Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Will of God

It's always kinda awkward whenever someone in a conversation begins talking about "the Will of God." For one thing, these people often seem to be speaking with far too much boldness in relation to their ability to actually discern the mind of God. Seems like such conversations need to be peppered with lots of humility. Instead, the phrase "the Will of God" is often used as a sort of "trump card show of confidence" in order to end any conversation or debate on a given subject.

It's also awkward because this phrase also sounds like some kind of divine magic 8 ball. As if people are directed to behave or act in certain ways because they received a message from on high, and it is "the Will of God." Kind of difficult these conversations often go after that. I usually want to ask lots of questions to discover how it is that person is so certain that they've stumbled upon the road map for the rest of their life.

Because we all want that. We face all kinds of decisions every day. Am I going to go to bed early? Or am I going to bang out a blog entry at 3 in the morning? Am I going to eat healthy? Or am I going to indulge? Am I going to be kind? Or does this person really need to be needled right now? All sorts of decisions we face & make on a daily basis. But there are some decisions that are big. That are weighty. Decisions that will be determinative for our lives and will decide which direction we go from this point we're at now. And in the midst of those decisions, it would be phenomenally fortuitous if we had access to a divine magic 8 ball! Right? Because we're sitting there, and we've been praying our brains out, and it seems even foggier about which road to take. It's Monty Hall's "Let's Make a Deal," and we get nervous about the notion that some of the roads we go down could really suck.

So we want God's guidance. Because we don't want our major decision to result in something that sucks. And I'm convinced that sometimes we just pretend that we did receive that guidance from on High to make ourselves feel better about whatever road we ourselves chose.

But there is more than just the fear of our choice sucking. I think we have a genuine desire to be in the center of God's Will. We know that God has a master plan for the universe. And that God is detail-oriented. And we want precisely what God had in mind for us all along. I think there's this noble sense, too, in which we want to discover and live in God's plan for our lives.

But this noble notion can clash with our own well-laid plans too, right? Because we all may believe that God has a place in mind for you where you can be your best for Him. But how that works itself out in our mind is that WE (not God) have a place in mind for ourselves where we can be our best for our own success and fortune, and hopefully God too. Because even though we know God has his scheme, we have our schemes too. We've got our own ideas about how we'd be happy and which direction we would like for our life to go in. And we get discouraged when our schemes don't come to pass. We wonder about the Will of God. We begin to question it, and doubt even the existence of God.

I appreciated a sermon I read (and subsequently tweaked & turned around and preached) that engaged this very idea. Let's consider Paul here for a moment, and his background. He used to be called Saul, remember. He was a Jewish Pharisee who'd been converted to Christianity. But even before that, he'd experienced great privilege. He'd been born a Roman citizen in Tarsus. He studied under a great Jewish scholar named Gamaliel, which today would be like bragging you graduated from Princeton. Paul was bred as a cultural & theological thoroughbred.

And yet instead, God decided to use him like a work horse. Check out how Paul talks of being humbled in 2nd Corinthians 11:

What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Quite a lot happened to Paul. And yet, Paul didn't take that as an opportunity to re-evaluate how plausible or reliable his faith was. He didn't doubt God. Or even the Will of God. He didn't question whether God was mis-allocating resources. Because thoroughbreds were born to run the Kentucky Derby, not get flogged like a work horse. And Paul here isn't bragging so much about accomplishments. Rather, he's taking pride in being right at the center of God's Will.

In relation to this, I think about the kinds of trials we face in America in the 21st century. Financial "stress." (The quotation marks are there because if you gripe about that, you're still probably reading this on your personal computer via your own internet connection. I'm gonna say that "tightening the belt" isn't as bad as a lot of people have it right now) Cancer, and other health issues. And just the basic human condition. We stress out over way less than Paul had to deal with, don't we? We hear about one scary doctor's visit, and it's got us re-evaluating whether or not there's a God in Heaven. Or we have a few lean months financially -- probably because we could have been more responsible with our money -- and we begin to wonder whether God still loves us or not. Sometimes I think we just need to toughen up. I know I'm a wimp. A lot. And I think we just need to become more comfortable with how the Will of God unfolds even if it's most unpleasant and uncomfortable. Especially when it's most unpleasant and uncomfortable. Because Paul was.

And Paul didn't even mind if the road ahead was foggy or seemed impeded. I know this because of how the 2nd Missionary Journey unfolded. It began in Acts 15 with Paul's random idea, "Hey... how 'bout we go visit those churches we planted way back yonder?" Let's check out how it progresses in Acts 16:

4As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

6Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Fascinating here how Paul and his Mission Team are blocked at every turn from heading into Asia, isn't it?

Little did they know it at the time, but this was a turning point moment. Paul seemed convinced that it was time to go make in-roads for the Gospel in Asia. It seems he thought that there was to be the great frontier for faith. But God had another place in mind: Europe. Macedonia was the gateway into that influential continent. And from his adventure in Europe would come churches to whom Paul would end up writing weighty letters. Epistles upon which we hang on every word. So for this and many other reasons -- many of which are still perhaps a mystery -- God directed Paul up toward Europe.

