The Brawlers square off against the Psych Ward Sirens during Houston Roller Derby’s most recent bout last month at Bayou Music Center. Photo by Steve Beard

By Sean McManus
Houston Press

Not too long ago, local bad-ass and onetime Houston Press writer John Nova Lomax postulated a very good argument that Houston might very well be America’s Most Miserable Sports City. Surely we have our highs, like the Rockets’ recent so-close-we-can-almost-taste-it run this spring or the Astros playing the improbable role of pace-setters for the AL West all season long. But mostly our sports history is a series of euphoric glimpses of potential mixed with embarrassing crash-and-burn lows. That is, unless you count the Houston Comets.

Formed in 1997, the Comets were one of the WNBA’s original eight teams, and won the first four league championships. Before folding in 2008 when no one would buy them, they were WNBA’s first dynasty. What I’m getting at is, anything our teams do, they did better. Today, gone are Comets stars Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes, who have given way to names like Slayer Moon and Sprint Eastwood.

Leave it up to the ladies of Houston to fill in the gap with some ingenuity and furious action of a much-missed sport. That’s exactly what gave me the courage to drive downtown recently and try to find a parking spot on a weekend – to witness some Houston Roller Derby action. The matches are held at Bayou Music Center, the downtown live-music venue in Bayou Place I’ve been coming to for concerts since it was known as the Aerial Theater. Except here the general-admission, standing-room-only floor has been converted into a flat-track derby arena with ladies flying by on skates. They are preparing for the evening’s doubleheader; tonight is extra-special because it’s homecoming for previous players.

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Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of Children, RIP

By Steve Beard

02wintonobit3-master675For 50 years, Nicholas Winton kept an explosive and dramatic secret from his wife. It was only after she found an old scrapbook in the attic of their home – names, documents, photographs – that he first told her about his secretive work in organizing the escape of more than 650 mostly Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia during World War II.

Many of us have heard the heroic stories of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg. Like those men, Nicholas Winton courageously risked his life to save young children from the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. He died this week in Maidenhead, England, at the age of 106.

The gripping obituary written by Robert D. McFadden in the New York Times is well worth reading and tells his story at greater length. Read it HERE.

 “It involved dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money,” reported the Times. “Nazi agents started following him. In his Prague hotel room, he met terrified parents desperate to get their children to safety, although it meant surrendering them to strangers in a foreign land.”

There is a dark – and yet glorious – legacy to his wartime humanitarian work. “Nearly all the saved children were orphans by war’s end, their parents killed at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt.” This era marks such a dark stain on human history. At the same time, the survivors – in their 70s and 80s – still call themselves “Winton’s Children.”

“After finding his long-hidden scrapbook – crammed with names, pictures, letters from families, travel documents and notes crediting his colleagues – his wife asked for an explanation,” reported the Times. “He gave her a general idea, but said he thought the papers had no value and suggested discarding them.”

“You can’t throw those papers away,” she responded. “They are children’s lives.”

His long silent story was eventually told and he was justly honored for his righteous deeds. “One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that,” he once offered for his rationale. “Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”

Nicolas Winton lived as if the risks were worth taking. More than 650 children escaped Nazi torture because of the pivotal decisions he made. Their families mark his passing with great gratitude – as should we.

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He’s Jesus Christ

28KRISTOF1-master675“If you subscribe to the caricature of devout religious believers as mostly sanctimonious hypocrites, the kind who rake in cash and care about human life only when it is unborn, come visit the doctor here,” observed New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

Dr. Tom Catena, 51, a Catholic missionary from Amsterdam, N.Y., is the only doctor at the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital nestled in the Nuba Mountains in the far south of Sudan,” reports Kristoff. “For that matter, he’s the only doctor permanently based in the Nuba Mountains for a population of more than half a million people.

“Just about every day, the Sudanese government drops bombs or shells on civilians in the Nuba Mountains, part of a scorched-earth strategy to defeat an armed rebellion here. The United States and other major powers have averted their eyes, so it is left to “Dr. Tom,” as he is universally known here, to pry out shrapnel from women’s flesh and amputate limbs of children, even as he also delivers babies and removes appendixes.

“He does all this off the electrical grid, without running water, a telephone or so much as an X-ray machine — while under constant threat of bombing, for Sudan has dropped 11 bombs on his hospital grounds. The first time, Dr. Tom sheltered, terrified, in a newly dug pit for an outhouse, but the hospital is now surrounded by foxholes in which patients and the staff crouch when military aircraft approach. “We’re in a place where the government is not trying to help us,” he says. “It’s trying to kill us.”


Certainly the Nubans (who include Muslims and Christians alike) seem to revere Dr. Tom. “People in the Nuba Mountains will never forget his name,” said Lt. Col. Aburass Albino Kuku of the rebel military force. “People are praying that he never dies.”

