Friday, December 18, 2009

Just Trying to Be Better People

It's never dull having conversations with folks who are interested in, or skeptical about, becoming part of your church family. The questions asked are usually pointed, and being the answer man means I'm under the microscope.

I had a fun one last week. This particular gentleman sounded like a regular viewer of FOX News. From the tone of his voice, it was easy to tell that he didn't harbor a lot of affection for the current governing party in Washington. His question for me didn't have anything to do with church programs, or doctrine, or even the Bible. He simply asked me a question about Washington liberals, then backed up a half step, raised an eyebrow, opened his eyes wide, and looked to pay close attention to how I answered his question.

I'm not a politician. So, rather than dodging the question & answering the question I wish had been asked, I answered the question he asked. It was an uncomfortable question, and I told him I couldn't speak for every family member at the Lynn Haven Church, but here's what I thought the Bible said & here's what I think about it. He seemed satisfied.

But then I went further. And I told him that from time to time we'll discuss big world matters like that in Bible Class. In fact, he was just a week late to a lively study over Romans 13 and Revelation 13. HOWEVER, by & large, we don't spend a whole lot of time discussing matters that are mostly out of our control. That we try to focus on what we can control, and that's ourselves.

And that, just looking at the various books of the Bible, they weren't written at government, or at the world. The world is going to be the world. Government is going to be the government. Scripture, however, is aimed at God's people. It's written to Israel, and it's written to the Church. It's addressing how they live, not how others should live and conduct themselves and enact public policy.

It's a simple notion, but one that's lost track of from time to time.

So I concluded with the thought that we're just trying to be better people. That God's provided us a way to do just that. And that we were a group committed to following that way.

It's like the parable of the talents. If you're able to read this, it's quite likely that you've been exorbitantly blessed. So are you using your blessings to be an even BETTER blessing? Are you allowing yourself to be sharpened to become a better person? As you look over the last 12 months, do you like who you've become more than who you were?

I do. I actually fell short for all three of my New Year's Resolutions for this year, but that doesn't mean that I didn't reap a better me through the struggle. And I'm encouraged to reset some goals, and maybe set a new one, knowing that it's a better, stronger Philip that's tackling 2010 than tackled 2009.

I love resolutions. If you hate that word, say goals. But set some. And start chipping away at them here in a couple weeks after the harried pace of the Holidays fades away & normalcy resumes. Resolutions or goals may nag you, but they make you better as long as you don't give up on them.

And being better is important. Because that's a big part of what life is all about.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Power 12: Midnight for Cinderella

I was 14 years old. Alabama was in the middle of its best run since "Bear" Bryant had retired.

I became a fan since attending the 1990 Sugar Bowl in person: a loss to Miami. Three years later, Alabama turned the tables by stunning the #1-ranked Hurricanes (and Heisman winner Geno Torretta) 34-13 in the 1993 Sugar Bowl. Alabama finished 13-0, and they became the 1992 National Champions. It was my first taste of a championship as a sports fan, and it was sweet.

The next season was one mired with controversy and injury. Quarterback Jay Barker was injured in the Iron Bowl and suffered his first loss. It was a disappointing season.

But the sting wore off in 1994 when Alabama won each of their regular season games. They held off a late drive by Peyton Manning, and edged Tennessee in a nail-biter. They topped undefeated Auburn in the Iron Bowl, handing Terry Bowden his first ever loss as Auburn's coach (it was his 2nd season). So it seemed inevitable that the Tide would roll through the 2-loss Gators in the SEC "Coronation" Game in Atlanta.

But more than my love for that team, I loved its quarterback. Jay Barker was 34-1-1 as a starter. And he didn't even get to finish the game in that one loss because of his injury in that '93 Iron Bowl. He seemed invincible. Even more than that, though, he was an impeccable role model. After throwing for 396 yards in a comeback victory over Georgia, someone shoved a microphone in Barker's face and asked him about the Heisman Trophy. Barker calmly quoted 1st Peter 5:6, and spoke about how he'd struggled with criticisms and trials, but that maybe this was "due time" for him. THAT was my hero! I wanted to be just like that guy. So that's why four days later, on a Wednesday night, I walked down the aisle & gave my life to Jesus.