But Paul & Co. didn't know that until at least verse 9. These guys are HUNDREDS of miles into their missionary until they get clued into this fact. It wasn't so easy for Paul, an inspired writer of Scripture, to discern the Will of God.

I think we could conclude this for ourselves as well: God's Will is not always easily discerned. Or to put it in terms of this story: God's Will is often not the shortest distance between two points.

Wouldn't it be great if it was? Wouldn't it be great if living life was like cooking by picture, where you receive an image that shows "here's step ONE," and then "that's step TWO," and so on? Seems like that'd make life fantastically easier to execute. And yet, we're a people called to live by faith, not by sight.

I think we're in need of understanding that our sight is pretty dim anyway. As Paul said in 1st Corinthians 13, "we see as through a mirror dimly," or "as through a glass darkly." It's DIFFICULT to discern the Will of God. I liked how N.T. Wright (in his oft-praised book, "Surprised by Hope") explained that the things that even seem so literal & mapped out in Scripture perhaps aren't so clear as cooking by picture:

We must remind ourselves yet once more that all Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist. Signposts don't normally provide you with advanced photographs of what you'll find at the end of the road, but that doesn't mean they aren't pointing in the right direction. They are telling you the truth, the particular sort of truth that can be told about the future.

But to bring it back to Paul and Macedonia, I liked how Mr. Deem (the author of that sermon) framed the different elements of God's Will. Military people will understand this language well. Mr. Deem says that God provides mainly general direction, but also specific direction only when needed.

When you're in the military, you live under general orders. If you're a sentry in a watchtower, general orders says you are not to fall asleep. You don't have to be given a special order to stay awake on your watch. That's part of general orders.

Paul was operating out of the general direction sense of the Will of God by even being on this Missionary Journey. We don't have an indication from Scripture that Paul was given a special revelation to go on this trip. They just decided to go, because they were living under the general mandate that God's Will is to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." They didn't have to wait around for God to give them a clear mind & a warm feeling to go do their job for the Kingdom.

There are those who excuse their inactivity from the life of God by saying to themselves, "Well I haven't heard from Him regarding His will for my life." Well, if that's your self-talk, I'm here to tell you that you just did.

Look at Paul & Silas. It was God's ultimate plan that they go to Macedonia & visit all those places in Europe. But His will took a circuitous route.

And I think this is an important point as well. So often, we want to know from God what the specific direction of his will is for our lives, but we don't even bother ourselves with managing the general direction sense of God's Will. We are desperate to know where to go next, what to do next, what's over the next horizon. When maybe things would actually fall into place if we cared more about God's general will, like the Great Commission or becoming more Christ-like. Some of us want the vision of the Man of Macedonia, but we wouldn't have even been on the missionary journey to receive it in the first place! We're up in the watchtower asleep, and we're wondering why we're not getting the special orders for the super-cool secret missions that all the good, disciplined soldiers get.

Do you want to know the Will of God for your life? Get off the sidelines and get in the game! God's up to something in the world, and He could use you to make a difference in other people's lives. That's what His will is for you. And I feel safe saying that it's often a whole lot less glamorous and a whole lot more ugly than we imagine it in our mind's eye when we're dreaming ahead.

But that's not to say that there aren't some just beautifully rewarding moments. Because there are. Because I do believe that God has a place in mind for you where you can be your best for Him. And when you discover that place, revel in it. No matter how painful it might seem on any given day. Because, like Paul showed us back there in 2nd Corinthians 11, there's a great pride and satisfaction to be had in being right at the center of the Will of God.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rocky Block

One of my professors at college was real entertaining in class on certain days. On those certain days, he would get us laughing pretty hard. And then every once in a while he would slip in a joke that was kind of awkward. And after we didn't laugh, he'd say, "Some things I do just for me."

Well, this blog entry is just for me. What follows are various pictures and videos of what is destined to go down in paint as "The Block."

FWIW, I think it's shameful that the band struck up with Rammer Jammer after this win. Seems like you gotta earn playing that. Especially when you're going to shout at the top of your lungs, "WE JUST BEAT THE HELL OUTTA YOU!" Pretty ridiculous that we went with it.

Here's the picture Daniel Moore may use for his next iconic painting:

Here it is at a higher resolution, but not wide angle:

And here's the picture I love the most: Julio Jones consoling Terrence Cody.

That one photo sums it all up for me. After Tennessee recovered that onside kick, EVERYONE thought it was over. Done. The dream of a perfect season. Maybe the dream of a National Championship. Perhaps even the dream of a shot at Florida again. At moment, it was all slipping away. Tennessee got in field goal range, Lane Kiffin was pumping his fist on the sidelines, and we all felt sick. The dream was dead. But Terrence Cody cared too much to let it end like that. Terrence Cody wanted it more.