A Muslim paramount chief named Hussein Nalukuri Cuppi offered an even more unusual tribute. “He’s Jesus Christ,” he said.

Er, pardon? The chief explained that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk — and that is what Dr. Tom does every day. You needn’t be a conservative Catholic or evangelical Christian to celebrate that kind of selflessness. Just human.

Read Nicholas Kristof’s entire column HERE

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Patriarch Bartholomew on Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 30: Pope Francis (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople speak to the faithful after the Divine Liturgy at the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 30, 2014 in in Istanbul. Pope Francis arrived in Turkey on Friday at a sensitive moment for the Muslim nation as it cares for 1.6 million refugees and weighs up how to deal with the Islamic State group as its fighters grab chunks of Syria and Iraq across Turkey's southern border. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – NOVEMBER 30: Pope Francis (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople speak to the faithful after the Divine Liturgy at the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 30, 2014 in in Istanbul. Pope Francis arrived in Turkey on Friday at a sensitive moment for the Muslim nation as it cares for 1.6 million refugees and weighs up how to deal with the Islamic State group as its fighters grab chunks of Syria and Iraq across Turkey’s southern border. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)

By Patriarch Bartholomew (270th Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, is spiritual leader to 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world.)

In a series of seminars organized between 1994 and 1998 on the island of Halki off the coast of Istanbul in Turkey, we drew attention to the close connection between ecology and economy. Both terms share the Greek root oikos, which signifies “home.” It therefore came as no surprise to us that our beloved brother Francis of Rome opens his encyclical, which is being released today in the New Synod Hall of the Vatican, with a reference to God’s creation as “our common home.”

Nor again did it come as a surprise to us that Pope Francis underlined the ecumenical dimension of creation care – the term “ecumenism” also shares the same etymological origin as the words “ecology” and “economy.” The truth is that, above any doctrinal differences that may characterize the various Christian confessions and beyond any religious disagreements that may separate the various faith communities, the earth unites us in a unique and extraordinary manner. All of us ultimately share the earth beneath our feet and breathe the same air of our planet’s atmosphere. Even if we do not do enjoy the world’s resources fairly or justly, nevertheless all of us are responsible for its protection and preservation. This is precisely why today’s papal encyclical speaks of the need for “a new dialogue,” “a process of education,” and “urgent action.”

To read the rest of Patriarch Bartholomew’s article in Time, click HERE.

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Kirsten Powers is an antiabortion, antiwar evangelical liberal who works for Fox News. Got a problem with that?

BOP-2015-BJM02631433278990By Krissah Thompson

“I was a Kool-Aid-drinking Democrat,” Kirsten Powers recalls wryly.

That was in her 20s and early 30s, when she was an operator on the rise — first in the Clinton administration, when she handled media strategy for the U.S. trade representative, and later in New York City, where she threw herself into the state’s electoral politics. Her self-identity was built around being a loyal team player, with all the pressures and camaraderie that came with it. She thrived in the game of us vs. them, viewed her ideological opponents as “stupid and evil,” she says, and woke up every morning determined to beat them.

She doesn’t recall knowing a single conservative during those years.

But her career didn’t kick into high gear until she took that identity — the bright-eyed, sharp-tongued, gamely combative liberal activist — to a place where her brand stood out in bold relief. For the past eight years, Powers has made her name by being a prominent liberal pundit on Fox News — albeit one with less-than-orthodox liberal views. She’s on her own team now.

To read the rest of Krissah Thompson’s Washington Post article click HERE

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sarah-pic-about1By Sarah Heath

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and foster its renewal is our only hope.” ––Wendall Berry

We were listening politely, and to be honest the speaker up until this point had been unremarkable, with a few points that led me to take notes in my ‘oh-so-hipster’ moleskin journal. It was a youth leader conference filled with thousands of the rarest breed of human… the youth worker. The speaker launched into his climatic point, asserting the importance of contextualizing our ministry and understanding the culture in which we minister. I was tracking… I liked his thoughts on this point. Contextualization made sense as the way to develop authentic community.  He then moved to what he seemed to think was his most compelling example: “For instance the green movement – if you live in an area where people are really engaged in environmental issues, then it is important for you to educate yourself on that and even consider participating in the movement; which is fine because we know the Green movement is just a fad. What we as believers know is that when Jesus comes back, he will destroy this earth, so the green movement doesn’t really matter.”

My reaction was similar to what you do when you think you may get in a car accident. I spread my arms out to protect my two volunteers. It was a knee jerk reaction. As we assumed the crash position, I leaned forward and saw the guy to our right looking horrified, while the rest of the crowd hollered and clapped with agreement. Our team quickly befriended our fellow shocked comrade to the right. Following the session, we all sat together and talked about what was so jarring about the speaker’s message. What struck us most was not his words, but the agreement of the rest of the crowd. Did they really believe that the environment doesn’t matter? That God was going to destroy what He had created? We read scripture to suggest that God was asking us to be the stewards of this world, and that a new heaven and a new earth were possible here… there was nothing faddish about that.

