Cincinnati: Opening Day is in 2 days

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I woke up this morning and flew to Dayton. Rented a “Kia Rio or similar” – which turned out to be a Toyota Yaris – and drove the hour south to Cincinnati this afternoon. My friend Chris and I are here for the weekend getting amped for Opening Day on Monday night. I Thought I’d take a moment to fill you all in on what’s happening in the Queen City…

1. I am the proud owner of the ball cap above.

It took me a long time to find a Reds cap that I liked. I’m not a huge fan of the simple “C” logo (I prefer Mr. Red), but he was a little too obnoxious to have on a hat. If I’m going to root for the home team everywhere I go, I mean, we gotta look legit man.

2. Dayton just lost to Florida.

We ate lunch at the Buffalo Wild Wings just off the Dayton campus this afternoon. The place was bumpin’ with Flyers fans. Mostly college students. There were giant banners hanging from all the fraternities and student houses. Super bummed they couldn’t finish off the Final Four run.

3. It’s cold and sloppy and snowing today.

It’s way too cold for Opening Day today, and I’m really thankful it’s not today.  The moment we landed it was sleeting and gross. It’s currently 33 degrees. It’s miserable. But apparently Cincinnati weather is just like Kansas City because…

4. It’s supposed to be 70 degrees and mostly sunny at game time.

But Opening Day is going to be perfect. Which is a relief. Baseball in March is always a risk*, and I’m so thankful it’s going to be beautiful out for the launch of this Tour.

* – Unless the March games are exhibition games in Montreal, in which case it will be nothing but a smashing success and draw nearly 100,00o fans to Olympic stadium over two days. Brilliant move to bring baseball back to French Canada…even if it’s not in the form of the Expos.

5. Gotta get some Skyline Chili.

If you’re not familiar with Skyline Chili, it is a combination of 5 different ingredients: beef, beans, onions, cheese…and spaghetti noodles. It’s unique to Cincinnati, and it’s pretty dang delicious. It’s not easy to shelve my preconceived understanding of what chili should  be like, and allow it to be something entirely different.

Also, the cheese coney dog was delicious too.

6. Opening Day Itinerary

Monday is going to be an incredible day, and the entire thing will be spent right around Great American Ballpark. Here’s what’s on the schedule for Opening Day (all times Eastern)…

  • 10 AM – Reds Hall of Fame
  • 11 AM – Opening Day Block Party
  • 12 PM – 95th Opening Day Parade
  • 2 PM – Gates Open
  • 4 PM – Dave Concepcion & Barry Larkin Throw First Pitches
  • 4:07 PM – STL (Wainwright) @ CIN (Cueto)

7. Hope.

I don’t want to pick a theme for every game on my itinerary, But this one seems too obvious to overlook. Opening Day is all about hope, and I fully expect this portion of my book to be focused on that theme.

I’ve written about the hope of Opening Day before. In that post, I touched on Pete Rose somewhat, and I think the stars are beginning to align for him to be reinstated. Between Bug Selig’s retirement, the Steroid Era players lining up for the HOF, and Barry Bonds’s gig as a hitting instructor at the Giants’ Spring Training, it sure seems like Rose’s reasons to hope are increasing.

That’s just one way I see the theme playing out. Obviously Opening Day is all about hope in general – new beginnings, level playing field, springtime, etc. – but I’ll be searching for more connections this weekend. Feel free to let me know where you see this theme playing out too.

That’s the landscape here in Cincinnati. So amped for this season to begin, and I can’t wait to begin sharing this experience with all of you. Thanks to all who helped me get here. It’s going to be a crazy summer!

-apc.

Myanmar – Day 5 & 6

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I realize this post is two weeks overdue, but I have two excuses for my tardiness:

  1. First, I was exhausted from my return travel, was sick for 4 or 5 days right after getting back, and had to put all writing on hold for a bit to recover.
  2. More importantly, I’ve needed more time to process these experiences. I felt like I couldn’t respond as well as I wanted on here, so I put it on hold for that reason too.

But here I am, two weeks later, ready to share with you all what went down on my last two days in Yangon before embarking on our 9 million hour trip back home. Let’s talk about days 5 and 6. If you need to, here are the past posts from my pilgrimage:

Pilgrimage to Myanmar & Thailand
Bangkok – Day 1
Bangkok – Day 2
Myanmar – Day 3
Myanmar – Day 4

If you’ve read these posts, you know that my most recent responses haven’t been entirely positive. The culture had me really down in the dumps. It felt hopeless, lost and confusing. I was really caught up in the thought that the kids there were being pushed into Buddhism because it was the cultural norm, and they weren’t given an opportunity to choose their faith (or lack thereof) for themselves.

On Thursday – Day 3 – I saw teenagers “worshipping” at Shwedagon Pagoda, adopting a Buddhist way of life.

On Friday – Day 4 – I saw little kids playing while their parents were kneeling before a giant Buddha, creating a sad juxtaposition between how much ope there is for kids, yet how little I find for many adults.

Saturday and Sunday changed everything.

The entire week I was searching for ways where God was at work in Myanmar. In our class debriefs each evening, we would practice Ignatius’s exercise of consolation/disconsolation – where we saw God at work, and where we saw God grieving – and I am excited to share that the areas of consolation were way easier to report on these last two days.

Both days were spent at Ywama Baptist Church in Yangon, and I can tell you that hope abounds at YBC.

On Saturday we spent an hour playing with street kids. Many children in Yangon are expected to sell things on the streets to help provide for their families. Ywama Baptist Church began an outreach program to these kids, providing them with a place to play, laugh, sing and dance for just an hour or so each weekend. They also provide them with a place to shower and clean up because hygiene is not a priority for these kids.