And yet, despite the sheer exhilaration immediately following that play, the sorrow of what seemed like an inevitable loss still hung over the place. And after running & jumping around like a wild man, Terrence Cody simply started crying as if he'd just rescued his only child from oncoming traffic. Coach Saban commented in his post-game presser about how fragile a season is. Everyone felt it in that moment. Terrence Cody personifies it in that picture.


I love this team. Beyond wins and losses, I love the players. I love their stories. Every week there's something new that I learn about them & find another reason to love these guys. That's all I can say: I just love 'em.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Power 12: The Birthday Heart Attack Edition

Written Saturday night: I still don't know how to process the 'Bama/Tennessee game. I feel like I just missed getting T-boned by a semi in an intersection. And I can't figure out how or why I'm still alive. I don't know. I don't know what you do after that.

Written Sunday morning: I guess you go live your life to the fullest, right? You go win a championship. Alabama is still alive. Something tells me that could be bad news for the rest of the teams left on the schedule.

1a.) Florida : must be nice having so many referee calls go your way
1b.) Alabama : if ever a football team needed a bye week
3.) Texas
4.) Boise State
5.) Iowa
6.) Oregon
7.) USC
8.) Georgia Tech
9.) Cincinnati
10.) TCU : Okay, Horned Frog fans. Here's your ranking.
11.) LSU
12.) Virginia Tech

Dropped Out: Miami

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Power 12: The 'Just Win, Baby' Edition

You can't win pretty every week. Reality dictates this immutable truth every season in college football. What separates the good teams from the championship teams is the ability to grind out victories even when you don't have your "A" Game. The top 3 did just that this week:

1a.) Florida : they gave Arkansas plenty of chances to win that game. But when they got their one chance to go win it, they took it. Florida may not be as explosive as last season. But they're as tough as ever.

1b.) Alabama : 'Bama hasn't had their "A" game in a month. The reason? Quarterback Greg McElroy is in an October slump. From the 2nd half of the Virginia Tech game through the end of September, McElroy had completed 61 of 81 (75%) of his passes for a little over 900 yards. However, in three games in October, he's 40 of 80 (50%) for a little under 400 yards. Look for Alabama to scheme their way into helping their QB regain his confidence next week vs. Tennessee.

And let the record show that even though Alabama hasn't had their "A" game lately, and has been "winning ugly," that their average margin of victory this month is still 17 points. Just sayin'...

3.) Texas
4.) Boise State : if Texas drops one, and they win out, there will be much media wrangling for the Broncos.
5.) Miami
6.) Oregon
7.) Iowa
8.) USC
9.) Georgia Tech
10.) Cincinnati
11.) LSU
12.) Virginia Tech

Dropped Out: Ohio State

Sorry Bob.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A New Reading of the Wise & Foolish Builders

Isn't it great when you read a passage of Scripture from a new perspective? Especially when you discover the way the passage was supposed to be read all along?

My buddy Mark did this for me last year for Jesus' teaching on money & rendering unto Caesar. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's." Well, Caesar's coin had Caesar's image on it. So what is God's image on? Our entire being. We are made in the image of God. Therefore render ourselves unto God. Brilliant!

(That reminds me. I miss those ads for Guinness beer. "BRILLIANT!")

It's kind of amazing the things that shape your view of texts without you even realizing it. For me, reading the story of the wise & foolish builders at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew chapter 7) always felt like another installment of "Goofus & Gallant."

Does anyone else know who Goofus & Gallant are? Or am I the only geek who grew up reading Highlights Magazine? I hope not. I was the only one at Church on Sunday, but maybe someone out there read it, too. I always made sure to catch each monthly entry of Goofus & Gallant. I'll let Wikipedia sum it up for you:

First appearing in Highlights in 1948, Goofus & Gallant is a cartoon feature created by Garry Cleveland Myers and drawn by Anni Matsick. The strip features two contrasting boys, Goofus and Gallant. In each cartoon, it is shown how each boy would respond to the same situation. Goofus chooses an irresponsible path, while Gallant is kinder. Goofus and Gallant's primary function is to teach children basic social skills.

It's entirely as simple as it sounds. Goofus is a doofus. And Gallant is valiant. Goofus had unkempt hair and always did the wrong thing. Gallant's hair was never out of place, and he always did the right thing. It made you want to be like Gallant.

There is a way that this simple form of propaganda is used in one of the most beloved TV shows today. Its "The Office!" Just look at Andy Bernard (douchey), Dwight Schrute (nerdy), and Michael Scott (pathetic). Especially Michael Scott (he's especially pathetic). Who wants to be like them?! Nobody, that's who. You'd rather be like Jim: funny, cool, likeable. And so watching "The Office" is rather like watching a social morality play that teaches adults basic social skills.

And innocent little you thought you were just enjoying fun entertainment. :)

So, I always read Goofus & Gallant (or Michael Scott & Jim Halpert) into the story of the Wise & Foolish Builders from Matthew 7. But, thanks to this Alan Perkins sermon, I'm now convinced that this was wrong.

