Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Star Spangled Banner

This Sunday we will once again be treated to the extravaganza known as the Super Bowl. Sponsors will pay millions of dollars to hawk their products, fans will spend thousands of dollars to sit in the stadium and TV networks around the world will pay fantastic sums of money to broadcast the game. Each aspect of the event will be choreographed and highly rehearsed, under the direction of professionals whose goals will be to make this performance the most remembered of all time. Likewise, the two teams will review their strengths and potential weaknesses, examining them in the light of their opponents' strengths and weaknesses to hone a winning strategy for this winner-take-all game.

One part of the game I always look forward to is the singing of the national anthem. "The Star-Spangled Banner" characterizes in so many ways all that makes America great.

Francis Scott Key was caught among the British war ships preparing to bombard the city of Baltimore, as part of the British campaign to defeat the Americans in the War of 1812. Key was detained and unable to warn the defenders of the city, who were rallying at Fort McHenry. The Battle of Baltimore would be a turning point for the victors, with the British basking in their burning of Washington, D.C., and the Americans resolute to never let a British torch burn another American city.

In anticipation of the British attack on Baltimore, the commander of Fort McHenry commissioned an American flag. This garrison flag was 30 feet by 42 ¾ feet large. The commander wanted "a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance." When the British Navy began its bombardment of the fort on September 13, it could most definitely see the flag.

Francis Scott Key watched the bombardment all through the day and night. His view of the fort was obscured by the haze caused by the cannons as well as the rain falling through the evening. So it was with great anticipation that Key looked out to the fort come sunrise. He strained to see what ensign would be flying from the fort's mast: English or American.

Key captured his feelings of pride, relief and joy, as he penned the words that would be adopted in 1931 as our country's national anthem. As I listen this Sunday, I will reflect back on the thousands of men and women who have fought and died for our star-spangled banner. I will rejoice that our flag is still flying high over a free and proud country. And I will experience a moment of sadness, as I remember the solemn ceremony of the flag folded atop my father's casket.

Men, in the midst of the ceremony of this Sunday's Super Bowl, there are some teachable moments. The singing of the national anthem is one such moment. Take a moment, bask in the glory of this majestic piece of music and take time to help your children appreciate the greatness of our country -- one nation, under God -- a place unlike any on earth.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Game On! - Party Down!

The NFL Super Bowl is the crowning contest of one of the most popular sports in the world. In addition to the sporting event, the Super Bowl is the number-two party date in the United States, surpassed only by New Year's Eve. This year promises to be no exception, as hosts all around the country are planning their get-togethers. Whether it's a small gathering of a few friends or hundreds of fans meeting in a local ballroom, each party will have one thing in common: traditions.

For some the tradition starts with the "man cave." It's often the one day in the year when women are allowed to enter the inner sanctum (the "holy of holies," if you will) of the man cave. There they will experience all the heady, atmospheric ambience an 80-inch flat screen television with Dolby Surround Sound can deliver. With every grunt, snort and bone-cracking tackle amplified, your favorite lady may never want to visit again. On this hallowed Sunday, behemoth televisions around the world transmit play-by-play action that both mesmerizes and sustains football fans everywhere.

Super Bowl viewing is also perpetuated by tasty food selections offered to the throngs assembled for the big game. Regional varieties of cuisine will pop up here and there to be sure, but the venerated staples of guacamole, hot wings and beer cross state borders north to south and east to west. And as any party host worth his salsa knows, a Super Bowl invitation without a banquet feast of munchies is about as memorable as a Thanksgiving without the dressing.

In some years, creative, quirky and in-your-face Super Bowl commercials have made Super Sunday even more interesting, upstaging occasionally the gridiron action itself. It is the commercial breaks between plays where industry titans reinforce their brands and where fledgling upstarts hope to create an impression still remembered on Monday morning. Party goers sit spellbound, watching these ads, rating them with cheers, boos, groans and laughter. Who knows, maybe some company this year will top the "Mean Joe Greene" Coke advertisement of 1979, where a young boy gets Mean Joe's jersey and, as a result, becomes the most remembered ad ever?

Then, of course, there's the halftime spectacle -- or debacle -- as the case may be. While not infrequently an exercise in mediocrity delivered by a star in decline, this year's act promises little better, as Madonna takes the stage. Perhaps the inclusion of some circus elephants and trained monkeys will offer an entertaining diversion to whatever antics she's got up her sleeve.

We can only hope.

In the end, Super Bowl Sunday is an American institution. It might be that we could care less about who's playing, but we all know there's something good about getting together. And here's something you might not have thought of: try showing the promo for the Men's NetWork's latest Bible study, Colt McCoy: A Father, A Son, and Football (www.lhmmen.com) either before the game or (unless you have a roomful of Madonna fans) during the halftime break.

Then sometime in the weeks following the game, you can invite the guys back to your place and -- using that same monster TV you watched the Super Bowl on -- enjoy the two quick sessions of the Colt McCoy Bible study.

It's brand new; it's about personal character and football, and it shows the enduring value of living a God-centered life -- whether you're winning or losing.

Too bad the Cleveland Browns aren't in the Super Bowl this year. The timing would have been impeccable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Putting the "Men" in Mentor - Part Two

A mentor is an individual, usually an older person, who influences, teaches and counsels another person. For many of us, the first mentor we had was our dads. A father influences his children's lives forever. Fathers can mold their children's values, temperament and dreams. In fact, many of us reading this may still be trying to live up to our father's long-range hopes for us.

If you have children living at home, now is the time to talk with them and find out their interests. Discuss the future with them; it'll be here before they know it. Start sharing your values and dreams. Tell them how you felt at their age with an endless future sprawled out before you. Your perspective will serve them well.