But then, two months later, when a Jay Barker pass fell to the turf on a 4th down to end the '94 SEC Championship -- a 24-23 loss to the Gators -- I didn't know how to register that. Pure heartache. It is without question my most painful memory as a sports fan.

So I say all that to say this: I know EXACTLY how so many young Gator fans out there feel right now. For them I feel pity. It's tough to watch your hero fall.

BUT, for so many of those kids who came to faith because of Tebow's influence, maybe seeing that your "idol" actually ISN'T God is ultimately a good thing.

Now... for all the spoiled Gator fans my age and older? For them, I feel satisfaction. It's high time they felt what I felt 15 years ago. What I felt again last year, when the Gators ruined undefeated Alabama's championship hopes again. For that cocky group -- people who braggingly told me that their "Titletown" was the REAL T-Town, and proclaimed that McElroy wasn't half the QB Tebow was, and crowed to me how they would crush 'Bama after beating FSU (as if they'd actually done something by putting up 37 points on that Nole defense), and who generally walked around with an entitled swagger just because they root for a good football team -- at those people, I smile. Maybe they'll be less insufferable now. Enjoy your bittersweet Sugar Bowl.

As for Urban Meyer and teary-eyed Tim Tebow? I also smile. "That's so mean! How could you say that, Philip?" Well let me tell you a story that the media has failed to tell for four years now. Meyer has run up the score and called timeouts to rub in big victories. Tim Tebow has flailed his arms, motioned the Gator chomp, and has shown immunity to more unsportsmanlike penalty flags than can be counted. As much as Meyer and Tebow have done to further a cause higher than football, they had also tarnished that cause with their dishonorable antics. Oh yes. That pair has had it coming to them for a LONNNNG time.

Sure, maybe there's a lot of young Gator fans who love Jesus like Tebow. But there's also a lot of young fans who love the other teams that Tebow played, and who bitterly observed the hypocrisy of Tebow & Meyer supposedly living to a classier standard all while ignoring sportsmanship and rubbing losses in other teams' faces.

So it made me grin even wider when Alabama lined up in the victory formation (to kneel the ball) at the end, up 19 points and driving for more, near the goal-line. It was a statement: "Not only are we better than you, but we're also better than you." Unlike the crew on the other sideline, Alabama doesn't have to run up the score to feel good about themselves when the game is already decided.

And for this Alabama team? I can't say enough. I love this team. So many individuals, so many stories. Redemption, perseverance, overcoming adversity: all the elements of great stories are there. They've been a thrill to watch.

Well, enough pontificating. Here are the rankings:

1.) Alabama* : they made it just barely, but Alabama is still the only school to have won an SEC Championship in every decade of the conference's existence.
2.) Texas Christian : the most deserving of a title shot, IMO.
3.) Texas
4.) Florida
5.) Boise State : they beat the Pac-10 champ.
6.) Cincinnati
7.) Oregon*
8.) Georgia Tech*
9.) Ohio State
10.) Virginia Tech
11.) LSU
12.) Iowa

* I feel vindicated for consistently having ranked each of these teams higher than the conventional polls all season long.

Dropped Out: Pitt and Oregon State

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Power 12: The Thanksgiving Leftovers Edition

1.) Alabama : poor ol' Alabama... just slogs through another victory... have to go up against the mighty Gators and the Author & Perfecter of the Gators' perfect season, Tim Tebow... I don't even know why they'll bother to show up next week (g)
2.) Florida
3.) Texas
4.) Texas Christian : The Nebraska bandwagon has a bunch of folks in purple on it
5.) Boise State
6.) Cincinnati
7.) Oregon
8.) Georgia Tech
9.) Ohio State
10.) Virginia Tech
11.) Pitt
12.) Oregon State

Dropped Out: Ole Miss

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Power 12: Rivalry Week Edition

They say throw out the record books for these games. Instead, can we throw out the cliche's? The best teams usually win these games, right? I can name only three times in the last 20 years where the best team going into the Iron Bowl didn't win. It's probably about the same for Florida & Florida State.

Both are dangerous games this year. Both underdogs have just enough offense on their good days to scare you. Both teams will be loose & can throw the kitchen sink at their rival in terms of tricks. But also, both have a penchant for beating themselves. Should be good games.