Why? Because the foolish man did quite a few things right. I mean, he did actually BUILD A HOUSE. Have you ever considered that? I've never even tried to build a house. It takes a lot of hard work and technical skill. Not that I'm against hard work. It's just that with my complete lack of technical skill, it'd make the hard work even harder, right?

So evidently, even the foolish builder was an energetic, diligent, and skilled hard worker. It's no easy thing to put up a house. I think it's important that we grasp what the true contrast is here. It's not a contrast between someone who can build & someone who can't build. Or a hard worker & a lazy worker. Jesus isn't knocking the foolish builder for his lack of skill or work ethic. Think about it: no power tools or Home Depot. He probably would have had to carry stone, and cut wood, and form bricks out of clay. It probably took him weeks & months of back-breaking labor. And he didn't even quit: the foolish man persevered until the structure was complete.

And THAT is what really makes the story so heart-breaking: because the good, hard-working builder made one incredibly foolish decision. So that in the end, all of his hard work was lost.

It's easy for us to confuse activity with godliness. We assume that if someone is hard-working and energetic, or sincere and diligent, that they're ultimately probably a "good person." And that's not always the case. And that's the point of the passage immediately preceding the wise & foolish builders:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"

The issue here is foundation. What is your life centered on? Is it your faith? Or do you consider your faith to be more like a slice of your life, along with work and entertainment and leisure and so on? Because it's how you answer those questions that is going to be determinative for how you fare when the storms of life arrive. Because you can build a really nice life for yourself, and have it all ripped apart if it's not on a firm foundation.

By all indications, the foolish man's house was a good, solid structure. That's not the way I always thought of it. In Goofus & Gallant terms, I always kind of pictured Gallant's beautiful brick house up on the firm ground, and Goofus' rickety-looking shanty down on the beach.

But that's wrong.

By all appearances, the foolish man was well-off -- his house was well-built. It didn't fall down right away. It wasn't obviously defective. As long as the weather was fair, it was perfectly adequate.

But then the storms came. And then it collapsed.

You know, it's possible to accomplish a great deal in this world without Christ at the center of your life. You can build a business or a career. You can make money. You can have a reasonably good marriage & develop a wide circle of friends. You could even be a big brother or adopt a 3rd world baby. Whatever. You can do many big, important, impressive, and admirable things. But if your life isn't built on a firm foundation, eventually a storm will come along that will bring it all tumbling down.

It all kind of comes down to one question really: who is at the center of your life? What's the foundation upon which everything else is built? Who's the source & wellspring of all that flows out from yourself? If it's anything other than the God-made-man who we call Jesus, then I've gotta level with you: you're in for a world of pain.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fair Weather Fanhood: A Manifesto

Just a fair warning to all: this is a long one. Relentlessly long. You may wanna try to print it out & read it somewhere more comfortable than a swivel chair. Then again, it might empty your ink cartridge. Ehhh, do whatever you want.

Allow me to go ahead & get the griping out of the way early: the weather STINKS here in Florida right now. It's positively disheartening. I know I shouldn't complain. I don't guess it does any good to complain... except making me feel better. So, just so we're clear on this matter, I don't like the hot weather right now. Not one bit. Not at all.

I guess the other side of this coin is that we're the first to get the warmth of spring. That is pleasant. But it also means an oppressively endless summer. Starting in May and running through June, July, August, September, and now 12 days into October, it's still summer weather here in Panama City, FL.

"So what? Big deal? You should be happy you don't have to shovel snow." Let me explain a little bit of what this is like for you, the non-Floridian.

I walk my dog every day. I'm a good, loving master, and my dog loves me for it. If you don't know, I'm a big man. Not small. I tend to perspire, like many big men. Okay, let's just keep this simple: I fill up a t-shirt with sweat every day. Every day there is a slim ring around the shirt-tail that is dry because it's the one part of the shirt not sticking to my sweat-soaked body. It is every bit as awful & disgusting as it sounds. And THIS every stinkin' day. Especially days where the heat index rises into the high 90's. Or over 100, like it did at least twice last week.

It became a source of humor for one of my golf buddies the other day. He caught me a mile into my route last week, and he stopped to turn his truck around, roll down his window, point at my shirt, guffaw, and think of every wisecrack he could in the 30 seconds he had to make fun of me.

It was humiliating. I will crush him the next time we hit the links.

What's more, the grass hasn't stopped growing here. And unless you've mowed Florida grass, you probably don't grasp how relentless this creature is. And I've been an outstanding yard manager this year. I'm not bragging; I'm just saying that it was a banner year because I put a lot of effort into it. I didn't neglect my lawn. Mowed it every week.

And I'm still mowing! It's not over! I want it to be over! Why can't it be over?! It's supposed to be over! It's October; it's supposed to be COOL. The grass should stop growing so fast by now. But it hasn't been that way.

