Archive for the 'Childhood' Category

Home sweet Home? Reflections on another year of life…

Birthdays are an interesting thing. If you are like me, you get slightly reflective – to the point of being slightly neurotic.

Case in point – my blog last year on my birthday, I wrote from Alexandria Egypt – and it was one of those transformative experiences where I look back and realized it was more impactful in it’s wake than in it’s present. More than anything, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to visit some places in the world that have allowed for me to see, think, and feel differently.

Many times I’ve wondered how I’d be different if I never left home and ventured out into something different.  I like who I am because of it – I’ve learned how to be “at home” most anywhere – urban, rural, domestic, international – I truly like that I can find the beauty of another culture and embrace it and love it and do my best to call it “home.”

But there is something that I’ve never really put into words before that is a darker side of experiencing so much of the world. It’s about not having a sense of home.

If you’ve met me and my family, home has a very strong geographical sense. My family has dwelled in the same town, and occupied the same home for nearly 50 years. Home is primarily geographical.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself asking a question of myself that I have a hard time answering – where is home? What is home?

When you are a child, home is the place that you know you will be when you return from going somewhere. After church, we go…home. After school, we go…home. After work, we go…home.  It’s the center of existence – an unchanging place in a changing world.

This past week I spent three days hiking miles and miles into the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains, and stopped and camped at a different site each night. I had great conversations with backpackers along the way. One couple I met with we enjoyed a meal together and talked.  They were honestly glad to see me because they had only talked with each other in the past week. I was welcome company…we shared a bottle of wine together around a campfire and talked about life.

We were strangers in life enjoying a chance encounter on the journey, trying to create some sense of home in a place that isn’t very conducive to home. Isn’t that a metaphor for life?

One of my best friends and I had a lot of talk time when I was in Colorado – we discussed the usual – careers, family, romance (or lack thereof), sports, business, politics, etc. Then we talked about how the longest he’s been in one place in the last nine years has been fifteen months. And that was Iraq.

When you are single and mobile, and not necessarily attached, home is hard to make.  We’ve both reflected on this – He far more than I – and realized that living in an interim state is difficult.  Home is meant to convey a sense of permanence, but when it isn’t there there is a sense of lacking.

A scene from the film Garden State haunted me when I first watched it years ago. It’s between the two main characters – Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. They are talking about the idea of “home.”

Andrew Largeman: You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew Largeman: You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

Ever feel this way?  When home was once a place, and is now just an idea?  What made it change?


Watchdog Renaissance & Hometown Pride?

I get the NY Times in my inbox everyday and I usually get about 20 minutes of reading time in.  I read good news and bad news everyday.

Today’s good news from the NY Times is that we may be seeing a reporting renaissance that could spur on more folks who do the same.  The journalism industry seems to be reinventing itself with the increased accessibility of publishing through the internet, so there are several strategies moving forward.  Having a low overhead, not-for-profit approach that is based on journalists recapturing the integrity of their profession is a great way we could see watchdogs back in the news room.

You stay classy, San Diego.

But then, if watchdogs do their job right, they uncover stuff we aren’t all that excited to have made public.  Which leads me to my next point – the NY Times took the liberty of exposing my hometown for regular underage drinking as it talked about the Wisconsin drinking culture.

I don’t know how people in Edgerton are responding, but I think some of us are slightly embarrassed that our town makes the National Press for…underage drinking.  Of course, just one look at our team song and you can see why our nickname isn’t exactly the most healthy…

We are loyal Edgerton

Loyal and True

Though the odds be great or small

We’ll be cheering you


We are loyal, Edgerton

To the fair name

Fight, fight forever

Tobacco City win this ga-a-ame.

Childhood Dream: Brew Crew playing in October

My cousin and I talked yesterday about our beloved Brew Crew making the post season yesterday.  We were raised avid Brewers fans, and as such we were raised with very low standards when it came to baseball.

In case you didn’t know, the Milwaukee Brewers are in the playoffs for the first time since 1982.  For those of you doing the math, that is 26 years ago.

They don't shower with champagne in Miller Park...

They don't exactly shower with champagne in Miller Park

I remember reading in Mrs. Connor’s fourth grade class room the 1988 Baseball preview book during D.E.A.R Time (Drop Everything And Read).  I still remember reading one sentence over and over again – the author predicted that he would be sitting in Milwaukee watching the World Series at County Stadium with a bratwurst in hand. Obviously it didn’t happen – I remember watching Orel Hershiser instead that post season help the Dodgers win against the heavily favored Oakland A’s.

