Desire and Guts

My on again/off again affair with running is 'on' again. I've been doing this since, oh, 1976 when I 'ran track' at Branson High School. I use the phrase 'ran track' loosely.

One of the guys I ran around with in those days, Tim, ran track. He ran the 220, and a relay or two I think. He also was a low hurdler. One day, in PE, Tim was practicing his form with a couple of hurdles. I got to messing around with it, too, just for something to do. Well, Tim told his dad about it.

Tim's dad was our PE teacher. And he was the track coach, too.

"Hey, Dad!" says Tim. "I think I found your high hurdler!" says Tim. "Scowden! You going out for track?" says coach. "I guess so." says I.

Inspiring, isn't it?

Wait, it gets better. As it turns out, I was a terrible high hurdler.

But I did last an entire season on a team in high school and that's a pretty cool thing to do. I recommend it. Even if you are terrible.

As I think about it now, it never occurred to me to quit. I think, if I was failing at something today at the rate I failed at high hurdling, I would quit it. It would be so obvious that someone else could do a better job that I should get out and let that someone have my place. But quitting never crossed my mind. Honestly, I am amazed by that.

Because there have been many times in my life that I bailed out on things that were not going well. Perhaps, at times, even quit too soon. I've quit things when I could have done better, but did not want too, and I am not proud of that. But I never considered quitting the track team my senior year, even though it was a 50/50 proposition whether I would finish a race without hitting a hurdle and falling down.

I look back over my rather unremarkable life and am astonished by the desire and guts of my 17-year-old self.

Where did that guy go?

And is he gone for good?



Today was the day for making arrangements for Mom's funeral. My sisters, my brother, and I went to the funeral home and answered questions and made lists and brainstormed.

Then it was lunch at a Chinese buffet where, after the fortune cookies were cracked open and the fortunes read, we cracked up at one that was not like the others. Who writes these things?

Then to the attorney's office for attorney business. Papers shuffled, phone calls made. Look around the table, any questions? Nope, I'm good. Well then.

It was a cloudy, drizzly day. The sky was nearly dry, but still damp enough to wring out some drops that fell in bunches, before being hung back up. Driving from the attorney's, through the drizzle, music soaked the car's interior:

"Smile though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it's breaking
When there are clouds, in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile, through your fear and sorrow
Smile, and there'll be tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through"

Obviously, it wasn't all fun and games, but we managed to smile. Quite a bit, actually.



The cancer came back. Cancer is never nice when it comes back. In her final days, the Lord dealt gently with Mom. And for all my days, the Lord was good to me through her. For these two gifts I am thankful.

In one of my last visits with Mom, in between her bouts of drowsiness, I got her to tell me about movie stars she liked. In a sleepy voice she said she liked Peter Lawford and "his gang". Now, I am no expert on Peter Lawford and I didn't exactly remember him having a gang. I asked who his gang was, though I had an inkling. "Oh, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin . . . ." she trailed off.  That's what I thought. It was the Rat Pack. I think most people would have suggested that the Rat Pack was Sinatra's gang, not Lawford's. No matter. I told her that I saw "Ocean's Eleven" and she told me she liked that one. Then she mentioned that they made "Ocean's Twelve", but it wasn't as good.  She said the sequels are never as good.

I have picked up the notion that Mom kind of had a thing for the swarthy, Italian types with flashing eyes. She liked the aforementioned Lawford and she liked singer Tony Bennett. One of her favorite baseball players was Joe Torre. In fact, she kind of made a big deal out of giving me her Joe Torre card a while back.

There was one decidedly un-Italian, un-swarthy type that she had a thing for, and this thing lasted for over 49 years of marriage, before Dad passed in 1999. And why not, given his excellent taste in sweaters? This picture is from their first year of marriage, outside of their first house in Ozark, about 1950. Their car is a '41 Ford.

I think these two kids were very much in love in those days and they remained loving and gentle toward each other for as long as Dad lived.

Here's Tony for Mom, one more time. Farewell and Godspeed, Mom.


Time Is Short

the world is a stage
it's said, all will play their part,
then exit on cue

"And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9: 27-28)

"Since his (man's) days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, . . ." (Job 14:5)

"Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them." (Psalm 139:16)


He Put A Number On His Back

The movie '42' opens today. It will tell us what happened. It will tell us that Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in 1947 in spite of racism that showed itself in the forms of verbal abuse and threats of physical harm.

It will tell us that Branch Rickey, the white general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Robinson to a contract with the intent of his breaking the 'color barrier' and becoming a pioneer - a pioneer that is honored by every MLB franchise today. That's what happened.

I hope it tells us why it happened.

Because why it happened is for the glory of God.