To read the rest of Sarah Heath’s blog, click HERE.

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The Pride of U2


Fantastic article on Grantland from Steven Hyden about the legendary career of U2 – and the army of haters and challenges of being relevant in our modern world.

“I do feel part of a different world where we used to see albums come out, we used to see tracks going to radio and those albums would become more and more popular,” Adam Clayton told Hyden. “This new way, I don’t really understand. We’re [part of] a generation that no longer gets music the way we like to listen. Does that mean that everyone else that’s getting their music in a different way is not getting as intense of an experience? I don’t really know the answer to that.

“I think, sadly, what we’re seeing happen is, albums as collections of music had a cultural significance that told a story and connected people, [and] now have social media filling that role. Music no longer has that social or political place in the community. It’s become a novelty and a soundtrack because I don’t think there’s any real invested loyalty anymore. It’s a different relationship.”


No band is as loved or as despised, which is its own kind of relevance. The sellouts for the Innocence + Experience tour speak for themselves — consider that U2 can choose to not play stadiums. Meanwhile, the haters have found solace in the echo chamber of social media, where U2 is yet another amorphous, mainstream, and terminally uncool target, the Two and a Half Men of rock bands.

When Songs of Innocence arrived uninvited on everyone’s phones in September, millions of comically exaggerated, quasi-outraged hot takes flooded the Internet. This tweet by the English writer Warren Ellis typifies the tone: “Apple owes me an iPhone, because I had to purify this one with fire after finding a U2 album on it.” Even for people inclined to cut U2 some slack, like Jim James of My Morning Jacket, it was a little much.

“You can’t not hear U2, they fucking put it on your phone,” James said. “I can’t go five minutes without hearing them in the world. When a band’s that giant, it’s easy for indie rock kids to hate U2.”

Read entire article HERE.

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New Flannery O’Connor stamp


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Reviving the X-Files

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 3.26.59 PMBy Steve Beard

A six-episode revival of the sci-fi hit The X-Files was recently announced that would reunite actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson after 13 years as FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Coming from drastically differing vantage points, the pair attempt to solve bizarre occurrences often dealing with extraterrestrial and paranormal phenomena out of their basement office at the FBI. Mulder was the agent with the “I Want to Believe” UFO poster on his office wall. Scully, on the other hand, placed her faith solely in science and provable data.

There is no telling what the new series will explore, but the conclusion of the TV show in 2002 was one of the more provocative and intriquing endings for a nine year television show. Alien-chasing Fox Mulder is asked by his colleague, Dana Scully, “You’ve always said that you want to believe, but believe in what, Mulder?”

“I want to believe that the dead are not lost to us,” he responds, “that they speak to us as part of something greater than us – greater than any alien force….”

The camera then focuses in on Agent Scully’s cross necklace as Mulder holds it on his fingertip. As the scene and series draws to a close, Mulder makes this fascinating observation, “Maybe there is hope.”

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A Mighty Little Luther

martin-luther-FIGURINEBy Steve Beard

An astounding 34,000 mini Martin Luther action figures were sold out within the first 72 hours of availability. The smiling Reformer toy made by Playmobil was created as a kitchy keepsake for German tourist boards and Bavarian Lutherans to mark the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.

“I’m used to Luther the first modern man, Luther the rebel against overbearing church authority, Luther the anti-Semite, Luther the destroyer of the unity of Western Christendom — but Luther the action figure is a new one,” the Rev. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, told Thunderstruck.

“However distorted the image of Luther remains in Euro-American consciousness, the fact is that 500 years later he hasn’t been forgotten and still looms large in the cultural imagination,” said Wilson, editor of Lutheran Forum. “I’m grateful that the Playmobil people made him holding the Bible instead of the 95 Theses.”

Of course, United Methodists have a warm hearted connection to the leader of the Reformation since John Wesley’s own new birth experience occurred at Aldersgate in 1738 while listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface of the Epistle to the Romans.

Professor Wilson and her colleagues launched the Luther Reading Challenge (www.lutherreadingchallenge.org) as a way of encouraging a wider exploration of Luther’s thoughts than simply the history-making and polemical 95 Theses. Writing in First Things, Wilson explains that that the program highlights a fuller portrait of Luther: “the pastor concerned with the care of souls, the exegete, the friend and prolific letter-writer, the husband and father, the hymnist….”

“It was a natural step to merge the desire to improve knowledge of Luther with the desire to give Christian people permission not only to feed others but to nourish their own souls as well,” concludes Professor Wilson. “And that is our invitation: read Luther — not to take sides, and certainly not to justify yourself or your church or the compromised history that all Christians share — but to meet a sinner of ages past who knew and loved and constantly wrote about the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Steve Beard is the founder/creator of Thunderstruck.

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