1.) Alabama
2.) Florida
3.) Texas
4.) Texas Christian
5.) Georgia Tech
6.) Boise State
7.) Cincinnati
8.) Pittsburgh
9.) Oregon
10.) Ohio State
11.) Ole Miss
12.) Virginia Tech/Clemson : couldn't decide

Dropped Out: LSwho?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Power 12: The 'This is Getting Boring' Edition

Survive & advance. It's a 12- or 13-game playoff, and you just gotta keep showing up and winning every one of them.

Blah blah blah.

The top teams keep on grinding out victories: some of them tough & hard-earned, some of them comfortable. And of that top echelon, the NCAA appears very top-heavy this season. It's been a somewhat boring season this year (aside from the September upheval) because there aren't any earth-jarring upsets that shake-up the top of the rankings & foretell BCS doomsday scenarios. We've still got undefeated teams galore, and some very Championship-worthy one-loss teams.

1.) Alabama : defense dominated the Dan Mullen Spread. Hmmmm...
2.) Florida : the OBC made them sweat. But Florida's killer instinct is impressive.
3.) Texas
4.) Texas Christian
5.) Georgia Tech
6.) Boise State
7.) Cincinnati
8.) Pittsburgh
9.) LSU
10.) Stanford : 3 losses, but they rolled up 50+ points in back-to-back weeks against the Mighty Ducks & the Men of Troy. They're playing as well or better than any of the other also-rans.
11.) Oregon
12.) Ohio State

Dropped Out: Iowa and Miami

Monday, November 09, 2009

Nobody Wants To Die

I'm going to meander for a little bit here to begin with. But stick with me.

High School Reunions are kinda strange. Mine was a little extra strange. The weekend of my high school reunion, my old campus ministry group ALSO decided to have a reunion. So it was reunion weekend for me back in September. I ended up doing both, even though I missed out on a lot of the fun both groups had.

One of my good friends from college is named Missy. Missy is simply a great woman. A Proverbs 31 woman. One of the ladies that still gives me hope for the female gender. (g) Anyway, in the midst of planning the college part of my reunion weekend with Missy, I got to talking with her about my High School Reunion as well. Being a couple years older, she related her experience to me.

Missy told me, "Oh, mine was so strange. The first thing that happened is that a bunch of people made a beeline for the bar. I felt bad for them, because it seemed like the only way they could cope with stress was to get some alcohol in them. And the other big thing is that the people I knew had changed so much that I couldn't even hardly relate with them. We had nothing in common. But there were other people that I'd hardly known in high school that I got along with great! And I almost felt sad, wishing I'd known them better in HS so that we could've been better friends."

It's pretty incredible how accurately Missy scripted my High School Reunion experience. After hearing Missy tell me about it, it was amusing to watch people do just what Missy said they would do: sign in, get their name-tag, and then square their shoulders & head directly to the bar to get a drink.

There were even a handful of folks that I had known pretty well that I had a hard time connecting with that evening. One of them, in fact, I've known since we were toddlers. Our parents were friends, and there's a picture of us somewhere from when we were 5 years old on Halloween (him as Superman, me as He-Man). And no matter how cordial or amicable I tried to be, that guy in particular was pretty much a jerk to me. It didn't exactly hurt my feelings. I just found it kind of bizarre.

But then there were others, like Emily and Josh. I didn't know those two as well through high school, but I left the Reunion event that night wishing I had. Great folks. Encouraging to be around. And fun! Josh is a minister, and is working toward a theological degree so he can teach in Seminary one day. And Emily is a home-maker who likes to line dance to Shania Twain in her kitchen.

Wait... did I just say that out loud? Darn. Sorry Em. See, all that self-disclosure catches up with you.

Anyhow, those two & I have a lot in common. They work with a small congregation where Josh is the preaching minister. Kinda like me. I have lots of friends in ministry in different places, but not many of them in the lead position like us. It is different from being an associate minister. And slightly more pressure-packed in a number of ways.

Really, I'd say it's too big a bite for us to chew off sometimes. I was mentioning this to Emily the other day... consider this: we're in our 20's, and we're looked at to be the most mature people in the places where we work & worship. We're to be the most mature people among folks who can be 1-to-5 decades more experienced than us! That is insanely demanding.