Low standards were something that we kind of expected in Milwaukee growing up.  When I was a kid, the Brewers were in the American League, but we still got to watch two amazing ball players – Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.  After Yount retired and Molitor left to Toronto (where he won a World Series), the Brewers then proceeded to be miserable year after year, and breaking .500 was a dream for us.

What was worse was that the Baseball interim commissioner at the time was Milwaukee’s very own Bud Selig, who brought further shame on our reputation for baseball by not adequately handling a baseball strike in 1994, tore up the rivalries we had developed for 25 years by moving the Brewers to the National League (I’m glad for it, but at the time it made me very confused living next to Comiskey Park), and then poorly handled the baseball steroid scandal.

Yes Cub fans, there are other organizations on the planet that rival your futility…

I know you Cub fans whine about not winning the World Series in 100 years, but at least the Cubbies have played in October in five times since Milwaukee was last in the post season – 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and 2007.  The Brewers haven’t even won a World Series – granted they’ve only been around since 1972 – only 36 years of existence.  Getting to the post season once every five seasons or so is kind of nice, really…at least you have hopes to dash.

But not this year – both Milwaukee and Chicago have hopes that can be dashed equally.  I know Cubs fans have more experience in this, but we both have our histories.

What I wouldn’t give to enjoy a Miller Park Bratwurst with secret stadium sauce and sauerkraut on an October day in Milwaukee watching the Crew take on the Cubs in the NLCS.  Wrigley North, sheesh…what they pass as a sausage at Wrigley is shameful…

The fastest meat on the street.

The fastest meat on the street.

October baseball is comin’ back to Milwaukee…let the sausage race begin.

Bruce Wayne & Batman: Conversion & Calling

I loved Spiderman when I was a kid. Luke Skywalker and Spider-Man both had hugely formative influences on my childhood. Geeky science kid turned superhero and dreaming blond-haired blue-eyed young man staring off into twin sunsets were the twin poles that held the line of my idealism in tension. When Episode II and Spider-Man came out in 2002, it was like I was 8 years old all over again. It was wonderful – as if I could be a kid all over again that summer.

As I got older, however, I switched my allegiance to Batman. I remember when Tim Burton’s Batman in 1990 – I actually watched it on the family Sony Beta-Max (it was better than VHS) after it came out on video. Then the film series got progressively worse over the years. Moving from gaudier to cheesier, and finally just plain bad with Schwarzenegger-puns-and-bat-suit-nipples to boot, I was so glad that the Dark Knight got revamped under Christopher Nolan. He thankfully disregarded the previous series and got back to basics with Batman Begins.

I still remember leaving the theater when I first watched Batman Begins three years ago. Loved it. When I had cable and Comcast’s “on demand” it was one of my absolute favorites to watch multiple times. The training montages, flashbacks, a tightly-woven plot, character development – all brilliant.

I’ve asked myself why I still liked it so much. What is it about this Dark Knight that I love?

Ask any comic book novice (I’m not even that good), and they’ll tell you what sets Batman apart: he has no superpowers. He’s the most human of all the superheroes, and most easy to identify with for most of us (if you are able to identify with billionaires.) He grew up under the shadow of wealth and yet was never really satisfied. He’s a man who has an unsettled and disturbing past, one filled with hurt and pain.

Nolan made Bruce Wayne elementally human in that he never really is fully able to bury the past and is working it out in the process of trying to bring healing to Gotham. The process of his healing, his redemption, his transformation, is linked to his journey to save Gotham. Even though Batman isn’t able to help everyone, he is able to save many. He’s doing what no one was able to do for him that fateful night in the alley where his parents were shot in cold blood right in front of him. Bruce Wayne’s calling is what makes him Batman; his conversion is chronicled in Batman Begins.

Can you tell I’m excited to watch The Dark Knight tonight with friends? It’s like being an 8-year-old boy all over again.

Here’s another reason why I feel 8-years-old: I’m writing this blog entry as a means to procrastinate a project on how Christians should see their callings as the working out of their conversion. Two years ago I had a conversation with author and spiritual director Gordon Smith, and he said something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. “The contours of our conversion are filled in with the call of God on our lives. In a sense, our calling, our vocation is essentially working out our conversion with fear and trembling.”

The capstone of the class I took with Smith on conversion had a project: write your own “conversion narrative.” No more than 25 pages, but basically it was a project where we wrote about all our spiritual experiences and tried to make some sense of them.

