Work in Progress

Baseball, Seminary, Wrestling, and the Dreams and Days of one Mike Work's Angeles experience

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wed. 04.26

Cross-posted from my class blog, with slight modification.

One regular feature of the course is a daily discussion of a section of our readings. Today's discussion centered around chapters 5-7 of NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. Timmy B, Kenji, Eric, Ted, and myself started talking during the break, and I found myself wishing out loud that we'd been able to video that conversation and start the discussion on that note. Turns out that wasn't necessary, as the presentation soon became a conversation, first amongst ourselves, and then moving to a class-wide forum, with helpful guiding questions from Ryan.

As our time together drew to a close, a number of people reflected upon the difficulty of following Jesus, and stories of failure to live up to our ideals surfaced. I was reminded of Hans Kung's statement that the church lives between the two extremes of sectarianism and syncretism, tending to either ignore (or flip off) the surrounding culture or become so like it as to be indistinguishable. The Judaisms of the day were not very different, and could be charted between these extremes, rather than being salt and light (BTW - never thought about Isaiah 43:6/49:6 as background for that statement before today...Tom Wright has that thought-stimulating effect). In between, we live in the tension, with the marching directive 'follow me.' That's really difficult...but worth going for.

Many christians in the bible belt (where i first encountered god) cited verses like John 14:6 and Matthew 7:13-14 in an exclusionary fashion, using them to rationalize narrow-mindedness along the lines of 'if you're not with us, you're going to hell.' The peer pressure that was exerted in certain circles was pretty cruel, and, I'd now argue, contrary to the spirit of Christ. Yet as was reiterated today, Jesus didn't hide the challenges of discipleship from those who encountered him. He challenged his hearers to a new way of life, counter to the prominent options of his day. Among those options taken by first-century Jews: armed insurgence against the occupying Romans, which turned out pretty nastily each time it was attempted.

Jesus' "follow me" is the rubric through which I now read the words "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

The road isn't easy to walk, nor will it be the most popular, but it leads to life.

Maybe this text can be preached after all...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Class-based blog

In my never-ending quest to capsize the internet with an abundance of content (a quest that doesn't seem to be working out too well), I've created a new blog. Workin' Class takes the name-punning to the next level.

Unlike the Wrap-Up, I haven't filled this blog with content on its first day. The new blog is actually part of a class at Fuller entitled Jesus the Missionary. Ryan Bolger, our professor, has incorporated blog-based assignments into several of his courses over the past year. In a course like this one, taught as a two-week intensive, the blog allows for out-of-class interactivity after our brief time together comes to an end. Book reviews of works such as Jesus and the Victory of God, Kingdom Ethics, The Politics of Jesus, and The Transfiguration of Mission, as well as other class-related content will be posted there, while the regular feed remains here, so no need to adjust your bookmarks.

Our class blog can be found at Gathering in Light (conveniently enough, our TA will receive an upswing of traffic on his server/site from this class). Thus far, just the introductory questionaire and a partial blogroll have been posted, alongside photos of each member of the class. Here's my picture from this afternoon.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Two weeks ago, i received a completely unanticipated, unplanned, generous gift from a friend. He heard that I haven't been driving, and decided to give me a car.

Wow is an understatement.

He gave me the car, title and all, about a week and a half ago, and I spent a week working out title and registration, insurance, smog testing, and getting a California driver's license. Now the pressing task is learning a new skill: driving stick shift.

I'd never done it before, and the first experience was on the 110 freeway, during late afternoon traffic. A bit of a crucible, to say the least.

The daily discipline this past week involved putting miles under my feet and learning how to drive this car. Many missteps were made, but i'm starting to get this thing.

Confession to make: i'm prone to strong visceral emotions, especially anger, and that has plagued me in the past, having been particularly visible on the road. In the two and a half years since i last drove regularly, a lot has changed, but the emotional responses to traffic are still ingrained in my brain, and need to change. I don't want to be that guy anymore.

So...since change won't come without conscious practice, i went out late Saturday afternoon and spent a few hours practicing, on roads where I'd be challenged to learn how to handle myself in all sorts of situation, yet without the added pressure of a tightly-planned schedule and the tardiness factor.

After heading west on the 134/101, I turned onto the 405 freeway, and spent the next hour and a half making my way through the greater Los Angeles area, an under-construction Santa Monica Boulevard, the Figueroa corridor, and the 110 freeway included. Made it, and it was really helpful for watching my reactions, as well as for learning all sorts of gear-shifting tactics (and i've now got a new fount for metaphors, too).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stadium Sightings

After a raucous Saturday night in Echo Park, the Dodger Stadium crowd was a bit more subdued on Sunday afternoon. Understandable, with it being a Sunday afternoon game, on Easter Sunday to boot. Also partially responsible was Giants pitcher Brad Hennessey, who held the Dodgers to three hits and no runs in seven innings, as the Giants left LA with a 2-0 victory.

ESPN's coverage of the game focused upon Barry Bonds, who didn't do much. Barry went 0 for 2 with a walk, and was at the center of a late-inning controversy. With one man on in the seventh inning, Hennessey's curveball didn't curve, and hit Jeff Kent in the head, sending him first to the ground and then to the hospital for medical attention. The boo birds came out in full force, as did the 'Giants Suck' chants. Bonds led off for the Giants the next inning, and was plunked in return, leading the home plate umpire to eject Dodger pitcher Tim Hamulack. That was the high drama of the day, although the Dodger struggle to score runs brought back unpleasant memories of 2002 and 2003.