As a young man, Branch Rickey coached the baseball team at Ohio Wesleyan University and it was there that:

". . . his Christian conviction collided head on with his love for the great game. Charles Thomas was recruited by Rickey to play catcher and was the only black player on the team. OWU traveled to South Bend, Indiana for a game against Notre Dame. When they arrived the hotel clerk refused to allow Thomas to stay because of a whites-only policy. Rickey persuaded the hotel to allow Thomas to go to his (Rickey's) room and later requested a cot. That evening Rickey found his catcher sobbing and rubbing his hands and arms convulsively while muttering, 'It's my skin. If only I could wipe off the color they could see I am a man like everybody else.' Rickey told him to, 'Buck up!' and said, 'We will beat this one day!' but later noted he never felt so helpless and vowed at that time that he would do whatever he could to end such humiliation." (from The ferocious Christian gentleman behind Jackie Robinson's famous moment)

Author Eric Metaxas, from his book Seven Men: And The Secret Of Their Greatness, records the kind of faith that animated Robinson and Rickey:

"Robinson was a Christian and his Christian faith was at the very center of his decision to accept Branch Rickey's invitation to play for the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers . . . Branch Rickey himself was a Bible-thumping Methodist whose faith led him to find an African American ballplayer to break the color barrier . . . At the center of one of the most important civil rights stories in America lies two men of passionate Christian faith." (from Jackie Robinson and the Pattern of Jesus)

Both men were men of abiding Christian faith and that faith was at the heart of, what Rickey called, 'the great experiement'.

Oh, it would be a great story had they been Hindu, or Jewish, or Buddhist, or some other faith. Or of no faith at all. Righting this wrong was, well, right, and most of us rejoice at those kinds of stories. However, if the faith of the two men was a key factor (and it seems to have been), then to leave it out would not be right and we would not rejoice, for we would have been told only a partial truth.

As I said, I hope they tell us why.


New York, New York. And New York.

I have visited New York City on two occasions, briefly. From what little I've seen, I love the place. My notions are probably mostly romantic, but still, I am ready to go back any time.

The other night, while my lovely bride and I were enjoying some TV, I noted that the three programs that are appointment television for me are all based in, you guessed it, New York City. That is probably not really too much of a stretch, as many shows are produced in the Big Apple.

Here are links to the shows, if you want.


Person of Interest

Blue Bloods


Of Dystopian Novels

I just finished reading That Hideous Strength written by C. S. Lewis. It is the third in what is commonly called The Space Trilogy, though any of the three books could be read on its own. The first two books, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, are fine in their own right, but Strength outdoes them both, handily, in my view.

I noticed this time through That Hideous Strength themes that resonate with the debates we are having today about how much government we want, who do we trust for information, and so on. Lewis was spot on in framing, in particular, the tack that progressive types will take in advancing their cause.

But don't take my word for it, here's Powerline blog contributor Steven Hayward :

"Dare I incur the wrath of (Ayn Rand fans) everywhere if I suggest that Lewis' dystopian novel is the best of the entire genre of mid-20th century group that includes 1984 and Darkness at Noon. Which means it is also far superior to Atlas Shrugged, not only in style but in content as well. Whittaker Chambers had it right that Atlas Shrugged is a "strenuously sterile world" filled with "operatic caricatures." By contrast, Lewis' portrait of the academic bureaucrat Withers holds up along side Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution. (It has some other relevant wit: the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments-or N.I.C.E.-is dead-on for the kind of authoritarian bodies and processes-sensitivity training anyone?-the therapeutic Left imposes on all of us today.)"

All of Hayward's post is here.


Opening Day 2013

I have, from time to time, gotten into 'arguments' over the virtues of baseball vs. football. And I have come to realize that these 'discussions' are of little merit. In the end each man usually remains convinced in his own mind as to the qualities of his favorite game.

The argument in favor of baseball goes something like, "beauty, timelessness, green grass, sun-splashed bleachers, pastoral, poetry, hot dogs, Babe Ruth, historical, fathers and sons" and so on. The case in favor of football goes something like, "most popular".

It goes without saying that I am in the baseball camp.

And happily, I am not alone. Pastor Kevin DeYoung had a post on his blog about why you should love our national pastime. Here's a taste:

"This week marks the beginning of baseball, for 150 years, our national pastime. Football may be the king of revenue and ratings, March Madness may be the most enjoyable three weeks of sports, the NHL may be the obsession north of the border, and the NBA may have bigger star power, but there is still no sport in this country better than baseball."

That is a very bold statement at the end there and DeYoung knows what you are thinking:

"I know the many knocks on baseball: The games are too slow. The season is too long. The contracts are too big. I know about steroids and strike-shortened seasons. I know the players chew and spit and adjust themselves too much. I know every pitcher except for Mark Buerhle takes too much time in between pitches. I know that purists hate the DH rule and almost everyone hates the Yankees. I understand if baseball is not your thing. You don't have to like our national pastime.

But you should."