It feels pretty wild sometimes. The challenging element, I think, is the constant responsibility. And it's interesting how folks -- even people 50 years your senior -- feel comfortable enough to be irresponsible at times trusting that you will be responsible enough to carry their slack. And over time, this is grating.

I can't imagine what it's like for Josh and Emily with kids. God bless you guys. Because I'm not sure it's the responsibility that gets on our nerves (it's not like we want to be IRRESPONSIBLE... not at all) as much as it is the constancy of it (and especially so for them). There never seem to be quite enough moments where you get to be the irresponsible one. Where you can be like the kid, and someone else can be the grown-up. Where you can let your flaws hang out, and other people have to be the understanding ones, and other people pick up your slack.

Generally, responsibility is burdensome. And ministry isn't the only phase of life where this principle proves true. It's burdensome to be the designated driver for a bunch of drunks. It's burdensome to be in a higher tax bracket & pay a painful percentage of what you earned to Uncle Sam. But it's not really going to "Uncle Sam," is it? At least it doesn't feel that way to people who see much of it go to entitlement programs for other people who don't have to pay any of those taxes. And that's why Republicans, generally, complain about taxes. It's not that they hate to write that check to the U.S. government because they're unpatriotic. Or that they're thinking of the sweet boat they could buy with that money that they're sending away. It's that they're thinking about how burdensome is the price of responsibility. A price that not everyone has to pay.

And it does kinda make you stop & re-evaluate what it's all for, right? Why be responsible in the first place? And then we remember: it's because we've been blessed in the first place. Luke 12:48 -- "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

God has not withheld anything from us. He's promised us everything: even, in fact, a reality we call Heaven. And yet, oftentimes (strangely enough), we're not too fired up about doing what it takes to reap what he has in store. A song that my Dad loves reminded me of this. I'll let Loretta Lynn sing it for you.

Now that's some good theology, huh? I pay for books $19.95 at a time that don't do a whole lot better than that.

Responsibility is burdensome. And you know what else? Constant responsibility is a cross.

I may have said this here before, but it bears repeating. The more I mature, the more impressed I am with the day-to-day life of Jesus (e.g. living in the flesh, dealing with all we have to deal with, PUTTING UP WITH PETER!) than I am with the event of the cross. The cross was impressive, no doubt. But his life took much more endurance, and perhaps more strength. And I would even insist that it was His life that prepared Him for the cross.

I think it's our lives that are working to prepare us for whatever it is God has planned for us in the next life. Carrying our crosses -- whatever they may be, however unglamorous they may appear at first glance. And I'm convinced that if we saw our burdens & responsibilities in this light, I think we'd see how glamorous and attractive they truly are. Because we all wanna go to Heaven.

And yet, nobody wants to die. (g) Not even preachers & preachers' wives, as you can see. But we are all called to carry our crosses & go to die. Here are Jesus' immortal words from Luke 9 -- "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."

There are no thorn-less roses. And there are no cross-less Heavens. If you want to reap a reward, then you have to face those constant responsibilities of life without becoming embittered by them. And along the way, take heart in the words of Jesus when he says things like this: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

So may you recognize that your responsibilities are actually working together for good to save you. And may you, with a great deal of courage and faith, daily make the decision to go and die.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Power 12: The 'Welcome Back Julio' Edition

I almost called it the flip-flop edition, because we've got a shake-up at the top.

1.) Alabama
Here's the best way I can describe this team: they're the most complete football team that still has yet to play a complete football game. And yet, they keep winning. Woe unto the team that has to face Alabama when they put it all together.

And the reason I decided to bump them up to #1 here is that, after giving this a lot of thought, I think that the Tide match-up well with the Gators. That, and the Tide have been looking forward to a re-match ever since the tussle in Atlanta last December. I think 'Bama will want it more. So I think Alabama is going to win that game. Thus the flip-flop: it wouldn't make sense for me to keep leaving the Tide below the Gators in these rankings when I actually think Alabama will win the game head-to-head.