I was shocked as I wrote and wrote and wrote. The words kept coming, and it was so clear as I wrote how God had divinely implanted things I care about that I never really saw clearly until I sat and wrote. I uncovered why I cared so much about authenticity, friendship, justice, race & culture & inclusiveness, leadership, joy, etc. My calling in large part has been the working out of these clear threads of God’s intervention in my life.

My project is trying to develop training for students on how to ask the right kinds of questions that are open-ended that allow for folks to express what they see as wrong – in the world we dwell in, in the relationships we live in, in the way we see ourselves, and ultimately in the way we relate to our Creator. The answers to these questions are inextricably linked to each other. We live in a messed up world, and the single universal human experience is pain – we have all experienced wrong and we call it pain. And while the answer to these questions are complex, our answers shed insight as to how we view the world and explain why we need news that is good.

Bruce Wayne’s response to the pain in his life was to become Batman – to be “converted” to a new way of living, to usher in news that is good wherever he could. His response is a breath of fresh air and inspires 8-year-olds and adults alike to fight for what is right in this world (and entertaining too – just check the box office numbers after this weekend).

Most of us will leave the theater after the film and go back to reality. As a follower of Jesus, however, I look at Batman as a work of fantasy that reminds me of the reality of needing to work out my salvation in the mission of healing the planet – and sometimes that requires fear and trembling, particularly when faced with the world we live in.

But what story would be good unless there wasn’t a point where you thought the hero might fail? But, I’ll admit it, I love watching tragedies, but I sure don’t want to live one.

Whaler Wednesday: Back in the Swing of Things

Some of you know this, but I’ve joined a softball team.It’s been fun for me to get back into the swing of things (pun intended), as over a decade of baseball memories floods back to me when I see the world through a chain-link fence and sunflower seeds in my mouth…

I started my love affair with baseball when I was just a kid going to Dawson Field in Janesville, Wisconsin, watching my Dad play for the church softball team. My cousins and I would jockey between being the batboy, playing on the playground, and eating fun dip.

(Which really, I mean, come on, how can you call eating flavored sugar with a sugar stick “dip?” But it was so good…why would my mother ever give me that much sugar…)

I remember one team we played against in the church softball league was a team that was sponsored by a local tavern. They were Presbyterians, I think. We didn’t have a drop of alcohol in my family fridge, so naturally I thought the stuff was awful. And it was from the devil. Bar sponsored Presbyterian church softball team was the team that I thought was the best to beat.

God has many characterstics, but one that I appreciate best is his sense of irony. Here I am, suiting up for this team, and I put on my Tommy Nevin’s Pub “Whalers” jersey as a Presbyterian. How ironic. I am what I once judged.

(Yes, I did ask for forgiveness, if you are wondering…)

Anyway, back to the sports section. I’m playing third base and still have got my glove and my range, but there’s something freaky about moving back to 60 foot basepaths. Standard baseball measures 90 foot basepaths, so moving back that close makes playing the hot corner a little freaky. Especially when you come up against the team we encountered this week.

They were last year’s league champs, and they played like it. They did all the little things that I remember doing back in high school baseball that just showed what a good team plays like. Of course, when a 6-6 300 pound giant stands back in the box and takes a wind up to hit the ball, let’s just say I wished I had remembered my cup when he got up to the plate…gulp.

We lost 8-1, and I didn’t do anything to help, going 0-3 at the plate. I did get a chance to show my stuff at third, and didn’t commit an error and had a couple putouts. I gotta get my bat back…

My childhood is officially over…or what I learned from Brett Favre

I’ve dreaded this day for years. It’s loomed on the horizon, I’ve seen it coming, but I still wasn’t as ready as I thought. My brother called to tell me. My dad called less than a minute later.

Brett Favre announced his retirement, and my childhood has officially ended.

There’s a lot of discussion now about Brett’s place in history, his records, and his legacy. The talking heads have talked for hours and will talk for hours about Brett’s decision. I avoid this kind of conversation – it’s a lot of mindless chatter and empty words.

For those of us who grew up as kids watching Brett play, we’ll be avoiding the talking heads. Their tirades and rants and clamoring for sound bites really just fly in the face of what we adored most about Favre – not emptiness, but substance. Words that came from the depths and not the shallows. He never had to talk about integrity, because we all knew it was there. People of integrity don’t need to talk about it.

In my opinion, Brett probably isn’t the best quarterback of all time. But he was the best leader ever to put on football pads. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years, and in reflecting on his sixteen seasons in Green Bay I’ve realized he taught me more than I imagined.