Plus, when it gets down to it, I'm just selfish. I feel entitled. I don't know why, but I feel like October is my month. I want to walk outside to my truck & have there not be any humidity in the air. I'd like to not be scrambling to click on the A/C as quickly as I can. In fact, I'd like to roll down the window & fill my nostrils with the crisp air of a cool, fall day. Gosh. Just typing that makes me yearn even more. And that is supposed to happen in October. Why hasn't that happened yet here in October?

"Okay! We get it. It's hot in Florida & you hate it." Sorry. So what am I getting at?

Fair weather. I love fair weather. Who doesn't? Who isn't a fan of a crisp fall day?? Nobody, that's who. I want to declare this openly & loudly: I'm a fan of fair weather.

"STOP! What are you REALLY getting at?"

Well, not only am I a fan of fair weather, but I'm also a fair weather fan. There. I said it. I root harder for winners than I do for losers. But at least I'm honest about it. Seriously: who in their right mind roots harder for losers than they do for winners? Nobody, that's who! Nobody "in their right mind" that is. Nuts & weirdies root hard for losers. And I'm not gonna be one of those nuts or weirdies.

The season's over & we can call it now: the Red Sox royally sucked this season. The only reason they won the Wildcard is because the Rangers collapsed quicker than Boston could. They suffered through injuries (Wakefield, Dice-K, Lowell, etc.) & underperforming seasons (Ortiz, Pedroia, Bay, Varitek, etc.) across the board. Bottom line: they didn't have it this season. It wasn't close.

But you know what was even more disappointing? It didn't seem like they cared. How quick was that Red Sox dugout cleared out after the game was over? I saw Jason Bay give what looked like a cursory, token "blank stare out to the field watching the other team celebrate." That's about it. I'm not the only one who noticed this. I'm almost certain that it's this that motivated The Sports Guy to say this after the Game 2 loss: "If you're expecting me to throw remotes, punch walls & go for 2-hour dog walks for this lifeless '09 Sox team, think again."

Because this group didn't care. Not like those Angels cared; that much was very plain. And certainly not like the fans cared. My Lord... Red Sox fans sell out games & buy merchandise at a rate that would juice the economy if it happened in the cities of the other 29 MLB teams. If any fanbase has ever loved their team & blindly rooted for laundry, it is Red Sox fans. But, as the movie line goes, did the Red Sox love them back? I say no.

I've been having this on-going conversation with some Braves fans, too. The Braves have this new General Manager who is tarnishing the once good name of the Atlanta franchise. He's offending Hall of Famers left and right. He's botching deals, as he did last offseason with Rafael Furcal. He over-spent to nab Derek Lowe because he mis-read the market, thought there would be better pitching available, and panicked to bring in the best remaining option. Mark my words (Dan!): given more time, Frank Wren is going to run the Braves into the ground.

Little do Braves fans recognize this, though. Oh, the die-hards are convinced that next year is their year. As hard as I've tried to convince them of their GM's folly -- of his poor record doing business, of his strange signings -- they're convinced that Wren out-paces every other GM in baseball. Really. And they've invested their hopes & dreams into this guy who is leading them off a cliff.

So since when is rooting for those teams a measure of someone's devotion? Sounds sick to me. Pouring your care into a careless team. Investing your hopes in a hopeless franchise. It is folly I say.

Just ask a Green Bay Packers fan. Ask them what it's like to love a player like a son, only to see him rip your heart in the most careless, disloyal way imaginable. What's that like? Thankfully we were enlightened, courtesy Bill Simmons:

Question: I am 19 years old. I have been a fan of Favre and the Packers since the third grade. I grew up thinking Favre could do no wrong. As a mature 17-year-old, I cried the day he retired from the Packers. I was tolerant of the Jets experiment -- even have the jersey to prove it. But what am I supposed to do now? Tonight I watched my childhood hero stomp all over the team and the fans he represented for 16 years. I found myself cursing him for the very same reasons I used to love him. The phony TD celebrations, the smug smiles, the way he hams it up with his new teammates and his new fans. I don't know how to handle it. I started this e-mail thinking I had something to say about all of this, but I just feel lost. I don't know what to think anymore ... I'm just lost.
--Drew, Bloomington, Ind.

Simmons: And that's the part of Monday's game that got lost. Every Packers fan felt like how a dutiful wife would feel if she stuck with her husband through thick and thin, watched him become a success, then got dumped for a younger trophy wife who also happened to be her archnemesis. Favre failed in the same way Roger Clemens failed when he signed with the Blue Jays in 1997 -- his problems with management affected his feelings toward his old franchise, and he did a piss-poor job of letting his old fan base know that he still cared about it. I have written about this before, but I turned on Clemens during his Toronto news conference when he simply refused to acknowledge Boston fans beyond a few generic words. It hurt. I took it personally and decided he was an opportunistic, disloyal, dishonest scumbag from that moment on. And as it turned out, he was.

