Animal Farm

Bear with me, if you will, as we look at today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I don’t know much about 1st century AD Palestine, but I assume that shepherds may have dealt with sheep and goats on an everyday basis.  Both animals look very similar, and would probably graze together, but would often have to be separated when it came time to shear the sheep or milk the goats, or something.  Jesus’ audience would have been very attuned to this, since many of his male followers probably had first-hand experience as shepherds.

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Sheep and goats: very similar on the outside, but completely different animals upon closer examination.  Sheep are very docile and peaceful; goats, on the other hand, are pretty much crazy, will eat anything, and can be pretty aggressive, especially when you are at the Fort Wilderness (Disney World) petting zoo, and you have a book of tickets for the rides in the Magic Kingdom in your pocket…but I digress.

Jesus’ parable hits home.  To me, He is explaining that though many will claim to serve Him, very few will show actions that match their words.  What is also interesting is that both the sheep and the goats don’t even realize that they are sheep or goats (verses 37-39, & 44).  The sheep are so full of the Spirit that they serve while giving no thought to their eternal reward, while the goats are completely oblivious to the suffering around them, because, you know, they have a “personal relationship with their Savior,”  so they’re just gonna enjoy their blessings and then chill with the Lord in Heaven because they have faith.

I don’t think that there is, nor could there be, a stronger call to the Church to be the hands and feet of Christ, to go to the broken, to provide for our neighbors in need, or to serve Jesus by serving others.    Jesus’ words are very clear, and his point is sharp: if/when you do for the least of my children, you do it for me.  This is sobering…I don’t know about you, but I haven’t set foot in a prison to minister or offer companionship in, like…ever.  I haven’t served in a soup kitchen or volunteered at a nursing home in years.  Shoot, I can’t even be bothered to go to my kids’ campuses and help teachers grade papers or help at PE.

And yet, it’s not too late.  What are our gifts, and how can we use them to bring the Kingdom here to Earth for the least of these?  That is the question I sign off with tonight.  How can we, as God’s people, get off the bench and get in the game?

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The Power of One

To this young generation, today’s date (4/20) is synonymous with smoking weed, and I’m sure that there is a story about how that came to be.  For old history teachers, though, April 20th carries a far darker memory of events past: on this date in 1889, Adolf Hitler was born.  More recently on this same calendar date, two malcontents shot up their high school in a suburb of Denver, CO, and killed over a dozen classmates and teachers.  Just missing this date was the OKC bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building by anti-government zealots (4/19/1995).  Clearly, the aforementioned individuals changed many lives with their actions.

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He certainly doesn’t look like a genocidal maniac in THIS picture!

And yet, through the madness and chaos that people like this created, the work of others shines through the darkness.  Adolf Hitler shares his birthday with George Takei, the actor and gay-rights activist who has battled discrimination and hatred his entire life with class, dignity, and a tremendous sense of humor.  Uncle George, a natural-born citizen of the United States, spent four years of his youth inside a concentration camp…except that it was called an “internment camp” because it was in the United States.  George and over 110,000 others (mostly second-generation Americans of Japanese descent) were moved away from coastal areas in the early weeks of World War II after Pearl Harbor “for their protection” under Executive Order 9066.  However, instead of seeking revenge for those that wronged him and his family and others (or those that he FELT had done wrong), George has made it his life’s work to speak out against oppression and bigotry wherever he sees it, as any of his social media followers will attest.  The political firestorm (and potential economic boycott) that erupted as a result of George Takei’s statements immediately after the passage of the State of Indiana’s Freedom of Religion law largely influenced the re-writing of the just-passed law just days afterwards.

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As Tennessee, Georgia, and Klempson fans will point out with gleeful irony, Adolf Hitler shares a birthday with ol’ Darth Visor himself. Happy birthday, HBC!!

History shows us that one person can change the world, and today we see evidence of that in a negative light because of men like Adolf Hitler, Timothy McVeigh, and the Columbine murderers.  But the darkness from their hearts doesn’t have to be the reason why we remember this day.  When I was a little kid growing up on Lakehurst Street in Lakeland, Florida, an older couple moved in next door to my family.  They dressed funny (compared to what I was used to, and this was in the ’70s, so you know that it must’ve been REALLY far out), and after a few days their house smelled kind of funny.  When I talked to the old man one day, he had a thick accent and a tattoo of six numbers etched across his forearm.  He introduced himself as Moses Varro, and he was from Hungary.  As a little boy, I found it extremely funny that he was from a place that sounded like a state of physical need, and he laughed, too.  He always laughed.  He always had a smile when he saw me, and said that I reminded him of his young grandson who lived in an exotic place called “Long Island.”  Mr. Varro’s wife was one of the kindest people that I ever met; she always had a treat for me, and those weird smells that emanated from their house were just from her Hungarian cooking.  When I was 12, we moved into a new neighborhood several miles north, and I never saw the Varros again…and he never told me where that tattoo came from.  I had to find that out many years later…

To have lived through the Hell on Earth that was the Holocaust in World War II Europe, and to have retained any semblance of humanity, let alone joy, when all those closest to you died, and to then have had the love and patience to constantly entertain some little kid’s endless queries about where you were from, and what is that a tattoo of…(I think that he actually told me that it was his locker combination, with a sad far-off look in his eye).  Mr. Varro was the first person that I remember patiently showing me a map of the Iron Curtain and the Eastern Bloc, and explaining to me what communism was and why he and his wife were so thankful every day to live in the United States.  To this day, one of my favorite things to talk about and read about is the Cold War, especially in the 1960s through the 1980s…and my love of maps.  All because of one person.  Maybe this is where my compassion and sense of injustice comes from, too.