My friend got great seats, second row field level behind home plate, the best I've ever had for a Dodger game. Seated among the season ticket holders and VIPs, we had a pair of celebri-sightings worth mentioning.

ESPN's Peter Gammons was about ten yards from us, working the game for the network. Once the ninth inning ended, he was out of his seat and on his way. The newly crowned Ultimate Fighting Champion, Tim Sylvia, was there as a guest of Dodger pitcher Brad Penny and started signing autographs in our area in the eighth inning. I didn't yet know who he was, yet figured that he was somebody important, due to the big gold belt around his waist. Yep, the UFC champion sports the gold in public (and i can't really blame him, seeing as it was his first day as champ).

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Orton Suspension

To preface, I've a longstanding relationship with the spectacle of professional wrestling, which I would count influential in my spiritual pilgrimage. Simply put, as a wrestling fan, i learned to (at least temporarily) supend disbelief and live in the world of possibility, which have been recurring themes as I learn to follow Jesus. I take a lot of analogies through the wrestling world, off-screen and on, which creates some fun conversations.

Two weeks ago, the WWE announced that Randy Orton had been suspended for an indefinite period of time, minimum sixty days, for unprofessional conduct. This was pretty shocking news, since Orton's a main-eventer and has long been viewed as one of the future superstars of the company, having already made his mark as the youngest world champion in history. It was even suspected that he'd win his second world title at WrestleMania XXII, but he wound up taking the pinfall in the match. Since then, Orton's taken two decisive losses on TV, and suffered a worked broken ankle in his match with Kurt Angle on Friday night, effectively writing him out of storylines for some time.

News on what caused the suspension has been spotty, but the word is that it's for a series of incidents over the past few months leading up to WrestleMania. Word is that if he were a lesser figure, rather than a star that the company has invested much in over the past few years, he'd have been fired already. Similarly, had Orton not already been booked in the main event, it's likely that he would have been pulled off the air before the big show. (FYI, my main source is Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Oberver newsletter, a long-running and widely respected sheet.)

So what's my connection to all this? It confirms a hunch and a central value that I aspire to live: character trumps competence. I've often been prone to ride on the back of my stronger skills, which tends to lead to an unseemly cockiness. That doesn't work too well, and the axiom 'character counts' has been instilled in me over the past few years. It's one of the central reasons that, while I aspire to be a key figure in the formation of a church-community, I don't see that on the horizons for another few years. I've heard too many stories of young first-time pastors who get something going quickly, then scandal breaks and the church disbands. I know myself too well to think that I'm not immune to that.

So that's the connection between myself and Randy Orton. No matter how good I am (or think I am) at something, if there're serious character issues that go unnoticed and unchallenged, eventually the house of cards tumbles. Can God work those things out in me? Very much so, and that's the path I'm pursuing at this time.

Easter Weekend

Here's been my past three days:
(Good) Friday: breakfast brainstorming with my friend Bong, meeting for a group project throughout the morning, dealing with house maintenance issues, waiting in line at the DMV to do paperwork and take a test, worked the night shift at security. The perks of working at an evangelical seminary: while we don't get all state-sanctioned holidays off, we do get this one, so school was closed, leaving me with an uneventful evening of study, rest, and locking a grand total of five doors.

(Holy) Saturday: driving around southeast Pasadena and Sierra Madre seeking out smog test facilities in the am, softball practice in early afternoon, and an unexpected call from a buddy around six, as I was planning to walk out the door and find a reading spot.

"Mike, what're you doing right now?"
"Nothing yet."
"You're going to the Dodgers/Giants game with me; Michelle's sick."
"Game on."
"Sweet, I'll see you at 6:30, your place."

We headed down to the stadium, where we crossed paths with my friend Kevin in the parking lot; cool, unexpected surprise. All in all, it was a great Saturday evening in Echo Park, celebrating our friend MP's birthday (his girlfriend got a group together, completely surprising him!). Good game, great friends, fun conversation and ballpark banter, especially when the conversation turned to the wave ('it's only a misdemeanor in CA to kill the guy who starts the wave, right?' Then, perhaps encouraged by the specter of a lone guy walking up and down the stairs trying to start cheers, Brian attempts to start one himself. It grew, from one man to one section, eventually expanding to engulf three sections. However, the full-fledged wave wound up going in the opposite direction, a sort of backlash. Does that still count as 'starting the wave?'

I must say, I've never seen any one human being inspire the sheer hatred that Barry Bonds does in Dodger country. Seriously, they had security surrounding the field between innings, and the "Barry Sucks" chants recurred, even when he wasn't doing anything but playing left field. He is NOT well-liked in this part of the land.

(Easter) Sunday: slept in, lounged the late morning away, stopped by the gym, came back home and wrote for a bit. About to go out the door for another Dodger game with a different friend; two invitations in one week, both with better seats than i've ever had. Pretty sweet...but the juxtaposition is as follows.

Here I am, in my third year of seminary, and i'm skipping church on Easter (for a ballgame, although the company justifies it, IMO). Probably can't do this much longer, especially if the pastoral dreams come to fruition...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Plug of the Century

For all who are interested in the universe of fantasy sports, i've begun contributing regularly to a new blog:
Fantasy Wrap Up is the brainchild of my friend Raf. After he was dragged into the baseball draft last year, fantasy sports soondeveloped into a new passion, on the verge of obsession. We launched yesterday with a flood of content, and intend to update regularly throughout the year(s) with advice, articles, and information about our own league, as well as the broader fantasy universe.

Check it out.
To quote Serpentor, "This I command."