In Favre's case, his lack of empathy for Packers fans has been really alarming. I know he plays with his heart on his sleeve. I know he's a "kid out there" and "having a ball out there" and all the crap. And maybe he's not a brain surgeon, but he's smart enough to understand what he meant to Packers fans and the state of Wisconsin, which means he had to understand how it went over after he (A) signed with an NFC North team two months ago; (B) dialed up the finger-pointing and fist-pumping during Monday's Pack-Vikes game so egregiously that even his biggest fan fron Green Bay couldn't defend him; and (C) gave that self-satisfied postgame interview in which he never said anything like, "I just wanted to say hi to everyone back in Wisconsin and tell them that this was as strange for me as it probably was for you, but I want you to know that it was just one game -- a game that I wanted to win because I'm a competitor and I love my teammates, but still, none of this changes the fact that I love you guys and I always will." That's it. That's all he had to say to Michele Tafoya after the game.

He didn't say it.

And believe me, I've been there as a fan. It's unforgivable. Especially when you're under 30 and don't realize that many of your "heroes" are people who don't deserve that level of worship, or any worship, for that matter. They just play sports well. They don't care about you. They care about themselves and that's it. If this realization hits you at the wrong time in your life, it can be hard. (I know it was hard for me. I took the Clemens thing personally, as witnessed by the fact that I once wrote a column wondering if he was the Antichrist.) So if the Packers fans want to play along, so to speak, then they can't cheer Favre on Nov. 1. He set the stakes. He made it clear that he's moved on with his new team and cut all ties to the old one. That means you need to go to Lambeau and boo the living hell out of him. Make him miserable. Rattle him. Flummox him. Do everything you can to get the better of him for three hours. This man does not belong to you anymore, and maybe, he never did.

Wow. Truth is sobering, isn't it?

You know what, let's call it: Hosea was a SICK man. There's a reason that his is an awkward story to tell in Church. Marrying a prostitute? Expecting her to remain as faithful & pure as he was? That's like Favre fanhood to the extreme. Which, I mean, for Hosea, is just unimaginable the amount of grief & pain & sorrow he had to wrestle with so often. ONLY God is capable of executing that kind of love and faithfulness. Not us. And that's the point of the book. It's right there in chapter 11 verse 9:

I will not carry out my fierce anger,
       nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
       For I am God, and not man—
       the Holy One among you.
       I will not come in wrath

Only God can do that. I mean, it'd drive a man insane to love to that degree of passion & have it not returned.

In fact, in terms of Scriptures that are a model, I default to Psalms 22 on this one. That Psalm where David just opens up on God without any pretense: "My God My God, why have you forsaken me?" It's like he's saying, "Hey Father... this situation I'm in right now -- this is really awful. I'd like to tell you how very awful I think it is." And David goes on to describe his plight in detail. He wrestles with ideas like God's faithfulness, and his own worthiness, and several other similar worries that we all have anxiety over when we're in the midst of trial.

But you know what: if David were being measured by the people who measure fanhood in 21st century America, the man after God's own heart would be only a fair-weather follower.

And I say that's rubbish. David was wallowing in his pessimism, but at least he was taking it to the right place. David was keeping it real, but he wasn't quitting God. He wasn't going down to some Baal or Molek to offer his worship there. He was taking it to God & dumping the full load with HIM: in all it's gritty, unpolished glory.

And here's the point I want to stress to a certain doubter of my fanhood: I'm not putting pinstripes on over here. Just because I can spot an apathetic loser when I see one doesn't mean that I'm leaving Red Sox Nation. I'm staying true to my team. But in doing that, I'm not losing the ability to stay true to myself.

I want to offer as a model of honorable fair weather fanhood my cousin Jason. I have to admit: I'm biased. I love this guy. He's one of my favorite people in the world to spend time around. And that for lots of reasons that I'll spare you from me listing here.

One of the greatest things about Jay, though, is his passion. It comes through so clear on the golf course. When he hits a bad shot, it kills him. Every time. And when he's squared off trying to compete against his brother Barry, it kills him double. Jason is a passionate guy.

This passion comes out in funny ways as it relates to his beloved Crimson Tide, too. I'll never forget the referees running out of the stadium -- running right by he & I -- at the tail end of the 1997 'Bama/Mississippi State game. Alabama had been conquered that day, and Jason wasn't in a good mood. So he taunted those referees. And don't worry: Jason's Mormon, he kept it clean. He just let them know that they SUCKED on that day. ;) And if you ask him about it today, he will work himself into just as much of a frenzy as he was in at that moment.

Oh, and there's also the time where he almost picked a fight after a win. It was October 2nd, 1999. Alabama had just defeated the #3 Florida Gators. IN the Swamp, where the Gators hadn't lost a game in 5 whole years. It was a high moment in all our lives. We felt like kings walking back across campus in our crimson polo shirts. That is, until someone dared taunt the kings. Some drunk guy started heckling us with, "You guys suck! You don't even know what top 5 is!!" Well, Jason isn't the type to turn the other cheek at that. "Hey loser!!... We just beat you IN YOUR OWN HOUSE!" Well, this drunk guy kept following us. And Jason kept not backing down. Until finally we've walked up to this guy's fraternity house, and Jason is standing out on the front lawn red-faced yelling at this clown. He was just about to follow the guy into his FRATERNITY HOUSE. We literally grabbed him to pull him out of that spot & back to my apartment.

