MLB 2018 All-Star Break

With the All-Star Game on in the background, I thought I’d write a bit about the 2018 season so far.

Just for a point of reference, here are my predictions from Opening Day.

As you can see, I picked New York, Cleveland, Houston, Boston, and Minnesota as the AL playoff teams. Of course, I had the Yankees winning their division and the Red Sox as a Wild Card team, but I’m still feeling pretty good about going four out of five on these picks. I suppose Minnesota could still have a second half run in them, but I didn’t expect Seattle to be right there in the thick of things. And I never would have believed you if you told me that the A’s would be 3 games out of the second wild card at the break.

The AL playoffs might be event-watching this fall. Houston, Cleveland, Boston, and New York have the look of those NBA “super teams.” And just think…after possibly winning as many as 100 games, either the Yankees or Red Sox will have to play in the one-game “play in” Wild Card game! You could really make a case for any of these four teams to win it all. Should be a lot of fun to watch.

Along those lines, identify the most electric pair of AL teammates:

  • Jose Ramirez and Fransisco Lindor
  • Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton
  • Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa (or George Springer?)
  • Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez

For my money, I’m taking Ramirez and Lindor, but this proves how deep the American League is this year.

Over in the National League, my prognostications don’t look so great. I had Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles as division winners with St. Louis and Arizona as Wild Card teams. After a shaky start, the Dodgers are sitting in first place and the Cubs just crept into the top spot in the NL Central, but the Nationals have been a huge disappointment. I thought the Baby Braves were still a year or so away (looks like I was wrong on that one) and I claimed that the Phillies were “recklessly throwing cash this way and that in an attempt to be relevant.” Well, it’s the All-Star break and Philly is in first place in the East, so I have to take the “L” on this one, too. Arizona is a half-game back in the Wild Card, so there’s still some time for that prediction to come to fruition.

And then, there are the Cardinals. What a mess. It looks like my Redbirds will miss out on the postseason for third straight year. I hate to say it, but it might be time to blow it up and rebuild.

According to the trade chatter, Manny Machado is headed to Los Angeles, which makes the Dodgers the clear cut favorite to win the NL pennant once again. Losing Corey Seager was a huge loss back in April, but having Machado for the stretch run should put the Dodgers in great shape once again. If I had to pick a dark horse, I’d probably still go with the Nationals. I just think they’ll make a second half run in the East. If they can make it, watch out for that pitching staff.

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The Story We Live In

Two high-profile suicides last week have me in a reflective mood. According to the CDC, the suicide rate in the United States has risen nearly 30% since 1999. Like most people, I had no idea. Unsurprisingly, this seems to coincide with the findings of Gallup’s most recent well-being survey: even though the economy continues to bounce back, the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index score dropped off tremendously in 2017. In fact, Gallup noted that the 2017 spike reflects the largest year-over-year drop in well-being in the 10 years Gallup has tracked these data. We are a polarized, anxious, unhappy people and it shows.

All of this prompts me to think about the veracity of our stories. Everyone lives in the context of a story — a meta-narrative that lends meaning and purpose to life. Who am I? What is the point of my life? What truly matters? For thousands of years, the pursuit of such questions was the domain of religion, philosophy, even science. History’s best and brightest — from the Stoics to Charles Darwin to Galileo to the Apostle Paul — have provided us with an assortment of Big Stories (meta-narratives) as answers to our most pressing questions. Even atheism — essentially the assertion that there is no divinely authored meta-narrative — is itself a meta-narrative from which one derives meaning, even if that meaning is decidedly existential.

In his seminal After Virtue, Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes:

I can only answer the question, “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question, “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”

If you don’t remember reading MacIntyre in your Philosophy 101 class, he’s essentially critiquing the modern culture of individualism as “morally vacuous.” We are narratival creatures — “storied” in the sense that we derive meaning from the story out of which we choose to live. What’s the first thing you do when you meet someone new? You begin to narrate your story: what you do for a living, who you’re married to, who your kids are, etc. This comes instinctively because we are wired to ascribe meaning through story. Each story is focused on a telos — a particular end. But we rarely consider the virtue of a particular story’s telos. Instead, we just kind of roll with it, thus our moral vacuousness.