2.) Florida : not only am I bumping them down, but I'm putting the Gators on upset alert. In their SIXTH straight SEC game, they have to go face the old ballcoach up in Columbia. Look out Gators.
3.) Texas : they have the easiest road to the BCS Championship Game.
4.) Texas Christian : crossing their fingers for a Longhorns loss.
5.) Boise State : their win at Oregon looks less impressive after the Ducks' 2nd loss.
6.) Georgia Tech : of all the potential BCS Championship Game match-ups, this one would scare me the most. I want no part with the Wramblin' Wreck. NONE.
7.) Cincinnati
8.) Pittsburgh
9.) LSU : they've only lost to the two best teams in the country.
10.) Oregon
11.) Iowa
12.) Miami

Dropped Out: Penn State

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Power 12: The All Saints Day Edition

... because technically Halloween is over.

Not as much separation between those top 2 teams and the rest of the field now. I could see any of the top 10 teams playing for a National Championship. Those top 2 teams have been playing like they're feeling the pressure of an undefeated record. And the November slate looks tough for both of them.

1a.) Florida
1b.) Alabama : folks talk about how other teams' wins are more impressive or stylish. But there's a lot to be said for just winning. Especially in the SEC. Even with 4 BCS Champions this decade, Alabama did something last week that only one other team has done in the SEC this decade: win 5 conference games in a row. This is why the SEC gets the respect it does: because you take a physical pounding week in and week out, and it's most rare to come away with W's in all those games. You don't get to play cupcakes every other week like in the other conferences. So if you can survive the gauntlet & keep advancing, then frankly you're one of the nation's elite teams.

3.) Texas
4.) Boise State : they have the BEST win of anyone in the country. I wonder if anyone besides this silly little poll will give them any credit for it.
5.) Oregon : I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that the Power 12 had Oregon ranked higher than USC ever since September 27th.
6.) Iowa
7.) Texas Christian : only because they play better defense than the #8 team.
8.) Georgia Tech : I do love watching that offense.
9.) Cincinnati
10.) LSU : as low-ranked as they are, it's incredible to think that they control their own destiny to make it to the National Championship game if they win out. Of course, that would mean beating Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Florida. Tall task.
11.) Pittsburgh : best football team in Pennsylvania?
12.) Penn State

Dropped Out: Virginia Tech and USC

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Angels in the Outfield

Something very touching happened very late last night. While most of America had already crawled into bed, the Los Angeles Angels clinched the pennant. After six grueling months of a seemingly eternal-long regular season -- a length of time that just grinds players down & almost empties their souls -- those Angels laid claim to the best record in the AL West Division & the ticket to the playoffs that comes with it. It is an accomplishment that can only be celebrated one way: by pouring copious amounts of alcohol all over one another. It is a special time where hours & hours and days & days and months & months of hard work is satisfied in a moment of wild, unharnessed exuberance.

For the Angels, this season was especially soul-draining & trying, though. Because very early in the season -- in the very first week of the season in fact -- they lost one of their own. Nick Adenhart, a young promising pitcher, lost his life after his vehicle collided with another vehicle that was being steered by a drunk driver.

It was tragic.

The Angels were left to pick up the pieces. As is true whenever you experience loss in life, life goes on. It was really almost unfair for each of those team-mates of Nick Adenhart's. They still had a season to play. Grieving, they had to go out night after night & perform under the big lights. And that they did. Without wallowing in self-pity or making excuses for lethargy, they went out and did their job. And they won the pennant.

Respect THAT!

(I've gotta say, as a fan of the team that will have to face the Angels in the first round of the playoffs, I'm not excited about playing them. They're a stronger team because of what they faced. Stronger than other Angels teams that the Red Sox have whipped in playoffs past.)

And yet, despite going through arduous routine & having been focused on doing their job everyday, the Angels still remember their fallen brother. Along with releasing all the pent-up joy & happiness from their fantastic accomplishment, the Angels released some other emotions, too. They let the world know that it still hurts. They told their fans that, even in this fit of machismo & chest-bumping, it's okay to cry. The Angels just missed their friend. And so they paid tribute to him in one of the neatest ways sports has ever seen. Here are some of the images:

And then, after the traditional clubhouse celebration, the Angels took it back out to the field -- to the outfield -- where the Nick Adenhart tribute banner sat on the outfield wall all season just staring back at them. And they honored him there, too:

And here are video clips of the tributes:

From ESPN: the so-called "Highlight of the Night"

From The Angels in the outfield

That had to be so wonderful for those Angels players. As an outside observer, there's a strong sense in which it looked like they felt that they shared one last moment with their buddy, Nick. Not that it's all about me here, but I know the feeling in my own life of accomplishing something and thinking how great it would be if I could call Mom & share that moment with her. Sometimes it's crushing when I realize I can't.