I hope you'll believe me when I tell you that Jay is a passionate man. And so, just like his errant shots on the golf course, it kills him a little inside each time Alabama loses. And having a decade like Alabama had from 1997-2007, with 2 separate probations and 3 losing seasons, it was almost enough to crush his spirit.

But Jason figured it out toward the end of the Tide's decade of futility. Whenever 'Bama played, he just went to play golf. I couldn't believe it! This guy who loves Alabama football more than I've ever loved anything in my life. I gave him a hard time about it. How could he do it? Well, for one thing, he taped all the games. And he had a simple rule. When he got home, he'd ask his wife who won. If Alabama won, he'd watch the tape. If Alabama lost, the tape was tossed.

Lots of tapes were tossed.

But Jason made a simple realization about life that I hope each one of you will adopt: He was too passionate to put up with mediocrity. His heart was too big, his love was too strong, and the object of his affection was too small for him to continue down the path of experiencing one heart-wrenching loss after another. So he made that simple calculation: "It's not worth it."

And danged if he's not right! Sports isn't worth it. Sports is never worth it. That is, not when the "it" is putting up with rampant mediocrity & disappointment.

It's as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23 -- "Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the wellspring of life." I don't know why we subject our hearts to so much anguish over such trivial matters. It reminds me of how C.S. Lewis famously put it:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

You know what I recommend to Florida State fans right now? Go play golf! Go savor the good things in life. Seek out fair weather wherever it may be found in your life. If in the Noles won, then fire up that DVR and enjoy the show. If they lost, then forget about it. It's JUST football.

Why is that so hard for people to say? "It's just football." "It's just baseball." I'm convinced that it's hard because we wrap our sense of self-worth & personal pride in our sports tribe of choice. So that when the tribe succeeds, it's like we succeed. But when the tribe fails, it's just as if we failed.

And, to me, that's sickening. It's just revolting. Because when your fanhood becomes THAT, it's tantamount to idol worship. And so we then begin to measure someone's virtue -- someone's loyalty -- by their mindless, automaton-like sense of devotion to a sports team? How poor a measure is that!

I've got an idea: How about we try measuring people's virtue & loyalty by things that really matter? Like how well they love their wives. Or how well they raise their kids. Or how healthy they grow their puppies? Or how green they keep their lawns? Even over months & months of oppressive heat!

(That's right: it's all about me here)

I'm not saying just to go root for winners. Definitely don't do that. That's not fanhood. That's being a front-runner. No, don't be like the louses that I grew up with who were fans of the Seminoles, Cowboys, and Bulls. Please. Don't go changing teams.

But here's what I am saying: choose to go enjoy the good weather wherever good weather may be found. That's what I'm doing. It's a High Tide in Alabama. That's why you have to put up with my obnoxious "Power 12" rankings every week. Because I am as into that as President Obama is into being on the TV!! A baseball playoffs commercial on TBS? Really, Mr. President?

So may you enjoy the good weather wherever that good weather may be found. It'll do your heart some good to enjoy the crisp purity of refreshing air in some other slice of life. Because too much of the rest of life is bad weather. Why put up with it in your hobbies & recreation? I mean, there are more important things in life than a sports franchise that deserve that from you which is precious above all else: your devotion & your loyalty. So may you find fair weather spaces in your life to invest your heart where it's safe & where it's rewarded.

And, while we're at it, may the good Lord bless me with some cool Fall air. Please?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Power 12: The SEC Judgment Day Edition

Coming into this season, there were generally four top 10 teams from the SEC: Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU. Yesterday, 'Bama & Florida went on the road to take on the other two teams. And the cream rose to the top.

Florida or Alabama? Alabama or Florida? They are at the same time a mirror image & a contrast in styles.

Both have defenses that are veteran, unforgiving, supremely talented, and SALTY! (BTW, that's a word that's not used near enough. "That defense is SALTY!") Of the 22 starters from the two defenses on these teams last season, 21 returned for '09. Yesterday, both units walked into hostile SEC environments & held preseason top 10 teams to 3 points a piece and a little over 200 yards total offense.


And it's like an international arms race as far as who can stockpile more talent on that side of the ball. Both defenses are led by punishing middle linebackers (Florida's Brandon Spikes & Alabama's Rolando McClain) who may be the top two linebackers taken in the 2010 NFL Draft, and could very well be the best linebackers who have ever played at their respective schools. And that's high praise for McClain, who plays at a school that produced Lee Roy Jordan, Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas, and DeMeco Ryans. Beyond the defenses, though, both teams are led by QBs who aren't used to losing. Everyone knows the legend of Tebow. And Bama's Greg McElroy has yet to lose a football game he's started. Ever. In his life.

