Archive | June, 2012

We have a Playoff, part 1

29 Jun

Playoffs. If you just heard this in the voice of Jim Mora, you are assuredly not alone. Playoffs seem like the essence of pressure here in the United States. We like to amp up the pressure in a system to determine a champion. We’ve been craving a college football playoff to such a degree that we’ve added one.

Now, I am as excited as the next guy that College Football has added a playoff, mostly because college sports innately are imbalanced. You play your own conference in a balanced way, sure. However, when you aren’t playing an equal cross section, how certain can we be that the best team is the team we think is the best team. But I wrote about that in the past, and my opinion hasn’t really changed.

The question is why do we even do playoffs at all. The English League of Football (what we call soccer) doesn’t have a playoff. The winner is crowned at the end of the season. After a completely even schedule, the team with the best record is the winner. That is just it, and there are no claims coming out of the UK that a playoff is needed.

Before the World Series, baseball champions were determined by the best record after playing every other team several times in a round robin of sorts. The World Series was added to determine which league was better. The World Cup used a round robin to determine the champion for most events between 1950 and 1982. Men’s Basketball at the Olympics did so in 1980. Tiebreakers in many sports (baseball, NBA, World Cup) were at one time a full game to determine who the better team was, but if there was not a tie in the standings, teams were eliminated based on their performance.

I think we like playoffs because it presents a known thing. We know there will be a Super Bowl for us to attend. So we devise a system where we get there by rewarding teams based on unbalanced schedules fueled by our desire to assert rivalries. Then we choose the best from among these rivalries and put them in a playoff with teams who were the best in their rivalry-based divisions.

I think it is easy to see that the best baseball teams can be determined best by having them play a similar schedule over 162 games and then the results are very telling. Nevertheless, there is something cultural about us that we like to see rivals play each other 18 times, because the extra hatred ratchets up the pressure in those games. Then we put the winner of those concentrated match-ups through a series of pressure-filled series the winner in a much smaller sample size determines who is the champion.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the best team will always win, but it does guarantee that the team who responds the best to pressure will win. Maybe this is why, as Americans, we see elevated numbers in heart disease, ulcers, and other stress-related diseases. We know that stress will deliver something. We have incessant arguments about who is more “clutch.” The reality is that we desire this, because we think there is a value to performing well when the spotlights are on.

What we have done, however, is to devalue consistency over time. We have taken away the Cal Ripken mentality as award-worthy. We are not a culture who values the guy who shows up every day for sixty years, but instead we value the guy that when things are at their worst, can pull it together the most. It’s acceptable to have this mindset, but it isn’t essential.

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Am I an Optimist?

27 Jun

This time of year is usually one where I fancy myself an optimist more-so than normal. I kind of enjoy life a little more than normal. I am mostly excited because God saw fit to give me two children within four days of each other (well, four years apart too). Their birthdays start nine days after my anniversary. Not to mention there is usually a father’s day in there. I love these celebrations!

As a sports fan, I love the coinciding of all the Sports right now. The NBA Finals are quite possibly my favorite sports event. Because of the nature of basketball games, we are almost guaranteed to have the best teams in the finals, and good basketball is always entertaining! Then the College World Series is quite possibly the most under-rated sports event.

The French Open and Wimbledon make it the best month and a half of tennis. The US Open in golf is happening. And every four years we get Olympic trials (usually succeeded by the actual Olympics). We also get to see the EUFA Euro Cup and many of the top soccer teams in the world every four years. The Stanley Cup Finals and NASCAR heating up are thrown in for good measure.

People begin to make arguments about politics around this time, as the Presidential election begins heating up. Sea World is open later. This year, in particular, I am attending a church which is just now moving in to a new building. We are excited as some of the giddiness is rubbing off. Similarly, things are getting very exciting for the Bible Quiz season, and life just seems to be looking up. Work is going well, and I am reveling in this time of year once again.

Then, the pessimist in me stands up. He shouts that if I look back just one year, life seemed incredible, but little did I know that life, as I knew it, was coming to an end. You see, right about the time we start to get excited about where we are is the very time that we, as humans, begin to get growth opportunities.

So, I hope that you are enjoying your life right now. But I hope you do not let it allow you to become complacent. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” So, I must ask myself, should I be excited about how awesome this period of the year is or be looking for the boom? Or, am I an optimist or a pessimist?

Just Friends

21 Jun

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or so I’ve heard. Of course, if you take this to its logical conclusion and include all permutations, I must end up being a friend of all those who are my friend. This sounds fair enough, but then we get to the bad part, where I must end up being an enemy of any and all who end up at odds with my friends, who are (again, by extension) now included an endless array of all those that happen to be friends with my friends.

If we are, in fact, within six degrees of separation of everyone on the planet, I fear that means that at some point, I have either a friend/enemy relationship with everyone on the planet, and it would start some sort of war. And while some people might like to view life as a game of Cosmic Playground wars, I fear what might happen if I slip into this mindset.

