Interview with my favourite sportswriter, with permission….

It occurred to me I might take a little break from the therapy and share a most recent column from my favourite sportswriter (with permission)… Being from Cleveland, you have to like his take that God has a soft spot in His heart for losers, and his reason….that Jesus spent his time with them…

IDYBT and I must be off…

1. This is your second book dealing with faith. What compels you — a popular, successful sports columnist — to write about values?

People care about values. Most people want to make a connection with God. Most people would say they’re on a spiritual journey. People in newspapers are afraid to get anywhere near that subject for fear of offending someone. My approach is to say that I don’t know everything about God, but I’m on journey too. I want to know how to live. I want to live a life that is pleasing to God even if I’m not always sure what God wants from me. Bring that subject up and you can usually get people talking about faith without wanting to kill each other.

2. What is your definition of Everyday Faith?

Terry Pluto: Where you spend your time and your money tells a lot about Everyday Faith. Faith is not just something that floats out there above our heads. It’s not a vague theology question, or one religious group throwing theological spitballs at another. It’s about how you live your life, how you handle suffering, how patient you are with others. It’s not easy to live out our faith every day, but most people really do want to do it.

3. Your parents, brother, wife, and other family members appear in many of these chapters. How would you describe the role of family in your own faith life?

Terry Pluto: My parents had what would be considered a mixed marriage. They came from two different denominations, so I never had one set doctrine drilled into my head. My mother died in 1984 of a heart attack, and my father died in 1998 after he suffered a stroke nearly five years before. It was during that time taking care of my father, which took an incredible amount of time and money, that I began to look to God because I often felt like I had nowhere else to go.

4. How do you think families can build their Everyday Faith?

Terry Pluto: Children watch how their parents live every day. They have tremendous capacity to sense hypocrisy and inconsistency, but they also have a real longing to connect with God. Parents often are the first glimpse at God that children will ever have. So by praying together, talking about values, and encouraging each other through the little things and the big crises, that’s how you show faith in families. A good church should operate as a family, too. Part of it may seem a little dysfunctional, just as no family is perfect. But ideally a church and a family should both help us get through the battles that we face every day.

5. What is the most difficult faith issue you personally face?

Terry Pluto: To be humble enough to admit I don’t know everything about faith, sports, money, or anything else I find myself talking about. When you write for a newspaper and you’re a columnist paid to give your opinion, you find that it comes naturally to assume you’re an expert. And just because you write about an issue doesn’t mean you’re the final authority on it.The hardest thing for me to do is listen. It can be reading the Bible and then trying to be quiet and hear something from God, or trying to be quiet and listen nonjudgmentally to what my wife is trying to tell me about something that happened in her day or some problem she’s facing.

6. So many of your Everyday Faith messages are not just spiritual or religious ideas, but commonsense advice. Why is that?

Terry Pluto: I have an advantage not being in full-time ministry. Most readers think I’m living in the same world as them. Clergy also live in the same world we do, but the perception is that clergy are somehow immune to the pressures that most of us face. But a guy who’s a sportswriter, whose father had a stroke, and who wants to have a good marriage, is something that a lot of people can relate to. Most people want to have better relationships, most people have personal crises, most people want to know how to live a life of faith that makes sense and is real. Real faith is God-guided common sense.

7. Changing to or leading a more faith-filled life can seem like a daunting challenge. If you could suggest just one thing people could do to improve their faith lives, what would that be?

Terry Pluto: Most people are afraid of changing anything significant in their lives. Having worked for almost eight years in prisons, where 80 percent of the people are addicted, I can tell you that there are no real behavior changes until the pain of living a certain way becomes greater than the fear of change. This is not an original idea. I’ve heard it expressed in different ways, but it’s true for all of us. We don’t want to change our budgets because we’re used to spending money in a certain way, even when it’s clear we’re spending far too much. We don’t want to change our wardrobes because we’ve always dressed a certain way, even when it’s obvious that our clothes no longer fit. So it’s scary to think about changing something that’s as close to us as the values that determine how we live. That’s why it’s called “faith.” There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” I don’t care if you’re an addict, a shopaholic, or someone who feels something is just not right in your life. You’ll only change when you get tired of the pain, but it’s out of pain that the greatest change comes. Sometimes people are afraid that if their faith grows God will want them to go to India or somewhere and work with the poor or sell all their possessions and live in a cardboard box. Most of the time God wants us to live in our same houses and work in the same places, but just change how we act and how we think. In other words, most of our exterior remains the same; the change is inside us. In the Old Testament there are several verses that say, in essence, “God will give you a new heart.” And that gives you the faith to try something a little different.

