Oh Say Can You See…

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I’ve been watching the news and watching sports and I’m frustrated with the way we talk to, or maybe more accurately at, each other. I don’t know what to do about that, and I feel pretty helpless. I don’t want to add to the noise, because there’s a lot of it. But here are my thoughts in list form:

  1. My opinion doesn’t matter. I’m just some guy who’s a big sports fan and occasionally writes down incoherent thoughts. If, by some odd chance you read this and either get mad or think I said something smart, remember that my opinion is irrelevant. I’m writing this out because writing helps me to process things, and I want to process them in a gracious and Christlike way that sees others – especially those who don’t look or think like I do – as image bearers of God.
  2. I like the NFL and the NBA. There are probably not many things that could happen that would change that. Guys expressing opinions I don’t like is not a thing that would make me not watch.
  3. I have no problem with peaceful protests. I struggle with this idea that kneeling/locking arms/raising a fist for the National Anthem is somehow “the wrong way” to protest. I think if you protest “the right way,” then you’re not actually protesting.
  4. I don’t understand what it’s like to be black in America. I will never understand that. I will not try to tell a black person, or anyone else really, how they should experience things. I want to be able to listen without an agenda – even if I can’t fully understand, I want to hear it.
  5. I don’t fully understand police brutality. I do understand not all – in fact, not most – police officers are bad. I understand the vast majority of them are guys who are just trying to do what’s right in a very, very difficult job.
  6. I’m not mad at Colin Kaepernick, I just don’t think he’s a very good quarterback. Well, a pro quarterback. Dude was must see TV in college.
  7. I am thankful for America, but I don’t understand what it’s like to be so invested in it that I feel the need to dehumanize someone/a group of people who are protesting the National Anthem. Not liking the protest is fine. Comparing people – human beings – quietly and (in my estimation) sincerely exercising their right to free speech and free expression to dogs is not, especially if you’ve gone out of your way to humanize white supremacists. To be sure, my problem is not humanizing white supremacists, but dehumanizing anthem protestors.
  8. I’ve never understood why we play the National Anthem before sporting events anyway. It’s fine. Like I said, I’m thankful for the United States and it’s great to be reminded of that.
  9. I have, for a few years now, struggled with putting my hand over my heart or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. My thought process on this confuses me, but part of what it comes down to is trying to figure out how “I pledge allegiance to the flag” and “You shall have no other gods before me” mesh. It’s a longer discussion. We can talk about it.
  10. I feel like saying “stick to sports” is just another way of saying “you exist for my entertainment, so shut up and play.” People are people. Just because someone plays a sport I like or plays for a team I really care about doesn’t mean they agree with me on everything.
  11. This whole “I miss when sports weren’t political” thing is ridiculous. Sports have always been political. It’s just that sometimes we approve of the cause, and sometimes we don’t. Jack Johnson vs. The Great White Hope was political. Jackie Robinson was political. You can make the case even the Fab Five was political. Team USA defeating Russia in whatever hockey game that was was political. We made Tim Tebow political.
  12. There are way more important things happening nationally and internationally. I put an embarrassing amount of time into Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4, but I don’t know how video-game-surviving-nuclear-apocalypse skills translate into real life nuclear apocalypse survival.
  13. At this point, I think people across the board are just looking for reasons to be mad. I don’t want to be mad, and I’m again seriously considering a prolonged social media break. We probably all need one.

Again, I’m just a dude who occasionally writes things down. I don’t have any answers. I do sincerely want to be able to listen and to view things the way Jesus views them and to love others the way He did.

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Smartphones (Probably) Aren’t Killing Your Kid

“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

That’s quite the headline. And it’s a good article in The Atlantic that you should read. I’m looking forward to reading the author’s (Jean M. Twenge) forthcoming book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us if for no other reason than I’m a sucker for a title that takes up three lines on a page.

The argument is simple, though – since 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, teen suicide rates have gone up. Teen social activity has gone down. The key moment, she argues, occurred in 2012 – the year American smartphone usage surpassed 50%.