There are differences in these two schools, though. McElroy isn't exactly in Tebow's league yet: that other guy may be the best college football player ever. But Alabama looks more battle-tested overall so far, boasting maybe the best win on any resume (Va. Tech) to this point. And then there are the contrasts. Alabama is the muscle school; Florida is the speed school. Alabama is the defense school; Florida is the offense school. Alabama wants to psychologically beat you down by physically hurting you on every down. Florida wants to psychologically beat you down by hurting you with numbers on the scoreboard. Nick Saban coaches the most exotic, complicated defense in college football. Urban Meyer coaches the most exotic, gimmicky offense in college football.

Saturday set the stage for what most folks saw coming ever since last December: another Alabama/Florida SEC Championship Game. Because one thing is clear after these teams manhandled their talented opponents on Saturday: the only way these teams can lose is if they beat themselves.

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the Rose Bowl. Because it looks like the National Championship game will be played in Atlanta again this year. And as a Tide fan, I've gotta say: I can't wait. Every 'Bama fan I know can't wait to get another shot at the anointed one. We want to be the bad guys that wreck the storyline. We want to have the front row seat when midnight strikes for Cinderella.

So stay unbeaten, Gators. And we'll do our best to do the same. It'll be epic!

Here's the 12...

1a.) Florida : okay, Gators. Impressive win. I'll put you back at the top. Sort of. But I'm getting sick of you guys. For one thing, what's up with this new trend of Urban Meyer & Tim Tebow showing public displays of affection?? It's just a little weird. Pre-game hugs. And in the 4th quarter yesterday, Meyer leaning in, face to facemask with #15, almost like he wanted to give him a kiss. It reminds me a lot of another Coach/Quarterback Love Affair. (That one's for you, Jordan. Incidentally, kudos to the OU fan who made that. Best rivalry YouTube video ever.)

And you know what else irks me about the Gators: what's with the receivers getting away with offensive holding? Riley Cooper got away with it yesterday at LSU. Louis Murphy totally got away with it in the Cocktail Party against Georgia last year. And that's just the two instances that the TV cameras caught. I guess it's easy for Tebow to set records when your receivers get to cheat all over the place. Sheesh! I hope this guy gets to call the SEC Championship. "Penalty on Florida... He was giving him the business!"

1b.) Alabama : one thing I am impressed with in every game -- and you have to actually watch the Tide play to appreciate this -- is how much Alabama hurts, grinds, and wears down an opponent. In every game I've seen players limp off the field after being blown up by one of our defenders. There have also been games where players limp off after being run over by a running back. It's become one of my favorite jokes to make with my family every Saturday: "Ooh, ouch! Those 'Bama boys hit too hawwd." When you play 'Bama, you get punished.


3.) Texas
4.) Virginia Tech
5.) Boise State
6.) Miami
7.) Oregon
8.) Ohio State : really impressive win against Wisconsin.
9.) Iowa
10.) USC
11.) LSU
12.) Oklahoma State

Dropped Out: Auburn

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Beyond October

I really loved MLB's Marketing Campaign this year. Even if television marketing is manipulative & Pavlovian in nature.

What do I mean? So many commercials follow this script: pleasant music, a warm soothing voice, and mesmerizing pictures or colors that all work together to make you feel good inside. And then, at the very end, they flash their brand logo on the screen. What are they doing? They're not trying to convince you that their product is better than someone else's. They're subversively making you feel good about their brand by flashing it after making you feel all warm & fuzzy. So that whenever you see that brand at the store, like Pavlov's dogs, you begin to feel all warm & fuzzy.

Sneaky, isn't it?

Or, the other script is that they'll make you laugh. They'll put a couple buffoons up on the screen. And they'll have them do something funny, like fail at tailgating or mess with Sasquatch. And after they've got you laughing, they flash their brand logo. So that whenever you see the logo, you unconsciously associate all the pleasant experiences of laughing with that brand.

So anyway, even though TV marketing is sly & manipulative, I liked this year's campaign by MLB. Even if it is just as sly & manipulative as the others. Maybe I excuse it because I like baseball anyway.

So, in honor of the beginning of the playoffs, I'm posting my favorites...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Power 12: The 'Thank God Its October' Edition

I love this month. It's my favorite month of the year. I wish this month were 3 months long. I can't ever get enough. The great border war rivalries are coming up this month, too: Florida/Georgia, Alabama/Tennessee, Oklahoma/Texas. And this coming week, it's Judgment Day in the SEC: Florida/LSU, Alabama/Mississippi, Auburn/Arkansas. Who would've realized Georgia/Tennessee would mean so little???

It starts getting good in October!

1.) Alabama
2.) Florida
3.) Texas
4.) Boise State
5.) Virginia Tech
6.) Miami : I kept them at #6 last week. They proved worthy against OU.
7.) Oklahoma State
8.) Oregon
9.) LSU
10.) USC
11.) Iowa
12.) Auburn : just for you, Faris. Y'all keep it up, and maybe our rivalry will mean something again.

Dropped Out: Georgia (again) and Houston