Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Trips - Chapter First

It was the worst of trips, it was the best of trips... or something like that. It shouldn't be that hard to get from California to Kalamazoo, Michigan... right?

We were running late. My mom took far too long to pack and instead of leaving when we planned (to arrive at the airport two hours before our plane was to depart), we left in time to arrive at the airport thirty minutes before the flight would depart. Thirty minutes to park in a strange parking lot, figure out how to leave our vehicle in the long term parking lot, then determine the route of the shuttle bus that would take us from the parking lot to the terminal, rush (haha!) through the draconian, orwellian airport security “features” while my dad gets “special inspection” and finally find the gate where we would board.

Somehow we made it. (The door was shut immediately after my parents entered.) And then the flight to Las Vegas to connect us to Chicago. Now, I've been on more than a few flights. The worst of which was from Atlanta to Los Angeles on the way back from a Hurricane Katrina relief trip where I had a fever and constantly felt like losing my lunch... and never finding it again. But this was different.

I've never experience claustrophobia before, except one time as a young child when a hay maze caved in. I'd certainly never felt claustrophobic on an airplane before, but this time the walls were closing in. The air was becoming stale. My lungs could not breathe quick enough. The oxygen was not reaching my blood. I was going to die... then I defeated it with logic. (Have I mentioned I'm a nerd?) The walls could not be closing in, there was plenty of room (and air) on the plane and there was nothing wrong with my hemoglobin. I have no idea what happened. Well, I have a guess, but that's saved for another blog. Ask me and maybe I'll tell you. ;)

Regardless, I arrived at the airport, conscious and well. However, our hotel's free shuttle did not. It was five minutes past the time that we had confirmed (twice!) that there would be a free ride for us from Midway airport in Chicago to our hotel. The hotel that we explicitly made reservations with because they offered a free shuttle from Midway airport to the hotel. The exchange went a little something like this...

“Mom, we should call and make sure they are sending us the shuttle.”
“Well, they are only five minutes late, and it's a thirty minute drive...”
“Mom, it's two in the morning... I'm sure not even Chicago has traffic at this time, and the paid employees who drive the shuttle's certainly have nowhere better to be.”
*she calls*
“Oh I'm sorry ma'am, our shuttle only goes to O'Hare. We don't pick up from Midway.”
“But we made reservations with you because of your free shuttle pickup at Midway.”
“Sorry ma'am, there's nothing we can do.”
“You assured me today, twice, that you would have someone here to pick us up when we came off the plane. You told us to stand at door two at Midway and here we are... where are you?”
“I suggest taking a taxi. Goodbye.”

Supposedly, a manager was also called, but that did nothing to help the situation. We called Best Western's Guest Relations, also no help. In the end, we took a taxi. A $59 taxi. With a driver who played Elvis on his Ipod Touch. Elvis singing gospel hymns. Elvis singing my all time least like song, He Touched Me. I literally felt like I was in a nightmare that I could not wake up from.

We arrived at the hotel and the hallways smelled like a rotten seashore. It was a peculiar saltwater smell mixed with rotten fish and moldy seaweed. But we were too tired to care. We collapsed on our beds, exhausted, nearly two hours after stepping off of the plane and with our wallets $59 lighter due to non-budgeted expenses. After complaining to the manager face to face the next morning (still no help) we left in search of our previously arranged rental car so we could drive from Chicago, IL to Kalamazoo, MI.

Simply because nothing could be simple on this trip, the car rental place was found in the lobby of a hotel we eventually located three miles away. The car was a Subaru Forester and the three of us were cramped in the back seat. An uncomfortable back seat that was our little cubby hole for the next three hours while we braved Chicago construction traffic and a multitude of seemingly random “coin-only” tolls.

Five weary travelers arrived at the final destination, a(nother) Best Western in Kalamazoo, where the wedding party and family was staying. And we found the non-smoking hotel to be filled with the smell of smoke and cigarettes. While there was only a hint of smoke in mine and my brother's room, my parent's room was terrible. After a room change we were finally able to crash.

Here ends Chapter First...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

#2 - Real Christian (Part 1 of ?)

From my first "About Brad" blog post:
2. Real Christian. I believe in God, Jesus, and the Foursquare Doctrine pretty much defines my beliefs, yet there is more. I'm afraid to admit my questions, failures, doubts and struggles, yet the best that I'm able I do it anyway. There is so much that I don't know.
So I think this is another one that will take longer than one post to write about. And I know it's one that will evolve over time and I'll constantly be adding new posts (parts) to it.