We put on pads together in Wisconsin for the first time together; he as a washout from Atlanta, I as a 130 pound-soaking-wet freshman cornerback at Edgerton High School. When he took over the reigns from Don Majkowski in that now-historic comeback against the Bengals and a fourth quarter touchdown pass to Kittrick Taylor. September of 1992 was the last time someone other than Favre started for the Packers. He started 275 straight games since including playoffs. My college students I work with now were literally in diapers when someone else was quarterback of the Packers.

You’ll hear the stories. He wasn’t even recruited as a quarterback in college. He made it at Southern Mississippi, and nearly lost it after a near-fatal car crash (but he did lose 30 inches of intestine.) He was drafted by Atlanta, but was so out of control he didn’t even make the team picture. But it was his raw talent and leadership that the then-general manager of the Packers, Ron Wolf, saw and wanted. He failed the physical, but Wolf told him to change the report and pass him.

We learned you don’t give up on someone at first glance.

He got a fresh start in Green Bay as a young punk who didn’t even know what a nickel back was, and was assigned the cool and sophisticated Mike Holmgren from San Francisco as his new mentor. Holmgren came from the gold standard of quarterbacks in San Francisco, where cool and super-smart Joe Montana was the prototype quarterback and the gifted and intelligent Steve Young was a back-up.

Brett wasn’t super-cool or super-smart. He was FAR from sophisticated. He showed up for press conferences in cut off t-shirts and sandals, and his locker room flatulence is the subject of many Wisconsin boys sleepovers. He’d fart in the huddle to take the edge off of his teammates. But beyond the stuff that made us high school boys laugh, Favre reeked of raw and real emotion that brought the beauty into celebration. When he threw a touchdown pass, he ran down and tackled his teammate. Or put him on his shoulders. It was real, unscripted celebration – like leaping into the stands and partying with the a few of the 60,000 team owners.

We learned what celebration was like, and what was worth celebrating.

While Brett was wild and crazy on the field, early on he was wilder and crazier off it. His episodes at Green Bay bars were just as legendary, and just as the stakes were raised on the field as the team won, the bar was raised when it came to partying off the field as well.

And Brett bottomed out. Our beloved leader admitted he had a problem – so much so that he checked himself into rehab. He spoke openly and honestly at a press conference about his addiction to pain killers and alcohol. His two best friends and teammates said it would no longer be beer and pizza with Brett; it would be Coke and pizza. Reggie White said he’d be there for Brett, no matter what. His then girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Deanna, told him that he needed to get his act together or it was over.

We learned that when we need help, we need both faithful friends and tough love.

Brett came back and he and Reggie led the Packers to the Super Bowl. I watched the game in my fraternity house in Chicago, so intensely tied to the game that I locked myself in my room alone to focus and my fraternity brothers messed with me by going to the circuit box and shutting the power down to my room. I came out and with one look, they turned it back on. I would NOT be missing this game.

We learned that adversity causes some to break, but it causes others to break records.

He’d continue on and fight through more emotional adversity and physical pain. The death of his father, his brother-in-law, Deanna’s breast cancer, Katrina wiping out his family home, the conviction of his friend and teammate Mark Chumra, the death of Reggie, and the list goes on. He played the most critical position in sport through broken thumbs, sprained ankles, separated shoulders, bad elbows, concussions, strained knees, a broken heart, and the list goes on. But he kept playing through, kept working, and was always faithful not just to show up, but to give his best. He always competed to win.

We learned that adversity doesn’t end when the good times start.

We learned that sorrow and joy intermingle throughout life, and we need to show up and keep playing.

A lot is always said about his childlike exuberance in how he played the game. But when you see what he went through, Brett made a decision to choose to be in touch with reality that life can be good. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed with the tragedy and pain in life. To truly mourn disappointment, pain, and even death is hard work.

We learned to choose to enjoy life no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

People said Brett seemed to be losing his edge as he got a little older. The talking heads said he couldn’t play any more. Brett would mention one or two words about retirement, and the talking heads would put up a circus tent and start acting like the monkeys in it. In 2005, he had his first losing season ever. He took inventory of his team, and said it was the most talented team he had ever been around in his already storied career. Favre decided to stay. People said he was getting loony in his old age. He took the youngest team in the NFL for the next two seasons and ended playing the best football in his life.

We learned that talking heads see what they want to see, but what matters is what really is.

We learned it is important to discern and decide to whom to listen.