I spent my time with the kids making goofy faces and teaching some dance moves – Gangnam Style is universal apparently. – while they covered my face with makeup and made fun of my inability to break dance. Typical language barrier activities.

It’s nothing huge, but it’s a place for kids to connect and feel like they belong. Which is actually a way bigger deal than it sounds. Belonging to something positive is hugely important for kids. Especially for kids growing up in such bummer circumstances. And while Buddhism attempts to transcend suffering through achieving “enlightenment”, the Church enters into suffering as a change agent. It’s hope for the hopeless.

They also have a health clinic that provides affordable doctors and dentists to the rest of the public. How incredible is that?! The Church in Myanmar, it turns out, is vibrant and full of life!

This was most evident on Sunday morning, when we had the opportunity to worship with hundreds of Burmese people at YBC. I was blown away by the number of people gathered for worship that morning. They had a choir and a orchestra group to play along with them. There was such joy and excitement in that space, and I felt like God was doing significant things both within their church, but for the Yangon community at large.

It was a powerful day. And I left Ywama thinking about how powerful a place like that was for a community with so many needs both physical and spiritual.

Days 5 and 6 were the best of the pilgrimage. I appreciated the immersion into Buddhist culture, and I’m going to be continually trying to unpack these experiences for years to come, but my greatest moments were the ones full of joy, life and love at Ywama Baptist Church.

God is at work in Yangon. Sounds obvious, but it took me a surprisingly long time to notice it. And it was an honor to observe, learn from and participate in his work in my short time there.

-apc.

Myanmar – Day 3

We arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, this afternoon, spent an hour or so at the hotel pool, and then quickly went to experience the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The main Pagoda is 100 meters tall, is made up of thousands of solid gold plates worth $250M. The very tip is a 10 inch by 2 foot orb of gold covered with diamonds rubies, imperial jade and sapphires. I have no idea how much all of these gems are valued at, but it’s got to be outrageous. The diamond at the top: 76 karats. We were fortunate enough to be there at sunset, and the glow of the sun on the western face of the Pagoda was absolutely gorgeous.

The main pagoda – the 100 meter high gold one – is surrounded by hundreds of smaller pagodas each one with a different Buddha statue underneath. These are gifts from private donors. 

And surrounding these smaller pagodas are people.

People are pouring water on the Buddhas. People are lighting incense and burning candles. People are ringing giant bells with big wooden jousting rods. It’s a majorly ritualized system of honoring Buddha and gaining recognition for the good deeds they’ve done.

I’m not sure the people would themselves say that they were “worshipping” Buddha – he isn’t considered a deity, he was a real person who lived 2500 years ago and achieved “enlightenment” – but to my eyes, that’s exactly what it looked like. Worship. Worship is essentially expression praise and adoration to something or someone else, right? When we bow before something, we’re posturing ourselves to praise another.

Anyway. That’s what we did last night. It was one of the most foreign experiences of my life. And I’m still trying to process it this morning.

I don’t have a lot of time, but I want to mention another takeaway for myself before I wrap this thing up.

Two nights ago, we were at dinner in Bangkok with the head of Bangkok Christian College, and he started talking about how highly esteemed they view missionaries in their culture. They get tax breaks and perks and half price transportation among other things. He asked our group whether any of us were considering becoming missionaries. My response was essentially…

Eh. No.

And I felt guilty about that quick response at first. I felt like coming on this experience I ought to feel a call toward cross-cultural missions of some sort. But I don’t. To be honest, I do not feel burdened to share the gospel in other countries, far off lands or distant cultures. I just dot feel that is my calling as a part of God’s Mission.

Until I was at the Pagoda last night and saw some middle school aged kids participating in worship. And it broke my heart more than anything else so far this week.

These kids are in their prime years for determining their faith trajectory over the rest of their life. The decisions these adolescents make at this point in their life is likely going to hold for the rest of their life. Every day they get further from these formational years, the more unlikely it is that they will pursue anything other than the faith tradition they adopted as teens.

They’re asking “Who am I?” and “What am I about?”…and here they are finding the answers to those questions in Buddhism.

And it tore me up inside.

I wanted to smile at them and tell them that my God loves them and made them in his Image. That they were created by Love to be Love to others. I wanted to encourage them that there was another man who lived 2000 years ago who wasn’t just a man, but was also God himself, incarnate. And who calls us something so much larger than just “enlightenment”.

The major difference I’ve noticed between Buddhism and Christianity so far: Hope.

The life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus brings us into a Story of hope for this world. Buddhism acknowledges that there is brokenness and difficulty in the world too, but rather than entering it to bring hope to the world, the Buddha simply overcame it mentally. There is nothing to look forward to or live for or hope in.

And when I look at a middle school kid, I see hope.

Hope abounds in adolescence.

I see a life that is primed to be shaped in the way of Christ. I see a kid seeking answers to life’s riddles. Who am I? Where do I belong? What I I to be about? How am I unique?

And it broke my heart today to see these teenagers finding these answers in something other than my Creator.

So do I want to be a cross-cultural missionary? Absolutely not. But instead,I continue to be called to “the trenches” of youth ministry. I’m called to the bafflingly wonderful culture of adolescents. Their distant world is where I belong in God’s Mission, and I’m thankful to have had that confirmed again in my life. To remember why I do what I do. Because I love my God, and I love middle schoolers, and I love introducing the two.

Okay time for breakfast. See you all tomorrow.

-apc.