Real. I can't stand fakeness... not just in others... but particularly in myself. I hate faking a smile. I hate faking a tear. I hate faking emotion. I hate faking knowledge (BS'ing, as it's commonly known). Only when it's absolutely necessary will I do so... and when I do it's almost never for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others. I value honesty, genuiness. Give it to me straight or don't give it to me at all.

There are a lot of things about my faith that I don't know. There are things I don't understand. There are really hard questions about my faith for which I don't have answers. Why does it seem more often than not that God doesn't answer prayer? When I (or anyone else) "hears God", how often is it really God, and how much of it is the person themself? How could an all powerful, all knowing, immensely good God allow so much evil, pain and suffering if he has the power, knowledge and goodness to fix it? Do we really just not understand the true definition of God's "goodness" and "righteousness" because of our finite minds, or is that just a lame cop out to avoid the truth of the matter?

I could go on with questions and doubts of my faith, but deep down inside, when (if?) this period of searching in my life is ever over... I believe that it is true. In the end, I do think that my faith, my trust, my hope in God will be found out to be true. Is faith irrational? If it is irrational, is that wrong? Can something that is irrational still be true? When did rationality and things that make logical sense become the definition of truth? What makes the Scientific Method the standard for how we measure all knowledge and truth in this age? Is faith in the Scientific Method an irrationally and illogically placed faith? Is that not really faith as well, the unfounded, unproven belief that the only "true" knowledge is "a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses."

I'm just rambling now... so I'll make my point and move on. I do believe God is out there, and very likely in here (all around us, within us... and not in a panthiestic way, but in the Biblical, theological way)... but I'm very honest about the fact that I don't have all the answers. I don't even have all the questions... and sometimes I wonder if I even want to know the answers.

Onto theology... as I said in the "mini-summary", the Foursquare Doctrine pretty much defines my beliefs, and if you asked me a question about most theological questions I could probably give you a decent answer on what I believe. The tricky part is how it plays out in everyday life. I have opinions on homosexuality due to my beliefs, but how does that affect my voting? I have moral and ethical scruples that may be brought to bear on a work related dilemma... how do I respond? What do I do when the right "Christian decision" differs from the right "business decision"?

Regarding the bad reputation Christians have received based on "judging" others... Sadly, I feel a lot of that is justly received. People who are only slightly informed of the Bible's "big catch phrases" like to say, "Jesus said 'Don't Judge!'" In Capitals No Less. People who are slightly more informed retort, "No, it says, "Don't judge because the same way you judge others is how God will judge you!" To me, it seems very easy to for most Christians to point out how wrong someone else is when they are no better at the same thing, or even worse. I think the wiser person continues on from Matthew 7:1 and 7:2 to Matthew 7:3-5.

Finally, on the topic of the "Christian" moniker... Many people have avoided it because of the instant stereotypes and images it creates. The funny thing is it seems that today a lot of people like Christ, but hate Christians. So some people will say "I'm a believer" or "Follower of Christ" instead of calling themselves Christians. I'm not sure how important the title is as much as the lifestyle. It's trite and Christianese...ey... but the walk really is more important than the talk. Don't preach with words alone, preach with the way you live. Your way of life is the most powerful sermon ever.

Friday, August 15, 2008

#1 - Name: BarlowBrad (Part 2 of 2)

So, I graduated high school and got to college, the realm of where "dating leads to marriage" is actually possible. I had this idealistic idea that I would meet the girl I wanted to marry sometime during my freshman/sophomore years, date during junior year, be engaged senior year, graduate, get married and gallop off together on my noble steed into the gorgeous sunset of ministry together.

I'll kill the suspense right now... That didn't happen. It was strange, but I felt this sense from God that he didn't want me to date anyone until I was a senior. Well, okay, so I did that, or rather didn't. I had no dates in college. Senior year rolls around and for one reason or another nothing works out. Hey God... what happened to my perfect plans for dating? Right.

So here I am... growing older, smack dab in the middle of my "quarter-life crisis" years (thank you John Mayer) and trying to rethink this whole "dating" thing.

I've always been of the opinion that I can become good enough friends with a girl initially to know if I could see myself marrying her. And really, that was easy to do with ready-made social interactions at school, extra-curricular activities, sports, etc. But now that I've graduated and have a very much full-time job... what would that look like?

I still want to date only the one I will marry, but it seems like the odds of that happening are approaching one in a million (or worse). How do can I get to know "potentials" while still staying within the bounds of my determination of "saving myself" for my future wife? Have I reached a point where my idealism and optimism need to meet with reality so that I actually "have" a future wife?

