a 5k race. In between she lost the weight of an entire person. How? She trained her butt off. I mean that literally. She trained so hard over the years that her butt is actually gone, at least compared to what it used to be.  And she’s one of the main reasons I started running. If she could get out and work like that, then my skinny butt could too. I did, thanks in large part to her.

My sister won’t be on the news. Neither will our friend who is battling a brain tumor, or another who is battling breast cancer. I’d wager their struggles are far greater than most of the celebrities we worship, but they won’t get the publicity. They should, because they’re real heroes.

It’s OK. You don’t  need them to be in the news to find them.

I am certain that if you look around, you will find people like them in your life already. People who have overcome tremendous adversity are all around us. They don’t all become super famous, but that does not diminish their accomplishment. To me, their lack of fame makes them more admirable, and more inspiring.

So forget the celebrities. Stop looking on for your heroes on TMZ and ESPN. Instead, look in your phone contacts. Look through your Facebook friends. Real heroes all around you, and you will get farther emulating them than any celebrity.

Mar 072014
 

When we decided to get chickens, we knew that lots of wild critters would want to eat them. My feelings about that can be summed up by Boon in Animal House during a conversation with Otter when they see some of their fraternity pledges being hazed by another fraternity.

Otter: “He can’t do that to our pledges.”

Boon: “Only we can do that to our pledges.”

 

Yet I am still surprised by my own reaction last night when, at 11:30 pm, I heard the chickens squawking and banging around in the coop. I jumped out of bed, said “There’s something in the coop!” and ran downstairs. I grabbed a flashlight and my shoes, because I knew it was raining. Then I grabbed the only thing I could think of for a weapon: a broom. I ran outside and threw open the door to the coop. Two chickens stood on the floor of the coop, looking dazed. The other two were lying in corners, splayed awkwardly and not moving. I shined the flashlight around the interior of the coop until I saw the culprit. It was a medium sized opossum, an ugly sucker. He looked mad. He wasn’t the only one. The two living chickens jumped out of the coop, leaving the opossum and I staring at each other.

That’s when I realized I was wearing only underwear.

Our stare down lasted about a minute. It ended when my wife came out. She was wearing clothes, so we switched places, allowing me to go inside to change. I suited up in long sleeves and gloves just in case I needed to wrestle the opossum. The logic behind that escapes me right now, but at the time it made sense. When I went back out the two chickens that I thought were dead had also hopped out. They played possum on a possum, and it had worked. The tide had turned.

My wife got all the chickens onto our screened porch and closed the door. Then it was time to decide what to do with the opossum. I had a big buck knife in my pocket, but decided to let the opossum live. I used a stick to poke it until it jumped out and ran away. I let it live because it was just doing what God made it to do. It was partly our fault because we had failed to notice or repair the gaps in the fencing that let the opossum in. If it comes back, we will be having possum stew. For now, I bear it no ill will. The chickens spent the night in a dog crate in the garage. This morning I repaired the coop in the rain, and the chickens are now back where they belong.

This may seem like a lot of effort for some chickens, especially since we could replace them for less than $50 total. But these are my chickens. We’ll protect them because they’re ours. I didn’t think before I ran outside. If I had, I would have put some pants on. But I didn’t, because these were my chickens, and they were in danger. I am amazed at how instinctive that was, and how normal. But they’re our chickens, and nobody eats them but us.

Feb 272014
 

keep-calm-and-love-your-enemiesLast Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Atlanta. Here is the sermon from that day, titled “Love Your Enemies.” I know it’s not the most original title in the world, but it’s a topic that never gets old because it’s a lifelong struggle for all of us. In this sermon you will hear some of my struggles and how you and I and everyone can advance God’s vision for our lives and world by loving our enemies.

This sermon is based on Matthew 5:38-48.

Feb 192014
 

An example of a misleading chart of divorce statistics.

I’ve been reading for a long time, and I’m sure you have too, that the divorce rate in the US is fifty percent. You can see that clearly on the chart to the left. What I have taken this to mean is that, for the past several decades, the odds of a marriage succeeding have been  50/50. That my marriage, your marriage, all marriages have a one in two chance of making it.

Turns out that is wrong.

What got me started on this topic was a Freakonomics podcast called Why Marry? In that episode, one of the statistics that jumped out at me was that the divorce rate in the US has actually been declining steadily since it’s peak in 1981. The exact figures can be found here in USA Today.  The podcast, and the USA Today article, both calculate the divorce rate per 1000 people. That number has dropped from 5.3 divorces per 1000 people in 1981 to 3.6 divorces per 1000 people in 2007. That’s a decline of one third. That is not the picture the media has been painting. Not by a long shot.

So where does the fifty percent number come from? It comes from taking the number of marriages in a given year and dividing it by the number of divorces.  This is called the “crude divorce rate,” and that is the number we keep hearing about.  The current marriage rate in the US is 6.8 per 1000 people. Divide that by the divorce rate of 3.6 per 1000 (it’s held steady since 2007), and you get a crude divorce rate of 53%.

The problem the crude divorce rate is that it fails to consider that the people getting divorced in a given year were not married in the year they were divorced.  It is skewed because fewer people are getting married now than in years past, and those who do are getting married later.  The crude divorce rate, therefore, is skewed high by a glut of older marriages. It shows a higher odds of divorce than actually exists. 

Divorce is not as common as I have been led to believe. If you are thinking about getting married, and this statistic scared you off, please rethink it. Being  married to Chickpastor has been the greatest blessing of my life.  Don’t let a misleading statistic keep you from enjoying the great blessing of a good marriage.

Jan 242014
 
I despised Thank You Notes before I understood them.