In his final lesson he’s taught us, Brett said he was physically fine and he could play the game. It was that the mental preparation part of the game is what is truly most important, and while Sunday was great, Monday through Saturday is what makes Sunday so great. Brett realized this as much as anyone, and he knew his heart wasn’t in it anymore. And we learned it’s important to do the hard work of reflecting on ourselves, of self-examination, and come out and say it.

We learned that there is a right time to say when we’re done.

He grew up in front of us, and taught us that how he played the game is a good way to live. He taught us we will all make mistakes and walk into adversity, but how you respond to them is what counts. He taught us that gray hair doesn’t mean you’re old, and that boyhood doesn’t have to end when the gray hair begins. He taught us that joy is a choice we face every day, and excellence over time requires perseverance and toughness. And he taught us that real men smile and cry when something matters.

If Brett Favre is a modern day Peter Pan, then I’m one of the Lost Boys.

Why contrast is helpful

I’m colorblind.

I found out when I was in third grade in Mrs. Witek’s class when we were looking at some of the pictures in our workbook and I commented on the brown grass. One of my friends said, “That’s not brown! That’s green, Andy!”

I cried.

Shortly afterwards, I got glasses and I took one very visible step further along the path to geekdom. For any third-grade boy where I grew up glasses were a symbol of “emerging geek” and impeded the progress of an eight-year-old’s social standing and dominance of the diamond or gridiron at recess.

My colorblindness was confirmed later when I was a high school senior applying for an Air Force ROTC scholarship. I took one of those color blindness tests where there are several dots that combine to form a alpha-numeric character. The retired lieutenant opened up the first page and asked what number I saw.

“There’s a number?” I replied.

After a couple more pages, the initial assumption was made pretty clear – putting me in the cockpit of a fighter plane would be a bad idea. A very bad idea. The United States did not achieve world superpower status by employing pilots who couldn’t tell the difference between communist red and jihad green. So I chose to study things where color didn’t matter – like dirt, spreadsheets, steel, and how many tons a concrete beam can hold until it busts. Cool stuff like that.
But there are a couple advantages of being colorblind – my visual receptors that pick up darkness and brightness, contrast, have become more sensitive and allow for me to see things that not everyone sees at first glance. I see better in the dark. And because most folks are so dependent upon their color vision, in rare instances I actually see things that others can’t.

(It still is a lousy trade off. I just live this life with a closer understanding that what I see now is, as the Apostle Paul put it, “but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” Heaven will definitely be far superior to technicolor.)

This last week, I got to see contrast that most others don’t. I lived in a village just outside of Cairo, Egypt called Mokattam (pronounced Mo-ah-tam in Egyptian Arabic) where the economic engine of the community is built on garbage. Literally – this is a village of garbage collectors. Over 3,000 tons of garbage enter the community each day, and are manually sorted by the people of the village. The result is that over 65% of the waste is recycled – which is nearly triple the efficency of the United States. Often the waste is processed and sent back as raw material to be reused to produce other products. It sounds amazing in theory.

Until you actually go there. The smell as you enter the area is pungent – and that is putting it kindly. I went in spring – when it is still cool. The blistering hot summer of Egypt only increases the strength of the stench. I was walking around with my colleague and she gagged twice. She still feels sick days later.

There were some things I saw that made me sick in my head. In a meeting among some folks trying to make a difference by creating a recycling center for boys, one of their leaders makes his living by recycling medical waste.

Let me say that again: he makes his living by sorting medical waste. By hand.

And he doesn’t have hot water in his home to wash his hands afterwards – he has to go to a neighbor. For $50 US, a friend of mine (ironically, who works in the medical waste industry) provided the resources to have hot water to wash his hands. He only asked for the opportunity to share the situation with those in leadership in his company to end such practices.

Later I was walking with a friend in Mexico City who has spent significant time in Cairo working among Sudanese refugees. She recounted a story where she witnessed a pedestrian get run over by a car and die in Cairo. She was horrified – unbelievably shocked. Shocked at the lack of response of the pedestrians, and letting the man die on the street before getting him to a hospital. As she told the story to one of the Sudanese persons she worked with, the Sudanese person said, “Yes, sometimes that happens.”

Sometimes that happens!? Like a certain bodily function?

This is the reality of life for the half of the world that live on less than $2/day. Yet, I can’t say I’ve been more welcomed by any group of people in my life. I was welcomed in peoples homes, laughed heartily with what little Arabic and English could be said, and realized how the gift of hospitality can transcend language.

Contrast helps me understand why affluence satisfies so little and provides a false veneer for community, yet poverty brings the necessity of community closer to reality. More contrast to come and I begin a deeper journey in understanding why the poor are blessed.

May 2018
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