There are several people who view a phase or two of life in this way. Don’t believe me? Think how irritated you were at the last election where your candidate lost. Immediately thereafter, you find out a friend, whom you previously respected, believed a different way than you did on that election. At that point, the black and white nature of your political feelings may make you disgruntled. Nevertheless, consider that whatever historical period you feel made the most progress, it was colored with heroes on both sides of the political debate.

Let’s say that politics are not your bailey-wick. Recently, almost everywhere I go, people are talking about the NBA Finals. Most seem to want the Miami Heat to lose. Now, not to turn into too much of a LeBron James apologist, but I never have understood why people dislike the man. His main criticism within the game is that he passes too much; his main criticism outside the game is that he turned down more money for a greater chance to win. Neither of those seem like things to villainize, and yet, most people that I run into just don’t like him.

So, as I watch the game between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder and know that many people will be livid with the result going one way or the other. I have friends on both side of the situation. This is why I am hesitant to hinge any of my hopes on any singular activity and align against another set of people who are cheering the other way.

Most of all, I watch the basketball game, and I see a man named LeBron who just is coming to life at the proper time. I watch Kevin Durant, and I see a man who is approximately on the same pace as LeBron was several years ago. I realize that I can look at both, and not really cheer against either. I am coming to the point where I realize that timing is important in these things.

Timing is really important. Much of life involves just having things come into place at the right time. Therefore, I think the important thing to do in life is to recognize the proper timing. When is the correct time to leave a job? When is the proper time to move? When is the proper time to call an expert? When is the proper time to make that big purchase? When is the correct time to let a disagreement become a test of fellowship?

Is there ever a time to take into account someone’s differences and allow it to shape the friendship (or rather, make them an enemy)? There’s the rub. We know that differences will come. We know that disagreements will come. But when do we allow those differences to make a sharp division? And, if you can answer that, you deserve to be my friend (and I guess I’ll adopt all your enemies)!

I’m Married!

19 Jun

Today (June 20) is the day that we celebrate the anniversary of our marriage. I have been known to say that things turn on a trifle, meaning that a small occurrence can change things dramatically. This happens in sports, it also happens in life. A few years ago, before I set out to work for myself, I came exceedingly close to accepting a job offer in Tallahassee that would have moved our little family there. Knowing we were about to have Jacob and had just found a new church, we felt we should stay here.

Now, the ramifications of that decision are undeniable. Everyone I work with, most of my friends, and my church are all located here, and they would likely be in Tallahassee had I moved. I am not naïve enough to believe that the changes stop there. For example, I am not sure my sister would have moved to Tallahassee if we lived there (or maybe she would have moved sooner). That seemingly small decision turned the course of my life and many with whom I have come into contact.

So, occasionally, I play the “what-if” game and think about what would have happened had things been just a smidgen different and we made a different decision. If my mood on a given day would have changed something that could have drastically altered my life, I like to think about the alternatives. I enjoy thinking about what would have happened had I not missed one free thrown in 1983 or if I never would have tried cross country or decided to go to a different college.

I think these things are quite fun to do, but there is one decision that I really can’t even imagine the opposite conclusion. Marrying Kelly was not only the best thing for me at that time, it is so defining of who I am that I cannot even imagine what life would be like separately. It is so formative of my decision-making and thought processes that I really cannot fathom what it would be like if I were not.

Having said this, not only is it almost impossible to fathom life without Kelly, those who know me are happy that I don’t. In so many ways, she makes me better and in the ways she doesn’t, she helps those who know me feel better about me. So, on this celebration of anniversary, I am very happy to be married, and I believe I will get an amen from anyone who knows us!

Can a Speechless Man Help?

17 Jun

Some say that life is best when you can see the triumph of the human spirit. So what do you do when triumph is, at least on some level, impossible because they have passed away? What can you say when life deals someone a terrible hand like that? What can you even talk about with someone who has gone through that situation?

I can talk about how I believe that death is a blessing or that I am so thankful to be part of a church family that handles it with the appropriate decorum, encouragement, focus, and reaction. I can talk about how some specific deaths have affected my life. I can talk about how some people have overcome traumatic situations to live better lives. I can even talk about how I know God has a wonderful plan that someday will turn out for the best. But the truth is I normally am just speechless.

This all comes up, because I’ve recently had friends who have suffered this unthinkable tragedy. Words fail me, when I attempt to give them a word of encouragement. Their children were friends with my children, and my whole family has sat around wondering what they must be going through. The reality is that life is difficult often, but it is never more difficult than when a parent outlives his child.

As I read the Bible, I learn the character of God, but I also see how God worked through an entire situation. While that doesn’t always help completely, it is a very nice thing to have. As I live life, I don’t have that running commentary to know how God will use it to accomplish His purposes. What I do know is that sometimes we are saddled with tough Providences.

