A Tribute to a Great-Grandfather

I want to offer a short tribute to my wife’s grandfather, Ralph Friedrich, who passed away last week at the age of 97.

My remembrances of Grandpa Friedrich are limited, having come into the family at such a late point in time. My earliest memories are of a man much younger than his accrued years, who drove himself from Michigan to DC at the age of 90 to attend his beloved granddaughter’s wedding. A man with a quick wit and a sparkle in his eye, always with a smile on his face and a story to tell.

Grandpa_FriedrichShortly after that wedding, Grandpa suffered a stroke that took away much of his independence. Yet while his ability to move around was reduced and his speech became more and more labored, the twinkle never left his eye.

Three years ago, we were blessed to be able to take the kids (well, the three of them that were around at the time) out to Michigan to introduce them to their great grandfather. And while Grandpa struggled to speak, his eyes told the story of a man content with a life well lived, and a legacy that would continue well after he had left this world for the next.

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Donald Trump and the Death of the Republic

I have always sought to avoid political engagement on my digital media channels. There probably isn’t a forum more ill-suited to nuanced discourse than social media, and all it does is serve to annoy friends and family with differing views.  And I prefer to keep my blog light, with fun anecdotes and remembrances that appeal to a wide audience.

Eventually, however, there comes a time and/or an issue on which it is necessary to declare, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, amen!” In this case, I feel obligated, nay, compelled to make my “Luther moment” and speak out a in a strong yet hopefully winsome way against the presidential candidacy of one Donald Trump.

800px-Donald_Trump_star_Hollywood_Walk_of_FameI do so as a Christian, as a conservative, and as an American.

As a Christian, I object to Trump’s wrapping himself in the trappings of an ill-defined faith in order to insulate himself from criticism.  I see someone who makes grand claims about his faith (“I read the Bible more than anyone”) that would strike anyone who has actually read the Book as contradictory and self-serving.  His statement that he has “never asked [God] for forgiveness” reveals an understanding of Christianity that my three-year-old son could easily refute.  And his constant lowering of the discourse by referring to those he opposes as “losers” (and worse) while bragging about his accomplishments is antithetical to pretty much every word Jesus ever spoke.  It doesn’t take a theologian to recognize Trump’s newfound religiosity and clumsy adaptation of Christian culture and language as a callous attempt to endear himself to an important voting bloc.  That some religious leaders have embraced his shallow show of piety is disturbing on so many different levels.

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A Sad Masterpiece

It has now been close to a week since the conclusion of Saturday’s Bengal-Steeler playoff game (working title, “The Bungle in the Jungle,” patent pending, all rights reserved), and I am just now getting a chance to collect some thoughts in an attempt to describe the indescribable—to explain the inexplicable.

Gridiron TragedyTo put it mildly, the game was brutal.  The conditions were brutal.  The play on the field (and on occasion, off of it—I’m looking at you, Mike Munchak) was brutal.  Most of all, the conclusion of the game was brutal—the cruelest twist of fate dealt to a team who has had more than their share of bad luck and self-inflicted agony.

The Bengals lose.  It’s what they do.  Sometimes early, sometimes late, but for 47 years, the Cincinnati football team has specialized in finding new, creative, more painful ways to not win.

But on January 9, 2016, the Bengals delivered their masterpiece—a magnum opus of defeat that may never be matched.  It was King Lear, full of plots and subplots, tragic heroes and anti-heroes.  It was Guernica—a chaotic, dark work of art painted on the soggy canvas of Field Turf at Paul Brown Stadium.

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The Freedom of Advent

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes―and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In case anyone might have missed it, we have entered headlong into the holiday season.  Neighborhoods are once again filled with houses adorned with festive lights (ranging from understated to garish), nonstop seasonal advertising assaults the senses, and songs about reindeer, sleigh rides, and snowmen echo in every public space.  People run hurriedly from one appointment to another—a holiday party here, a Christmas program there—all while trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and family.

Advent-WreathSo, with the constant din of crass consumerism ringing in our ears and a list of never-ending tasks stretching out before us, we can be excused for not recognizing that it really isn’t the Christmas season at all, which, technically, begins on Christmas Day and stretches out for 12 days until Epiphany on January 6.  Rather, we are in the midst of Advent—a season of waiting and listening on God as He prepares to enter into our world in the form of an infant.

Now, lest anyone accuse me of being a “Scrooge,” I should point out that as I type this, I have a couple browser windows open on my computer dedicated to the purpose of purchasing the perfect Christmas gifts for my loved ones, and am trying to figure out what would be the best times to take the family out to see our favorite over-the-top light displays in town.  I love the arrival of holiday baked goods, and I even enjoy the sounds and music of the season (in limited doses).