There is a lot in the article – it’s the cover story of the September issue of The Atlantic. It’s well researched. Other people have questioned her research methods and asked some questions that, at least in the article, she glossed over. Those are valid concerns, but I’ll let other people ask those questions. My primary concern is this: what is our response as Christians? Most of the reaction I’ve seen as this article has gone viral (and there’s a certain irony that shouldn’t be lost on us that an article about how our smartphones are killing us has gone viral) has been panic. Outrage bloggers have picked it up and run with it. People who were already anti-kids having smartphones were vindicated, and people who generally praise technological advances have been relatively silent (this is purely anecdotal).

The most consistent questions I seem to get asked as a student pastor have to do with technology. What’s the youth group’s technology policy? At what age should I give my kid a phone? We’re concerned our kids spend too much time on their phones – what do we do? The question behind the questions, I think, is “how in the world do we disciple our kids in this ever complicated digital age?” And I don’t intend for this to be a defense of all things technological. We shape our technology, and our technology shapes us. There’s no doubt about that.

The good news is that while smartphones make the issue a bit more complicated, it’s actually not a new issue at all. The problem with an article like this, and Twenge may go into more detail in her book than the Atlantic article allowed her to, is that it seems to ignore a bunch of other factors. Yes, 2012 may be the moment American smartphone usage surpassed 50%, but what are some other factors? What’s happening in the economy? What’s happening in our schools? Are there any trends besides, or maybe in addition to, smartphones that might be influencing our kids? What do these trends – loneliness, suicide rates, etc. look like in other age groups? And, at least for Christian parents, there’s a glaring angle missing.

John Calvin called our hearts “idol factories.” And while smartphones themselves may be idols, I think the real heart of the issue so to speak is the access our smartphones give us to our idols. And that’s not just for our teens! It’s true of every age group. Our deepest desires are still to be fully known and fully loved. Smartphones haven’t changed that. They may have exacerbated it, but they haven’t changed it, and the good news is that our idols, not our smartphones, are killing us.

It’s good news because it’s an age old problem, with a tried and tested solution. It’s not an easy solution, nor is it necessarily an efficient one, but the answer is being parents. Deuteronomy 6 establishes our responsibility to our kids – teach God’s commands to our children. Talk of them when we sit at home, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise. Bind them as signs on our hands and write them on the doorposts of our home. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our phones can give us opportunities to do just that, from the things we read to the ways we interact with people.

Our responses are almost always extreme. We see things happening and we either run away from them completely or dive in without looking. Neither one of these are particularly healthy. As parents, the responsibility is to help disciple our kids to understand how to glorify God in an increasingly digital world. That requires a lot of things – discernment and grace being among the most important. In 1 Chronicles 12, we learn of the men of Issachar – men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. They understood the world they lived in. They knew God and the promises He had made to His people. And they knew what Israel should do in light of these things.

That’s our call as parents, pastors, siblings, friends…whatever our role may be. Understand the times. Understand your kids. Remember the promises of God, and remember the things He has told us. We are created in His image, and among the biggest implications of that is we are made for relationships. Karl Barth said Christians should hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but to always interpret the newspaper through what we read in the bible. This is as true as it has ever been!

But it’s also a call to grace. We have to admit that we don’t fully understand this world – it changed so drastically and so rapidly total understanding would be nearly impossible. We also have to understand that our kids don’t know any different – I’m in the generation that saw the Internet first start to be as widely accessible as it is, and I remember the awful dial-up modem sound, but I also hardly remember the pre-online world. People just a few years older than me do, and people just a few years younger than me don’t remember it at all. It changed (or at least seemed to) that quickly, and we barely had time to understand how this technology was shaping us. So we have to be gracious with ourselves, to admit what we don’t know and to admit when we’re wrong, and we have to be gracious with our kids. Yes, they will at times seem like entitled brats when it comes to phones and tablets and whatever else, but we’re all entitled brats. That’s why sanctification is as beautiful as it is – as entitled brat adults raise entitled brat kids, Jesus is working through it and making us a little less entitled and a little less…brattish?