On a separate front, since it's been so long (it feels) and I haven't yet met someone who "fits me"... are my standards too high? I know everyone says (and I say myself), "Don't settle. Don't lower your standards." But there is a point where standards could simply just be too high, right?

So here I am... a quarter to a third of my life has passed and I have yet to date. Obviously there's more to life than dating, finding your "the one" and spending the rest of your life with someone, but it's reaching that point where I'm feeling like, "Come on already... bring on the next stage of life."

I know some at this point might want to trot out that loved/loathed biblical idea... "Maybe you have the gift of celibacy." No. I don't. Some also say you can't know if you'll get married or not... but I know. God didn't make me not to get married. Trust me. If anything, I feel like I would have the spiritual gift of fatherhood. (I know, I'm not a father, so I can't speak from experience, but it's the way I feel.) The way I interact with children, how they interact with me. The desire I have to be a godly example as a husband and father. It's just too strong for it not to be something that God has put in me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

#1 - Name: BarlowBrad (Part 1 of 2)

Hopefully this is the start of some consistent blogging. I'm going to go through my initial "Table of Contents" and attempt to regularly post on them.

I picked up the name BarlowBrad (or BarlowGuy) sometime around the end of high school. Brad is my first name, so that much is obvious, but Barlow is not my last name. Barlow is a reference to the Superchick song "Barlow Girls". I picked up the name because it fit me. These lines in particular:
They don't date, they won't date
They wanna see how they're gonna grow up
Who they're gonna be
And yes there are guys who are willing to wait
Ask a Barlow girl on her wedding day
Now let's get this part out of the way right away... I wasn't the most popular kid growing up. In fact, I was the one that the unpopular kids made fun of. So not dating through my freshman year of high school wasn't something that was done much by choice. But I don't know how or why, but girls starting becoming interested in me after that and I had a choice to make. But then, as I looked at my friends who dated, I noticed they all broke up and most of them ended up hating each other. I decided that I didn't want to lose a friend like that.

I also realized that dating relationships tend to go one of two ways, either toward greater intimacy (e.g., marriage and all that goes with it) or away from intimacy. So I wanted to either date the I wanted to marry, or not date at all. Somehow I had the wisdom and foresight to realize that I probably wasn't going to find the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with in high school, so I decided dating in high school wasn't for me.

Eventually, I heard the song and thought, "Hey, they're like me! I suppose I could call myself that too." So I did.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Billy Beane - Genius?

Editor's Note: I refuse to give into the temptation of every couple (or nine) months starting off a blog post, "So, I haven't posted in a while..." Dang. Failed. Gave into temptation. Again.

Anyway, I wanted to put something here to show the world that "Brad is not dead" (tm) so I'm throwing a few paragraphs of a post from a sports message board. It was in response to someone questioning Billy Beane's (Oakland Athletics General Manager) status as a "genius" with regards to baseball management.


It's funny that not until the past two years (last year while injuries ran rampant and this year in a rebuilding year) did anyone ever question Billy Beane. You know why? Because he was winning. And on a budget not even close to his competition in the AL (Angels, Yankees, Red Sox).

While the skepticism is understandable, I think that Billy Beane's "genius status" among MLB general managers is rightly placed. He was named general manager of the Athletics in 1997, and in just a few short years he was able to turn around a team that was was averaging 73 wins a season (.454 pct) into a team that went 664-469 from 2000-2006, a .586 winning percentage (average of 95 wins a season). How many other general managers have done that? Not just that, but he did it with a payroll that was one of the lowest in the majors! The Athletics made the playoffs five times in those seven years, how many other teams made the playoffs that consistently?

Only the Yankees had a higher winning percentage from 2000-2006 and made more playoff appearances, and we all know how tough that was for them with their payroll constraints (sarcasm). The Braves and Cardinals had six playoff appearances in seven years, but fewer wins over that period (and Braves and Cardinals fans can probably speak to their budget comparison to the Athletics better than I can), though you have to admit that they were in the weaker league.

Some might argue that because Billy Beane has not won a World Series it means that he doesn't belong in the upper echelon of MLB GMs. But if you add up the Athletics win totals from 2000-2006 (ranking them 2nd, just a few wins behind the Yankees) it shows that he obviously knows how to give a team the tools they need to win a championship, but it's up to them to perform (and not be injured) during that time.

I would say the simple fact that Billy Beane has built an organization that competes with (and usually beats!) teams spending four and five times as much on payroll puts Billy Beane in pretty exclusive company. I suppose it all depends on how you define genius.