So that's why it was so touching to see those players have that moment:

• to empty the cans of beer on that empty jersey as if they were actually piling on their team-mate in real life...
• to run out to right-centerfield to be with Nick as if he were actually there...
• to lift a can in honor to him as if he were there actually appreciating the tribute...
• to take a team photo as if having Nick's image in the back-drop finally actually made things feel complete again.

What a rich moment that must have been. And what a loving act for those Angels to make to their fallen brother, and to his family. And, really, to every family everywhere that's ever lost a member. I'm not gonna forget these Angels in the outfield. How special are they.

There have been some under-the-radar special moments in baseball in the last couple of years. Josh Hamilton destroying his demons in Old Yankee Stadium last July in the Homerun Derby. With each swing of the bat, it seemed like he was slaying yet one more demon after another. Jon Lester throwing a no-hitter after having beat cancer. The more fireballs he threw, the stronger he made us all feel against the powers that threaten to destroy our lives. And now we have the Angels winning the pennant & paying tribute to Nick Adenhart. Reminding us that even when we lose a big part of us, we still have one another. I just wanna break out in praise over God giving us these moments to enjoy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Power 12: The Concussed Edition

I know this is gonna sound insensitive at first, but I hope Tebow is never the same. I really do. Urban Meyer has been getting away with keeping his starters in too long for years now. He hasn't paid for it with a major injury before. But he looked like he was gonna break down in tears yesterday. And I'll say it because no one else is: it's not classy. It's not classy, Urban Meyer, when you continue to trash talk about a team you just beat -- and barely, even though they were woefully out-manned. It's not classy to keep the golden boy in when Kentucky is impotent to score even half of what you already have on the scoreboard. It should've been an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on every play that Tebow took a snap in the 2nd half. Because that's what this behavior is: unsportsmanlike.

So let's all dispense with the "Urban Meyer is classy" nonsense. Sure, maybe he doesn't grab his visor & squirm on every other play like the old Gator ballcoach. But if that's your standard of "classy," Gator fans, then I'm gonna say you guys have low standards.

I'm not even sure why we even feel the need to brag about how classy our football coaches are anyway. We pay these men to motivate & discipline teenagers to go out in front of tens of thousands and rip the other team's head off. What's classy about that? Heck, some say Gene Stallings was the classiest coach Alabama ever had. But that never stopped him from dog-cussing referee's whenever a call didn't go the Tide's way. And that's what he should've been doing; that's his job.

But running up the score? Psh. You get what you deserve, Meyer. And that's a Tebow who may never be the same bull of a quarterback. Your judgment cometh, and that right soon!

[/ diatribe]

I'm feeling fired up! I'm gonna be bold today...

1.) Alabama : All everyone said all week about 'Bama/Arky was that the Hogs were an unstoppable force of an offense that was led by the best offensive guru in football and a gigantic cannon-armed quarterback. Well, unstoppable force, meet the immovable object. Alabama's defense handled them to the tune of 7 points & 254 yards of total offense. They made Arkansas' special offense look short-bus special.

Plus, Alabama beat the Hokies, who have looked dang good since then. The more I watch the cream of the crop in the SEC (that'd be the state Universities of Alabama and Florida), the more this doesn't feel like 2008 anymore.

2.) Florida : Get well soon, Timmy. Wouldn't want you to miss our date in December.
3.) Texas : if they win out, they're in the Championship Game no questions asked. They may even could drop one between now & the Big XII Championship game and still get the sympathy vote. The Longhorns look like they have a date with an SEC Champion in their future.
4.) Boise State
5.) Virginia Tech
6.) Miami : Blame it on the rain.
7.) Houston : The latest non-BCS darling.
8.) Oklahoma State
9.) Oregon
10.) LSU
11.) USC
12.) Georgia : The cardiac kids of 2009.