And so we come back to the question – how do we disciple our kids in the digital age? With discernment. With grace. Lots of grace. Let us see the good things about our kids, and let us see the ways phones enhance those and help our kids thrive. Let us understand, at the same time, their sinful nature and be honest about the ways phones tempt them. Let us take seriously the God given positions of authority and humbly pursue the most Christ honoring ways of exercising those. There will be times when that means taking phones. Guidelines will have to be set and enforced. There will be levels of maturity that will be expected. These are for our good and theirs, but we have to remember that kids don’t need friends in the digital world, they need guides. If we’re giving our kids smartphones and then sending them out into the world saying “good luck,” we’ve already lost the battle, and you don’t need an Atlantic piece or a research project to tell you that.

And read! Read a lot. There are a lot of great Christian authors studying this stuff, and they’re writing really good books about it. Here are some I would suggest starting with:

The Next Story, Tim Challies
The Tech Wise Family, Andy Crouch
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke

The reality is we live in a world where smartphones exist, and they’re only going to get smarter. If we’re not preparing our kids for that, someone else is.

Wrestling is dumb

Before this gets too far along, I know pro wrestling is scripted. I know that, above all else, it is entertainment, and in that sense, is not a true “sport.” So I’m not the middle aged guy standing up in a high school gym and telling an indie wrestler “It’s still real to me, dammit!” That’s not me. I also know that I’m 30, almost 31, and I should probably just give it up. But I don’t think that’s me, either.

I’ve always been drawn to it, though. I’ve always hooked on to the guys who were telling what I thought was my story. I remember when, as a seventh grader who felt like an absolute loner, I saw Sting for the first time. Besides just looking really freaking cool, I could relate – all of Sting’s friends turned on him and he was fighting, alone, against a gang of bullies. Sure, I liked a lot of other guys – Rey Mysterio, Jr. always put on great matches, Goldberg was a sight to behold, and Chris Jericho was the kind of annoying brat that made watching TV fun. And fun it was – until Sting showed up. Then I locked in. It was more than just fun, it was more than pro wrestling. It felt like someone understood my life and was attempting to explain it, even if it was beefed up, dressed in black spandex and white face paint, and carrying a black baseball bat.

Yeah, it sounds kind of lame, but I was in 7th grade. What else was I supposed to do?

I quit watching wrestling around the time WCW folded, which was April of 2001. I loosely paid attention, but the Monday Night Wars were over, the Attitude Era of WWF safely behind us, and I was growing up. But somewhere around 2010, I got sucked back in, and shortly after that, I met another guy who was telling my story.

Daniel Bryan wasn’t anything special. He was an average guy who didn’t have the look of anybody else on the WWE roster. But the dude could wrestle and the dude connected with the fans. That’s one of the cool things about pro wrestling – it gives people the chance to connect with their favorites. And for whatever reason, I connected with Daniel Bryan, especially his run up to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX.

Every so often, pro wrestling stories intersect with real life, and that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Bryan. He was the classic underdog – the on screen characters Triple H and Stephanie McMahon didn’t want him to succeed, so they threw roadblock after roadblock at him. But you also got the sense that the people who made the decisions behind the scenes didn’t want him to succeed, either. He didn’t have the look. He wasn’t a big powerful guy. He wasn’t particularly great cutting a promo. But he was one of us. And so we cheered him and cheered him and cheered him until the cheers couldn’t be ignored anymore. We’ve all been there – we feel like we’ve had teachers, or bosses, or people in other influential positions who didn’t want us to succeed. Stone Cold probably made that storyline famous, but there were a lot of us who didn’t want to respond by beating everyone up and drinking beer. We wanted to respond simply by just doing what we loved and doing it well.

And so, at Wrestlemania XXX, in front of 90,000 people, he held the championship belts high above his head. We chanted “YES! YES! YES!” along with him.

And now, it’s over.

Shortly after winning the title, he got hurt. And he stayed hurt, so he had to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He tried to come back, and he did, winning the Intercontinental Championship.  But that was short lived, and finally, this year, he had to retire. Forever.