Still, I can’t help but think that all too often something gets lost in all the to-do that launches in earnest the second Thanksgiving dinner is cleared from the table.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The month of March is truly a special time here in the mid-Atlantic region.  Warmer temperatures are beginning to arrive, the gray skies are giving way to blue, and the dirty snow that has long lingered on the curbside is finally starting to dissipate.  The sun makes a much-anticipated return.  Daffodils and crocuses begin their annual emergence from the cold, winter soil, and the grass returns to a dark shade of green that was almost forgotten over the last six months.  Songbirds reappear in the trees.  The neighborhood once again becomes a hub of activity, as people leave their seasonal cocoons to enjoy the great outdoors, free of layers of personal insulation.

Tourney hero Rolando Blackman, circa 1981. Oddly, I didn't consider those shorts particularly tight at that time.
Tourney hero Rolando Blackman, circa. 1981. Oddly, I didn’t consider those shorts particularly tight at that time.

But none of that is what makes March special to me.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement.  Sure, I love being able to get outside again (and, perhaps more importantly, the kids can get outside again), and the thought of not having to shovel anything off my driveway for many more months is definitely appealing.  But for me, the real harbinger of spring is the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament (a/k/a “March Madness”; a/k/a “The Big Dance”; a/k/a “The Biggest Drain on Workplace Productivity Next to Facebook”).  Nothing proclaims the end of winter quite like watching a bunch of 18-22 year-old boys run around on highly polished wood courts, dreaming of immortality.

When it comes to announcing the arrival of spring, watching the tourney is the swallows returning to the mission at San Juan Capistrano with less poop.  It’s the first real car wash of the year, except it can be done sitting on your couch with a frosty beverage in hand.  It’s the first mowing of the lawn, save all that annoying manual labor and grass stains on your shoes.

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The Marks of Jesus

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job). Check it out sometime!

To go into prison is to be marked for life. Regardless of the time spent, the lessons learned, and the changes made, these men and women will forever be identified as prisoners—a “scarlet letter” firmly affixed upon them, and readily visible to all. Future employers, landlords, and even co-congregants will identify them first and foremost as “ex-cons,” and suspicion will guide their interactions.

And in some cases, these marks are more than metaphorical.

“Freedom Tattoos”—a program created by Pedagogium: The College of Social Sciences in Poland, is offering former prisoners in that country the opportunity to have tattoos they received during their time in prison covered with new, more appealing artwork. The ugly words and images created with makeshift implements during their incarceration are thus transformed into images that reflect their own personal metamorphosis.

An ad promoting the program
features two women recently released from prison. One of the women, a young mother, has the word “vendetta” tattooed on the back of her neck, the product of time spent at a juvenile detention center. “Now I want to [cover this tattoo] for my children,” she says, “Because I love them. It’s simple.”

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A Family Legacy

Regular followers of this blog know that there are few things the author finds more appealing than road trips and family reunions.  Last summer, the Rempes (one member less than the current contingent) embarked upon a trek across the Midwest to visit family members of both clans.  We went to zoos, stayed with a great aunt, visited a great grandfather, and took a ferry across Lake Michigan before even arriving at our ultimate destination – our family reunion in Wisconsin.*  Despite long hours in the (somewhat funky smelling) car, nights spent together in single rooms not designed for families of five, and stops at restaurants still waiting to receive their first Michelin star, the journey was quite delightful.

14-08-31 Rockbridge Rempes
The whole Rempe crew at Rockbridge
Beth and I are both blessed with the rarest of gifts – families that we love and with whom we enjoy spending time.  Knowing so many friends who have strained family ties, and who shudder at the thought of prolonged contact with relatives, we do not take such a blessing for granted.  Rather, we embrace the strong family ties that do exist, and take all the opportunities we can to make sure that our kids are building the same close relationships that we have with our siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

The recent Labor Day weekend provided just such an opportunity for family building.  A friend suggested that all the Rempes – Mama Rempe included – attend the family camp at Young Life’s Rockbridge Alum Springs camp in western Virginia.  Realizing that this would be a great chance to a) hang out with some old friends whom I haven’t seen in close to 20 years; b) introduce our newest arrival to some of his cousins, aunts, and uncles; and c) do it on a Young Life property, I quickly made the reservations.  Doing so required Beth to move her regular weekend shifts at the hospital to mid-week to accommodate it, and for me to take some time off for the week to accommodate that, but I figured the long weekend would be worth it.

And it was.

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