Dropped Out: Penn State, Cal, and Ole Miss

I'm embarrassed that I caved & ranked Ole Miss in the top 10 last week. I knew I should've trusted my instincts. PSU & Cal are sure to be back up in the Power 12 before long, especially if those Cal Bears knock off those Trojans in 6 days.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Power 12: The Not-Quite-Revenge Edition

Even though they won, it was a bitter-sweet Saturday for the top two. I left UF at #1 even though they lost to Tennessee 13-23. ;) I feel bad for my Gator-loving friends that they weren't able to truly fulfill their blood-lust for Lane Kiffin. Same deal for Texas against the Red Raiders: seems like they're mildly disappointed that Tech kept it tight.

Here's my 12

1.) Florida
2.) Texas
3.) Alabama
4.) Boise State
5.) Miami
6.) Penn State
7.) Cal
8.) LSU
9.) Ole Miss : first appearance in the 12. I'm much more down on them than just about everybody else. They won't challenge for the SEC West. But they may just give 'Bama their hardest game of the regular season.
10.) Virginia Tech
11.) USC : that was SO predictable that it wasn't even close to shocking. It's like USC scripts this every year: win big in non-conference, then lose a game to a team you're supposed to wallop. Trojan fans must feel like it's Groundhog Day.
12.) Oklahoma State

Dropped Out: BYU, Georgia Tech, and Georgia

Apologies to Mormons & the Peach State

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Power 12: Reunion Weekend Edition

It's not often you get to see two totally different sets of people that you haven't seen in a decade. Friday night, it was the first event of a weekend-long High School Reunion. Everyone bowled. I "bowled." (Note the appropriate use of quotation marks... unlike all of the examples of the inappropriate use of quotation marks posted at this site) I think we all had a merry time together that night.

And then I drove down to Gainesville (my old campus ministry friends call it Titletown) to spend the day with a bunch of cocky Gators. They made fun of my crimson shirt. I just kept muttering to myself, "Enjoy it while you can..."

On to my 12

1.) Florida
2.) Texas
3.) USC : never (EVER!) bet against Pete Carroll in big games.
4.) Alabama : can I say that I like this quarterback? McElroy can sling it!
5.) Boise State
6.) BYU
7.) Georgia Tech
8.) Penn State
9.) LSU
10.) Virginia Tech
11.) Oklahoma State
12.) Georgia

Dropped Out: Ohio State

Sounds like it was a heart-breaker, Bob.

So here's what it looks like to me right now. You've got the top 4: they're the elite. They each have elite talent. And though each will be tested along the way, it looks like none of them should lose unless they beat themselves.

Then you've got the two non-BCS conference schools up to no good. They actually both look pretty good.

And then there's the rest of the field. We'll learn a little more about the Wramblin' Wreck when they travel down to Miami this week. Penn State we probably won't learn anything about until October. Same with LSU.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Power 12: Executive Suite Edition

It was an unprecedented vacation. I played 90 holes of golf in 4 days. And I finished that little run in style, with the final 18 coming at the #1 ranked public course in Alabama. And if that wasn't enough, I got to witness my Tide beat up the Hokies in person. And I did that in style, too: my Uncle got me into an executive suite luxury box in the Georgia Dome. It was entirely as cool as it sounds. On to the 12...

1.) Florida : Sorry Matt. You don't get free Chick-Fil-a for beating Charleston Southern.
2.) Texas
3.) USC
4.) Alabama : "You were beautiful, Atlanta. See you again in 3 months."
5.) Oklahoma State : Looked impressive against my lousy-looking sleeper pick
6.) Boise State : nice win. But Oregon didn't look the same offensively without Bellotti.
7.) Georgia Tech : my bias is showing here. I just love watching Paul Johnson's offense do their thing.
8.) BYU
9.) Penn State
10.) LSU
11.) Ohio State
12.) Georgia

Dropped Out: Oklahoma and Virginia Tech

Sorry Sooners. Call back when you have a QB.

Florida & Texas are the top dogs. Those two are entrenched until they do something to prove they don't belong.