There isn’t really a way to tie a nice bow on this, and there isn’t really anything I can say. What I believe I can do is pray for them and just let them know that I am willing to be physically present. Beyond that, I don’t believe there is anything that can be done. I am very glad that my friends are incredible in their faith in God. I do know that they are encouraging me, and I hope that in some small way, I can find a way to possibly repay them.

Obedience is Very Important

15 Jun

Earlier this week, I was conversing with my son and joking around with him. I began to see him get frustrated, to which my first response, I must confess, was that I wish he would not be so easily frustrated and that he would be tougher mentally. Then, as if God himself wanted to make a point directly to me, I remembered a verse I memorized as a young lad, Ephesians 6:4.

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

I immediately changed my thought process and began to think about how I need to make sure the things I do in fun when trying to play with my children are not provoking them. This has become something on which I am primarily focused throughout the day. My poor parenting skills aside, I am determined that the things I do will not contribute to the provocation of my children’s wrath.

As crazy as it sounds and despite my desire to be committed to such a task, I am realizing how all encompassing this is. You see, Ephesians 6:4 is not written in a vacuum, but it comes in the midst of an entire discourse on familial order. And as every parenting curriculum is quick to point out to our children, obedience is for their protection. It is so that it may be well with them and they can live long on earth. As parents (or even just adults), I think we understand that order and its direct association with the “reward” easily.

The reality is that there are a number of familial order situations that we may choose to obey or we may choose to ignore. It’s easy to just tell children they don’t need understand what we tell them, but they must obey because we said so, and dog-gone it, God confirms it. While that may be true to a point, it may fly in the face of our responsibility to not provoke them. As I have found, that can be done without even intending to do so, from time to time. And as the children cease to be children, those who were not brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord will certainly struggle to find the loving God, as the whole point of familial order is to point us back to God.

In last week’s blog, I talked about how great it is that the elders of Orlando Grace Church are committed to keeping our commitment to doctrine. One of these was “We will consistently fulfill our roles in society by embracing God’s design for functioning in each of the ordained spheres – home, church, and state.”

Obviously, this post is focused on the home order, but home order is enhanced, even if we, as children have from time-to-time, question God’s order. I had a discussion with a fellow Christian earlier this week whose church discounted some of this familial order by adopting an egalitarian position. Of course, if there are no distinct gender roles in marriage, why do we even care if there distinct genders. This is why our discussion led to a discovery that usually acceptance of homosexuality is just one theological generation from egalitarianism.

While we could certainly look in depth at every thing, I am exceedingly glad that our church takes a strong theological stand on many issues. The slippery slope that normally follows is evidence of the problem, but the reality is that the slope itself is a problem. Just as the fact that my son’s future rejection of my fathering may be evidence that I did not do well, the sin is in being a provoking father. That is why the action needs to be cut off from the very beginning. And thankfully, I, by God’s grace, am working on weeding out my issues at the root, just like my church!

Gimme a Break

13 Jun

As I sit in my office wondering how a three hour span can be filled with sunshine, the most ominous storm I have ever seen, and then a calm, almost windless, cloudy environment, I think that Florida is kind of incredible. This, however, gets me to thinking about our lives. Isn’t this odd Florida weather kind of a picture of our lives?

Before anyone envisions our bodies flying across the sky for an hour inbetween the calm stretches, I should assert that I am largely referring to the spiritual sense. Though as I think about it, it might be sort of awesome to be carried about a storm for an hour. Sort of like being bounced about on a trampoline by a person weighing ten times as much you, I can imagine a feeling of awesomeness. Of course, the cold reality of gravity makes this impossible and the foreboding reality of debris in the air, makes it undesirable.

So, what is possible (and even inevitable) is that from time to time we seem to have periods in our lives of tremendously harrowing circumstances. Despite the fact that we’d like it to be this way, it doesn’t typically happen to us one small issue at a time. Our lives usually have a plethora of things all attacking us at once and we feel as if we are being tossed to and fro and carried about by our problems.

Thankfully, though, these periods are often followed up by periods of wonderful calm. Some choose to look at this as the calm before the next storm, but I choose to look at it as God’s rehabilitative process. God is giving us the gift of a vacation from our problems, and that is wonderful.

When people ask the inevitable question, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” my first thought is these times of calm. And I realize that we have good things happening to bad people. As I become more and more aware of the depravity which envelopes my life and the lives of those that share the planet with me, I am more and more aware that it is a gracious thing that God spares any of us.

The violent, tormenting storms happen all the time. I can easily see how we could be continually tested like Job was. Yet, fortunately, we get a break every now and again. For that, I am exceedingly grateful. So the next time you have an agonizing, difficult time, just be thankful that you recognize the pain and suffering, as it is not the norm. I, for one, am thankful for the break after excruciating, tortuous storms of life!