8. How did you get started in prison ministry?

Terry Pluto: It began when I did a story for the Beacon Journal on Bill Glass, the former Browns defensive end who has spent more than 30 years in prison ministry since retiring from football. I met Glass at Chicago’s Cook County Jail to spend a day with him, and then I wrote the story and figured not much would come of it (just another of the 300 stories I write each year). Then I got a call from a chaplain at the Summit County Jail in Ohio asking me if I wanted to visit the jail during the Christmas holiday and help them pass out shoeboxes to the inmates. In the shoeboxes were cookies, a Bible, some socks, a stamped envelope, and some stationery. The idea was that the inmates could use the paper to write a letter to someone in their family. The socks were valuable in jail because at Summit County all the inmates wear shower slippers. Some of the inmates didn’t have socks, and their feet got cold during the winter. Then, the inmates were always looking for something to read, so they gave them the Bible. The cookies were a treat that was approved by the authorities.Former University of Akron football coach Lee Owens went with me that first time and brought a couple of his players to help pass out the shoeboxes and shake hands with the inmates. Most of the inmates knew who I was because there were lots of Beacon Journals around the jail and because many of the inmates were sports fans. I had an instant audience. I was a new Christian at the time — probably only six months into becoming serious about Christ — and the chaplain asked me if I’d come and speak at the next Sunday night jail service. I realized then how overmatched I was. But I went because I felt drawn to those guys, many of whom looked just like me. Prison ministry is terrific because most of the inmates are just so glad to see anybody who isn’t a prosecutor, a deputy, or some other legal type. Those who go to the chapel service volunteer to go, so it’s not forced on them. They don’t think they’re perfect, and they don’t expect you to be perfect. It really is a classic case of “We’re all sinners and searchers looking to get closer to God and just trying to get through today.”People think jail ministry can be dangerous, but just the opposite is true. It’s one of the safest places to be if you’re a volunteer. In jails, volunteer ministers and teachers are in a special class, which is very respected even by those who aren’t interested in faith or the classes. You’re not viewed as part of the system; you’re seen as someone who is there to help. I met this one inmate who used to be a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, or white skinheads, until he became a Christian. He told me: “If anybody touches you guys [the volunteers], we’ll kill him.” He meant that they wanted us to feel safe and comfortable coming to see them. I’ve been in jails at least 500 times in my life and never had anything resembling a physical confrontation. The inmates may fight each other; some will even fight the deputies. But that inmate was right: They won’t touch us. If anything, they’re overprotective. That shows that most of these guys can live a pretty good life if they’re not drinking or drugging or trying to get money to drink and use drugs. We just hope that our classes point them in that direction.

9. Do you think faith or religion has a place in sports?

Terry Pluto: I don’t think God cares who wins the World Series or Super Bowl, but I do think God expects us to do our best with the ability he’s given us. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing quarterback, writing about the game, or cutting the grass on the field. It never bothers me when a player thanks God that he has the ability to play. I’m not impressed when players say that God somehow favored their team to win. Does that mean God hates the other team? In many ways, I bet God has a soft spot in his heart for losers because those are the people that Jesus seemed to spend the most time with.

10. If you could recommend one place to start studying the Bible, where (or what part) would that be?

Terry Pluto: If you’re suffering or going through a hard time in your life, start with the Psalms. They’re nothing more than 150 prayers written by different people. You will be surprised about the raw emotion found in the Psalms. They are not the “church-ey” prayers that most people think. These show people going through loneliness, physical suffering, feelings of betrayal, or just the sheer joy of God doing something special in their lives. What the Psalms really do say is that all these people felt close enough to God to be truly “honest to God” in what they were thinking and feeling.If you want to learn more about Christianity, read the gospels of Luke and John and ask yourself “Who is Jesus?” as you read them. Look at the people Jesus picked as his disciples and notice that they were very flawed and that he had lots of patience with them. Finally, the most practical advice in the Bible is found in the Book of Proverbs. It tells you everything from how to raise your kids to how to handle money. If you’ve never read the Bible before, or it’s been a long time since you opened it, there are some excellent translations in modern English that really make it easy to understand. I like the version called the New International Version, but there are several others that are very good. Some people like the traditional King James and there’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s my wife’s favorite. Just find a translation of the Bible that really speaks to you, and be willing to spend a few extra bucks for a study Bible that will supply lots of background information that helps put everything into context. .

11. Who is your favorite person or character in the Bible, and why?

Terry Pluto: Moses, because he was a guy who was 80 years old when God suddenly put a call in his life to lead the Jews out of captivity in Egypt. He felt totally overwhelmed and underprepared for the task. He knew God well enough to argue with God, to bargain with God, and to beg God to send somebody else. But Moses was like a lot of us. In the end, he went and did what God asked because he had to, not because it was something he wanted to do. Moses walked in faith because he felt he had no other choice. He often had to deal with people who complained. He was sometimes accused unfairly and was the subject of awful rumors.The story of Moses also gives us hope that God is liable to call on us at any point in our lives to do something extraordinary. It may not be leading people out of slavery, but it could be a grandparent helping a grandchild through a period when that child feels alienated from his parents or lost in school or just looking for somebody to hug him and listen. Moses is my hero because he figured out God’s will for his life and did it even when it wasn’t easy. I wish I could do that sometimes.

12. What is your favorite psalm? What is your favorite verse?

Terry Pluto: Psalm 142 was written by David when King Saul was trying to kill him. David was hiding in a cave, and he was worn out and feeling hopeless and betrayed. He was telling God all this, or as the psalm says, “I pour out all my complaints before him, before him I tell all my trouble.” This tells me that God does care about how we’re feeling. As David talked about his problems he began to remember the times God had been faithful to him, and David has this wonderful line that reads, “Set me free from my prison that I may praise your name.” I think all of us go through periods where we feel a “prison” that could be family pressures, money problems, career crises, or just feelings of loneliness. God is willing to meet us where we are, if we just call out to him.My favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come.” I love that because it says God is not done with us yet; that we don’t have to be the same person today that we were last week or ten years ago. It speaks of God’s forgiveness. Some people may never forgive us, no matter how often we ask. But we do have a God who is willing to look at us as new people through the forgiveness that comes through faith in Christ. Often my biggest battle is not just believing that God forgives me, but being willing to forgive myself for some of my mistakes. So the verse reminds me that I am a new creation in Christ. The old is gone; the new has come. I bet I tell myself that three times a day.


1 Comment »

  1. I like this guy!–>

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