USC and Alabama are the 2nd tier elite. Boy, how embarrassing would it be for the Big 10 if the Trojans waltz into the Horseshoe this weekend with a TRUE freshman quarterback and just have their way with the Buckeyes? That might happen. If it does, USC will get the bump back up to the top tier. Alabama will have to prove they can play in the other 3 quarters of a game before they make the leap up.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Power 12: Kickoff Week Edition

1.) Florida
2.) Texas
3.) Oklahoma
4.) USC

That's the elite. Big drop-off from those teams to the next tier. At least until we see one of the following teams take it to the next level on the field...

5.) Boise State
6.) Georgia (wayyy under-rated by the experts. I expect a post-hype bumper year for the Bulldogs)
7.) Alabama
8.) Virginia Tech
9.) Ohio State
10.) LSU
11.) Oklahoma State
12.) Georgia Tech

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Various Annotated Quotes

I love good quotes. I've just encountered quite a few quotes this weekend that have struck me as profound. There's so many of them that I felt moved to write them all down in one place so I don't forget any of them. So, think on these things with me...

"My son has seen enough death to understand the value of life."

From the movie "Traitor," which I just got the chance to re-watch for the first time since earlier this year (you may remember how I had told all of you how much I loved it).

But that's a true quote. I know in my experience, it took losing someone I really cared about to make me appreciate life even more. And by that I mean life in every sense of the word: from how life should be guarded from evil-doers, to how life should be enjoyed & soaked up while we have it. There's something about experiencing death that heightens your senses to the value of life.

"Nobody is dragged into a street fight."

Another poignant line from "Traitor." People choose their battles, especially ones as messy & violent as street fights.

I guess this quote, Green Day's song "Know Your Enemy," and Rob Bell's quote about fights & not being in one (from the Nooma video "Store") are all swimming together in my mind right now waiting for the right sermon to spring them in.

"A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew - I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O' Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. 'Is gossiping a sin?' she asked the old man. 'Was that God All Mighty's hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?' 'Yes,' Father O' Rourke answered her. 'Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.' So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness. 'Not so fast,' says O' Rourke. 'I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.' So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. 'Did you cut the pillow with a knife?' he says. 'Yes, Father.' 'And what were the results?' 'Feathers,' she said. 'Feathers?' he repeated. 'Feathers; everywhere, Father.' 'Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,' 'Well,' she said, 'it can't be done. I don't know where they went. The wind took them all over.' 'And that,' said Father O' Rourke, 'is gossip!'"

From "Doubt." Don't gossip! ;)

"There are people who will go after your humanity, sister... that will tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don't believe it! It's an old tactic of cruel people that kill kindness in the name of virtue. There's nothing wrong with love.

Another doozy from "Doubt." I suppose you have to see the film to understand how well this statement summarizes Father Flynn's antagonist, Sister Aloysius Beauvier.

"In Ancient Sparta, important matters were decided by who shouted loudest. Fortunately, we are not in Ancient Sparta."

Or perhaps we are, Sister Beauvier. It seems the tradition of Sparta lives on in America's Congressional tradition of the townhall meeting.

Our's was postponed from last night until another night a few weeks from now. Locals objected to the format of the meeting: a format that was designed to ensure civil dialogue & informed conversation. That format apparently has been scrapped for one that will allow people to yell & carry on to their heart's content. Unfortunate I think.

"…you have always been there. Every graduation, every big decision, every trouble, every sad and every happy day. On you, the carefree youngest brother, fell a burden a hero would beg to be spared. Sick parents, lost children, desolate wives. You are a hero. Everyone is going to make it because you are always there with your love."

From the eloquent pen of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Speaking in a letter to her former brother-in-law, Edward, about his generosity of spirit in the midst of so many painful life experiences.

There were lots of kind gestures expressed about him this week. I haven't had a chance to hear them all. Jon Meacham, who always seems to have his finger on the pulse of matters, expressed sentiments similar to Jackie's: "Ted Kennedy (played) a role that would grow all too familiar: that of the survivor, soldiering on, assuming the burdens of his fallen brothers, always with an eye on caring for the family his father had built."

Strong words. I can't help but think how gratified I'd be if someone uttered those words about me after my life has finished. Great epitaph words there.