DeYoung continues to make the argument for baseball in the paragraphs that follow. The whole article is worth reading if you like sports, especially baseball.

His conclusion:

"It's a long season. It's a slow season. It's a game of strategy and finely-honed skill more than brute force and raw athleticism. It's everything fans aren't supposed to want in their sports anymore.

Which makes it just perfect."

Indeed. The perfect game.


Wide Open

Last week, after Gonzaga was defeated in the NCAA basketball tournament, I heard the charge that the Bulldogs were overrated and should not have been a number one seed. I say, "How can you know?"

I mean, if you have that kind of super knowledge, shouldn't you be making money hand over fist in Las Vegas? You should, and if you are not, I'm guessing you are guessing.

Here's what is going on the tourney and I'm writing this not because I'm a genius, but because I listen to people who know and this is what they are saying. That is: there is not dominant team in college basketball, like last year's Kentucky squad; and, the tournament is more wide-open than it has been in years.

It's not that Gonzaga was overrated. It was that there has to be 4 number one seeds. Compared to Kentucky last year, everybody this year is overrated. But that's not how it works. Four ones, four twos, and so on.

The tournament has been crazy this year and that is just what you would expect in a wide-open year. Sit back and enjoy.



Sunday is back.

For a while now I have had to work on Sundays and so missed out on Sunday School and church. But no more. I have new work now and will able to get to Sunday morning services.

There is a longing present in me when I am unable to be with God's people on Sunday and I am grateful for it. I think there was a time in my life when I would no have felt it. In years gone by I have practiced a sort of Lone Ranger faith that pridefully assumed I could practice Christianity all by myself. Thankfully, those days are over. I find now that I long to be in worship on Sundays and I need it. It is good for me.

So, it's not so much that Sunday is back, but that I am. And that's a good thing.


Petty Blue

Richard PettyWell this is good news.

One of the most recognizable images from my youth is the #43 race car of Richard Petty. It's color, which was concocted accidentally, is referred to as 'Petty Blue'. Of late, NASCAR cars have rather complicated paint schemes, unlike the more simplified paint jobs of days gone by.

But that will change, for one car anyway. The number 43 car of Richard Petty Motorsports, driven by Aric Almirola will be painted Petty Blue. Of course the sponsor's logo will be prominent, but there won't be a bunch of other colors.

Looks good to me.


Writers and Writing

I write on this blog because I like to write. Somebody who "likes to write" would write more often you say. Well, maybe. Or maybe I have problems that are addressed in this article.

Just maybe.


A Changed Heart

resting by His cross
my rebel's heart is altered
now quiet at last


The Greatest Cardinal

When Babe Ruth died, many thousands came to Yankee Stadium for the viewing. Many of those paying respects brought along their sons. One father said something to the effect that he "someday wanted to be able to tell his son that he saw the greatest ball player who ever lived." I would not be surprised if something like this took place today at Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis where the visitation for the late Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal ball player who ever lived, is being held.

Nobody under 55 years old would probably remember seeing Musial play; he retired after the 1963 season. I remember my Dad saying that he saw the Cardinals play in St. Louis, at least once, so I would imagine he saw Musial. That's another conversation I would have liked to have had with Dad, "Tell me about Sportsman's Park, and the uniforms, and who played, and so on."

While I never saw him play, I was once in Musial's presence briefly. He was in Springfield for ball card show that my sister and I attended in the 80's. I was still working on my card collection in those days, but went to this show primarily for Musial's autograph. At the show, I bought a glossy photo for him to sign and when my turn came, I presented it to him and he signed. I said something like, "Thank you, sir," and I don't remember what he said, but he was polite, of course. Indeed, in the days since his passing, there have been as many stories told about Musial the gentleman as there have been about his Hall of Fame baseball career.

About 5 years or so after that meeting the time came for me to part with the bulk of my card collection. Finding a buyer was a little tricky for the market had begun to plateau or even fall off. And my collection was dominated by older cards, which weren't in vogue in the 90's. What you saw featured in the shops in those days (and today!) was high gloss and foil. But I did find a buyer for my cards and during the process of evaluating my cards, they discovered my affinity for the Cardinals and Musial. On the day they brought the check over, they threw in a little gift. A '53 Bowman of Musial. Not in the best condition, of course. There's a big crease right across Stan's schnoz, but still, it's a generous, and much appreciated gesture, even to this day.

Anyone who had seen Musial in some of his final public appearances knew that this day was coming. For years he held on as his contemporaries faded. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams are gone. There's a movie about Jackie Robinson coming out, but Jackie's been gone 40 years. Younger players like Willie Stargell and Kirby Puckett have been gone many years, yet Stan hung on for 92 years. Hung on until Saturday last.

I never saw him play and I won't be at the visitation in St. Louis today, yet I am fortunate that once, at a small ball card show in the 1980's, I laid eyes on the greatest Cardinal ball player ever.