To put it differently, the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have me thinking about the lie the Enemy feeds us through the stories of the world. To the minds of many, Spade and Bourdain lived a representation of “the good life”, filled with notoriety and wealth and privilege. In our celebrity culture, these two were living the kind of lives to which many would naturally aspire. And yet, tragically, this version of “the good life” was apparently unsatisfying. Maybe envy really is useless after all.

I can’t claim to know the stories out of which Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were living. But I feel certain that somewhere along the way, they were handed a false telos. Maybe that telos was the “good life” of fame and fortune and, in the end, that story inevitably failed to deliver on its promise of fulfillment. Maybe that telos was the utter despair they felt in their last moments — the cold, grim possibility that there really is NO telos after all. Maybe we’ll never know what that telos was for these two, except to say it was a false one.

And it’s enough for us to reflect on our own lives at a deep level. To ask about our telos, our meta-narrative, our story.

And, hopefully, to expose the moral vacuousness of the Enemy’s lies.

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Strike Three

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Lost Boy

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Happy 40th, Sunny!

Today is a very special day for a very special person….it is Sunny’s 40th birthday!

Sunny and I met when we were just teenagers. We knew each other in high school, but we really didn’t start talking much until my Senior year, Sunny’s Junior year. Our first date took place on my last day of high school, so we can just barely claim the title of high school sweethearts.

That means that we’ve been together for over 20 years. I’ve had a front row seat as that young teenager became a college student, a young wife, a compassionate educator, and a mother to our three children. A week after our wedding, we moved to Kingsport, Tennessee to begin working with the church there and Sunny immediately joined me as a full partner in my ministry. I’ve seen her grow in wisdom, in quiet strength, and in faithfulness, even amid some trying circumstances.

Jesus says you will know a tree by the fruit it bears. For decades, the Holy Spirit has borne plenty of fruit in her life, but one particular form of produce has always been most prevalent in Sunny: goodness. (This is one of my favorite topics to write about each year, as evidenced here and here and most especially here, in one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written.)

Sunny, the Spirit living inside of you is painting a beautiful picture of the heart of God for all of us to see. You are passionate — zealous, even — about pursuing the goodness of God. In biblical terms, you are the embodiment of the command of Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. Your goodness and your love make us better. May the next year be filled with abundant blessings and opportunities to celebrate the good things God brings our way through you. You are deeply loved.

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Strong and Courageous

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9

Being his father has produced lots of “proud” moments.

“Is that your son?” they would ask when he stepped into the batter’s box.

Yes, that’s my boy. 

“Is that your son?’ they would ask after he volunteered to lead the prayer.

Yes, that’s my boy. 

Every time someone would compliment him, I’d swell up a little more. Best of all was when they said he looked like me. “I can tell who you belong to!” they would say when they saw him standing next to me.

Yes, that’s my boy. 

But I’ve never been prouder of him than I am today. These other moments pale in comparison.

As I noted at AK’s baptism, prior to the birth of each of our children, Sunny and I selected a text that best represented our prayers and hopes for that child. Joshua’s verse was Joshua 1:9. We lifted up countless prayers that he would be strong and courageous, filled with the knowledge of God’s abiding presence. I can still hear his little three-year-old voice praying that God would make him, “strong and courageous and never afraid.”

Joshua, today you made the most courageous decision of your life: to make the story of Jesus your own story. You are strong and you make me proud. May the Lord your God go with you wherever you go.

Yes, that’s my boy. 

And now, he is also my brother.

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Joshua ended his middle school season in style with a triple down the line in deep right. Loud Dad can be heard in the background…you’ve been warned.

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