The news hit me hard, in much the same way I expect Peyton Manning’s inevitable announcement will hit me. It hit me the same way that losing Michael Scott and the rest of the crew from The Office hit me, and the way that the ending of Parks and Recreation hit me. Daniel Bryan is, in a lot of ways, a hero to me. I may be done with wrestling after this.

A lot of people have written better thoughts about this than me. No one will read this, and that’s fine. It’s just my voice, shouting into the silence, saying that yeah, wrestling is dumb and scripted. But Daniel Bryan is proof it’s not fake, and I think it’s safe to say the business is forever changed because he was in it. Yeah, it’s dumb and scripted, but I felt a connection with The American Dragon.

Thanks for the memories, Daniel. And we’ll always have New Orleans.

Me and My Bronco, Pt. 2 – She’s Finally Home

So it’s been a while – almost 4 months!

In case you forgot (and realistically you did, because I never write here), on June 21 I bought a Bronco. 1989, Eddie Bauer edition, and the exact same color scheme as the one I drove in high school. I bought it for next to nothing because there was a strong potential we would have to replace the engine in it. There was a part on the engine that had gone bad, and the fix ranged from simply replacing the part to replacing the whole engine.

Four months later, she has a new engine, a new fuel system, new brakes, and some other stuff that I don’t know how to explain. But most importantly, she’s finally sitting in my garage!

There’s still work to be done – the seatbelts have to be replaced (they’re already on their way), the door locks need to be fixed, the windows don’t work (all 3 of them have something wrong with them, ranging from not working at all to only rolling down but not up…), the gear shift indicator is broken (I literally have to stop and say “park, reverse, neutral, drive” as I shift in and out of gears) before I can move on to the strictly “fun” stuff (ideas including a new, possibly custom built, center console, new sound equipment, and other stuff of the sort) – but I’ve really enjoyed getting in it and messing around with it. I, who have no experience working on cars whatsoever, have already managed to pull the dashboard trim out to just the instrument panel and diagnosed what’s wrong with the gear shift indicator.

And all of that is not even to mention how much fun she is to drive!

My main concern at this point is naming her. I keep sticking with “November Blue” for a few reasons – one, she’s blue. Two, it’s an ode to one of my favorite Avett Brothers songs. Three, it took us almost to November to get her. But I’m still thinking on it.

And finally, some long awaited pictures (though if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen them. I’ll probably post more pictures of this truck than my kids, when they finally come).

One with the top off, because that's the way you're meant to ride in October in Mississippi.

One with the top off, because that’s the way you’re meant to ride in October in Mississippi.

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Front shot...the hood needs a good cleaning.

Front shot…the hood needs a good cleaning.

I think this is her best angle

I think this is her best angle

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33″ Cooper Discoverer SST’s

Tagged

Me and My Bronco, pt. 1 – Getting Reacquainted

My junior year of high school, my dad got me a 1991 Ford Bronco.  I drove her through my freshman year of college, then got rid of her because of some electrical problems and gas mileage.  Driving that thing between Jackson and Oxford was rough.  She was an Eddie Bauer edition, navy blue with a khaki stripe across the bottom and matching top.  I loved that truck as much as any vehicle I’ve ever owned, and the moment we got rid of her, I vowed I’d get another one.  That was somewhere around 2003-2004.  I wasn’t sure when or how, but I vowed I would get another one.

Last Sunday, June 21, 2015, I took a major step towards fulfilling that vow.  I found a 1989 Ford Bronco on Craigslist, and I pulled the trigger on buying her.  She cost $2,500, and we bought it knowing it was going to be a bit of a project.  She’s an Eddie Bauer edition, navy blue with a khaki stripe across the bottom and matching top.  Nostalgia definitely played a part in buying it, and it was a decently sized gamble on buying her.  The seller included in the ad that her harmonic balancer was going to need to be replaced, and a mechanic friend said that could either be an easy fix or necessitated an engine replacement.

Come to find out, she needs a new engine.