One person can make a difference, and that difference can be felt for decades, even centuries, afterward.  How will YOU change the world tomorrow?

Spring is here!…it’s Masters Sunday!

It’s the one Sunday of the year where even the most casual sports fan will most likely turn on the television and watch golf, kind of like how even the most casual believer in the Almighty will go to church somewhere on Easter Sunday.  It’s tradition, and you’re just supposed to!

For someone that has been around golf his entire life, though, this Sunday trumps all other dates on the sports calendar, even Super Bowl Sunday and the NCAA football title game.  I have never been to the Masters tournament in Augusta, GA (I’ve driven by the front gate, but not during tournament week)…I keep waiting for an invitation to play one day, but I guess all the members are busy.  Still, as a golfer (not just one that occasionally plays golf), as someone that has played competitively and has coached some very good players, there is no other day quite like this one.  Really, there is no other WEEK like Masters week.  This is the tournament that inspired me to become a player.  This is the tournament that I imagined winning through countless downhill 15-footers on the practice green in the gloaming of a late summer evening at Wedgewood, Lone Palm, and Cleveland Heights.

No other sporting event typically has as much drama as the last nine holes on Masters Sunday.  No other sporting event can give you an eerie silence in the heat of competition (where players can hear the birds chirping in the trees surrounding the course), interspersed with deafening roars from all over the course…and each roar is distinct: there’s the “incredible shot” roar,” the “birdie by a past champion” roar, and the “Here comes the rally by a popular player” roar, for starters.  On no other course can a coronation of a new champion, or a six-shot lead over 54 holes, become a slow three-hour requiem as that lead evaporates into the humid Georgia air.

So, take a few minutes and check out how this tournament has unfolded over the last three decades!  Here’s 1983-1992…

1983 – Seve chips in for par to win!

1984 – Ben drops BOMBS!

Gentle Ben could not miss in the final round in ’84.

1985 – Curtis rinses it twice on #13

We’ve all been there: we’ve made a mistake, and instead of making the smart choice and cutting our losses, we’ve tried to create a miraculous recovery…and got ourselves in an even worse predicament. Curtis Strange shot 80 in the first round in 1985, and proceeded to play the next 48 holes in (-15) to take the lead.  Then he went for the green on his second shot at #13 and ended up in Rae’s Creek.  Bernhard Langer ended up the day with the first of two Masters titles (he also won in 1993).

1986 – Jack’s Final Charge

Jack Nicklaus was an afterthought in 1986.  Forty-six years old, and completely written off.  No tournament wins in two years, no major wins since 1980.  His play for the first three rounds, though solid, excited no one.  He started the final round four shots behind Greg Norman, and after eight holes Jack was stuck in neutral, while the best players in the world zoomed past him like Ferraris passing a Studebaker on a freeway.  Jack proceeded to play the last ten holes in 7-under-par (with a bogey on #12), which remains the greatest stretch of golf that I have ever witnessed.  All the other players crumbled under the pressure applied by the “Olden” Bear.  After Greg Norman bogeyed #18 to finish tied for 2nd, Jack had won his sixth Masters title…and I started playing golf.

1987 – Local Boy Mize stuns the world

Unheralded Augusta native Larry Mize faced the top two ranked players in the world in Greg Norman & Seve Ballesteros, and holed an impossible chip-and-run to win the Masters in a playoff.  If Larry Mize stood in that same spot with a bucket of range balls and hit that same shot over and over again, he probably wouldn’t get one within 10 feet, and a few of them would probably roll off the green and into the pond on the other side. That’s the way golf go…

1988 – Sandy wins from a bunker (of course!)

One of the greatest fairway bunker shots ever.

1989 – 1991: Hoch chokes, Sir Nick repeats, and the Wee Welshman wins a jacket

Whether you like Scott Hoch or not (and most of his fellow pros did not in the late 1980s), this is still hard to watch.  Sir Nick Faldo followed up his first Masters win the next year with a playoff win over former champion Raymond Floyd.  In 1991, Ian Woosnam was locked in a tight three-man battle with Tom Watson and Jose-Maria Olazabal.  Woosie ended up winning because the other two couldn’t par #18.

1992 – Fred Couples finally wins a major!

Freddie played brilliantly all week, but owes his green jacket to the blade of grass that kept his ball dry on #12 (seen at about 2:30 on the above video).