You can do this in informal ways: walking around a zoo, shooting hoops and playing "horse," sitting on a riverbank and drowning a few worms, working on a science fair project, or any one of a hundred activities you can share with your child. As you experience things together, your child will listen carefully to what you say but, more importantly, remember forever what you do.

You can raise your child to respect the environment, by respecting the environment yourself. You can raise your child to value differences in people, as you demonstrate your own appreciation for such differences by your words and deeds. You can raise your child to attend church by attending church with them. Thankfully, it's not rocket science; kids mirror what they see -- good and bad.

Children watch and listen; then they repeat what they see and hear.

And they're very good at repeating what they see and hear.

Dads, you are the first mentor your child has. But there are children all around you that do not have a dad in their lives. Perhaps their dad is separated from them temporarily; he might be in the military and deployed. Maybe he works out of town and has to be gone; maybe he has other obligations that take him away from the family.

When dads are absent from home life, their children miss out on important mentoring experiences. That is where you can play an important role in these kids' lives. You can seek out and include those children without dads in their lives, as you mentor your own children. What a great service that would be!

Note: The Men's NetWork has started a special Forum topic about mentors, available through the Men's NetWork page: www.lhmmen.com. Check it out. See what you think. Send us a comment or two.

This is a conversation worth having.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Putting the "Men" in Mentor

A mentor is an individual, usually an older person, who influences, teaches and counsels another person. For many of us, the first mentor we had was our dads. They taught us how to ride a bike, pound a nail, cut the grass, drive a car and imparted lots of other useful skills. Our dads also taught us about respect, honesty, loyalty and chivalry. They advised us on what to look for in a future spouse, how to balance a checkbook and how to grill a steak on an open fire. Each year our dads coached us, advised us and counseled us on matters of life -- from business dealings to social skills. Many of the lessons we learned from our dads are, or will be, lessons we pass on to our sons.

But for many of us, other older men have also stepped up and relayed their wisdom. For me there was a neighboring man who gave me helpful advice on my career. He took it upon himself to look after me, guide me, and offer me his personal knowledge, as I entered my chosen career. I will never forget his instructions, and I can easily say I wouldn't have had near the success I enjoyed without his able mentoring.

Another influential mentor in my life was a supervisor. He went above and beyond his managerial role and took time to teach me lessons that have helped me more than once. Without his influence, I would not be the person I am today. These two men -- along with my father -- had a strong impact in shaping the person I am today. They all have been called home to heaven now, but their lessons and teachings will live on through me.

All three men were very different men in their lives and skills, but all three shared three important traits: they were interested in helping me grow; they stayed with me for many years, and they did not shy away from pointing out a fault.

To be a mentor is perhaps the best way to influence another generation. I encourage each of you to seek out someone to walk beside and help them grow in ways that only you can provide. It's an awesome position to fill in the life of another, and it's a privilege when one trusts you enough to allow you that role.

I would also encourage you to thank the mentors in your life, especially while it is still possible. It might surprise you to hear their response.

Note: The Men's NetWork has started a special Forum topic about mentors, available through the Men's NetWork page: www.lhmmen.com. You are definitely invited to participate.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Untrimming the Tree

As I exited the security area at the Milwaukee airport, I glanced up to see the sign "recombobulation area." Here were tables, chairs and a quiet place to recombobulate -- i.e. reorganize and repack -- all the discombobulated items tossed in the bins when passing through security. The sign and area are the brainchild of Mitchell International Airport Director Barry Bateman. He thought it would be a fun way to take some of the stress out of travel.

So maybe that's what we need now at the end of the Christmas season -- a time to recombobulate, a time to do some "untrimming." This would be when we carefully remove, rewrap and re-store each ornament from the tree, when we carefully rewind the strings of lights -- both from the tree and from the front lawn and, finally, when we remove the tree from the living room. For the purists, that means wrapping the tree in a large, plastic garbage bag to minimize needle drop, as the tree is dragged out the door to the curb. For the rest of us, it means finding a way to systematically fold the plastic branches in such a way as to allow maximum tree life in years to come. This year I will attempt a trick few have tried and even fewer have accomplished. I will drape a sheet over the tree and store it -- fully assembled and strung with lights. Pulling this feat off requires a large enough storage space to accommodate a tree for 11 months and a partner with strong enough hands to keep the tree level when positioning it. All in all, the untrimming process is necessary, but it's not something especially looked forward to. In retrospect, we often spend three to four weeks getting everything just right for a three-hour party. The trimming was more fun than the untrimming will ever be.

It's much like when I visit family for the holidays. I anticipate the visit, the time together, and the chance to laugh and reminisce with family, only to face the difficult time to leave. Saying "hello" is fun; saying "goodbye," well, not so much.

This year I have a picture of our daughter holding the grandbabies in her arms, as she stands by the window, and the babies are waving bye-bye. Then there's the grandson who climbed the back of the couch, so he could wave out the front window, as we walked away. Saying goodbye to the rest of the family was no easier, knowing we might not see each other for a good, long time.

I may not like the untrimming or the goodbyes, but I will continue to trim and say hello. Such is the nature of Christmas celebrations, with their time for special decorations, gifts and family visits.

So it is I am already looking forward to 2012's year-end round of holidays and family celebrations. It will be fun to decorate, gift and visit. No amount of untrimming or goodbyes will ever dampen the anticipation of the trimming and hellos to come.

And isn't that one of the true wonders of the season -- how it renews itself in our hearts each and every year?

We pray you have a blessed 2012, filled with lots of opportunities to celebrate and rejoice!