I despised Thank You Notes before I understood them.

I’m from New York, where people value honesty, sincerity and individuality. Up there, you’re expected to tell it like it is and to be yourself. Southerners, on the other hand, value polite formality. Here there are rules about what to say and do, and when to say and do them, and with whom you say and do them, and what you wear when you say and do them, on and on. Learning those rules has been a fifteen year journey that has been difficult and confusing. Fortunately, my awesome Southern wife has helped tremendously. Over the years I’ve learned enough that not only can I manage reasonably well, but I have come to appreciate just how liberating polite formality can be. Here’s a recent example.

We went to a family funeral last week. After the funeral, there was a reception at the home. At the reception there was food. All of these are things that would happen in the North. What was different about this was that not only did a group of women bring the food to the house and set it up, they stayed. At the home. During the meal. They weren’t family or friends of the deceased, but rather a group of friends from church. They organized the entire meal, set it up, then stayed and did all the little things to make sure guests and hosts got to visit with one another.  Up North, having friends be at your house serving food would create, at the very least, a little anxiety. The hosts would be worried about how the servers were doing, would want them to feel welcome and included, and would do at least a little fussing over them. That didn’t happen here. They weren’t ignored by any means. They were most definitely thanked, and the hosts were certainly concerned with their well being.

But there was no anxiety.

That’s because everyone knew the appropriate way to thank these people, and it wasn’t by fussing over them or making sure they made conversation. It was with verbal thanks, a hug, and later the vital note of thanks. That will suffice, because that’s what formality dictates. That’s how you say ‘thank you,’ and everyone knows it, including those being thanked. They felt appreciated, the hosts and guests felt loved and supported by their work, and everyone could feel good about the whole experience without hardly any anxiety at all. Well, as good as you can after a funeral.

The problem with the informality of the North is that people seldom know where they stand. Without rules, it’s difficult to tell if you have served someone well enough, thanked them enough, or really done anything enough. It’s all individual, and that’s more confusing than if there are rules. What I’ve learned is that rules simplify communication. You have to know the rules, obviously, which is where I’ve struggled in the past. But once you know the rules then formality really does make it easier to have relationships, and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate about the South.

This is Actually 40

 If You're Bored  Comments Off on This is Actually 40
Nov 132013
 

I turned forty on Monday. I was surprised to learn that I share a birthday not only with Leonardo DiCaprio, but also with Kurt Vonnegut. That’s only appropriate, given my brilliant writing talent and incredible good lucks. Yep. That’s me. Kurt Vonnegut and Leonardo DiCaprio, all rolled into one. That’s what I’m going to tell myself, anyway, because I feel forty, and it doesn’t feel too good. My mom told me on my birthday that being old was just a state of mind. My mind agrees, but the rest of my body hasn’t gotten the memo.  For instance, it used to be that when I went to the doctor and they asked for my past history, I just kept repeating “No” until they were done.

“Ever have any heart problems?” “No.”

“Ever have surgery?” “No.”

“On any medication?” “No.”

This is what forty actually looks like.

That was how it used to be. Now, though, I’m the guy that makes the nurse have to slow down so she can record everything. I get sore from doing nothing. Exercise is essential or my muscles become a knotted mess. I have to eat less to keep my weight the same. I have a cardiologist, for crying out loud! Nothing screams “old guy” like having a cardiologist, especially when you and the office staff recognize one another’s voices on the phone. That’s bad, but none of these are good things.

Forty is not a state of mind. It is a state of my body. It is the state where my body is beginning to get run down. I may not be old, but I’m aging. That’s being forty. It’s not just careers and kids and wondering if your life is what you wanted it to be like in the Judd Apatow movie. Unlike the people in his movie I have a great life. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m physcially declining. At this point it’s more annoying than scary, but there’s no denying that I’m aging, and we all know where that decline takes you. It’s real. It will happen. To me.

This is actually forty, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to deal with it. That’s the hardest part about it. You just have to deal with the aches and pains and keep going, so that’s what I’m going to do. The alternative is to roll over and die, and I’m not ready to do that just yet. I have a great life, and I’m going to keep enjoying it. It’s just going to have more aches and pains in it..

This is actually forty, and it sucks.

Sep 262013
 

A map of Bremen, showing Vegesack. Bremen is in north central Germany near the North Sea.

My whole life people have been asking me about my last name. “Seek” is how most people first pronounce it. At one point I was counting the number of people who had pronounced it correctly the first time (you pronounce the final ‘e’). I stopped when I was thirty, and the tally was thirty seven.  The only reason I stopped was because it was tedious trying to remember. People have been mispronouncing my name my whole life.

After being corrected, most people then ask where my name is from. I’ve heard guesses ranging all over Europe. Some people thought Switzerland, some Scandinavia. Until last month, I could only say “Germany.” But my Dad has been researching our family, and he found out where we are from. My ancestor John Gerhardt Seeke was from Vegesack, a district of Bremen.

Once I found that out, I reached out to a German friend who helped me find the website of the Lutheran church in Vegesack. I sent them an email asking if they had records of any Seeke’s. They told me they did not, but that they are a new church. I chuckled when I read that they had been founded in 1938 because I’ve been part of eight churches and only one was older. They were kind enough to forward my email to a local genealogist. Not only was he willing to help, but he said the name Seeke is quite common in Vegesack.

That blew me away. All my life my name has been weird. People can’t pronounce it, they don’t know where it’s from, and I never felt like my name belonged here. It feels great to know that there is a place where my name is normal. Common, even.  Someday I hope to meet one of my German relatives, hopefully in Vegesack. I don’t know why it feels so good knowing that my name is normal, but it definitely does. It feels great.