So, at this point, it’s kind of wait and see.  Our budget for the fix up job is $2,000, and obviously a new engine will eat up a huge chunk of that.  I’m pretty confident that she’ll fetch at least what we paid for her if the rest of the job turns out to be more expensive, but I figured I’d record the chronicles here because I want something to write about and I want to track my progress as I try my hand at some mild auto restoration.  If the engine works out, a lot of work will need to be done on the interior, but nothing a person who can follow instructions can’t handle (I hope).  She’ll also need a good cleaning and buffing – if I can get that navy blue to shine again, she’s going to be a beautiful truck.  And even if this one doesn’t work out, I’ll find another one.  The time has come to be back in a Bronco, and I can’t wait for it to finally be here.

My only regret so far is that I don’t have any pictures to show for it.  The body is in great shape, she’s sitting on 33″ mud tires (Cooper SSTs), and has nerf bars under the doors.  Unfortunately, that’s about all she has going for her.  The headliner is hanging pretty low, the windows don’t roll up and down right all the time, one of the arm rests on the door is totally chewed up, and you can’t tell what gear she’s in because the orange indicator thing is out.  And the whole engine thing.

Whatever the decision we make on her is, I want to keep a running log of what’s going on.  I’m definitely an amateur at this, but it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.  So consider this chapter in the new story of me and my Bronco.

Landscapes

I haven’t written much in a while.  I’m not exactly sure why – busyness at times, laziness at others – but I haven’t.

Lately though, I’ve been wanting to write, and a Facebook post a friend of mine wrote has made me think deeply about landscapes, specifically how they are used in Scripture.

Oceans, the wilderness, mountains, forests, rivers…wherever they’re mentioned, they’re mentioned for significant reasons.  They carry both physical and spiritual meaning.  So over the next…however long, I want to write about them.

It’s kind of a project, I guess.

HOT SPROTS TAKES: SEC Quarterbacks

I am starting to realize more and more that I really don’t have much to say about important things.  I’m still learning so much, so outside of some very limited-in-scope thoughts about things I am not qualified to speak on, I haven’t had a lot to write about.

Then I realized the SEC Network drops in 10 days, and it’s going to be available on the International Space Station.  SEC football.  In space.

As a red blooded southern male, I am beside myself in anticipation for the upcoming football season.  In 24 days, I’ll make the trek to Atlanta to watch the Rebs take on Boise State.  The time between now and then will be filled with studying for ordination exams, writing lessons, and kicking off another semester of ministry that, honestly, I am quite looking forward to.  But in this moment of down time, I really, really want to write about sports.  So here we go:  My totally unscientific and largely uninformed ranking of the 14 SEC quarterbacks.

Before the list, though, it needs to be mentioned – there are only 5 returning starters in the SEC.  LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are all gone.  That’s a lot of star power gone, which means there are a lot of unknowns coming into the year.  So what I’m going to do is rank the five returning starters (Dak Prescott and Maty Mauk not included, because they weren’t full time starters), and then try to make heads or tails out of the other 9.  Here we go:

Returning QBs:

5. Maxwell Smith, Senior, Kentucky – Maxwell Smith is a returning starter, but of the returning starters, he’s the most likely to lose his job.  I don’t really know why, but he missed three games, and he split time with Jalen Whitlow, who transferred.  So Smith is more or less the starter by default.  He completed 57% of his passes for 1,276 yards, 9 TDs, and 1 INT.  Those aren’t awful numbers, but Kentucky went 2-10, so it’s not hard to see him losing that job.  Patrick Towles, a redshirt sophomore, is apparently a pretty real threat to Smith.  I can’t see Kentucky winning more than 2 or 3 games again, so it might not matter all that much.

4. Brandon Allen, Junior, Arkansas – Allen isn’t #4 on this list by default.  He’s entrenched as a starter, but he completed less than 50% of his passes for 1,552 yards, 13 TDs, and 10 INTs.  He missed the Rutgers game, but Arkansas lost their last 9 games.  They’ll have a strong running game, so he won’t have to go out and put up Manziel numbers, but if they’re going to improve, he’s going to have to be better.  He did seem to improve as the year went on, at least on paper.  He finished the year going 47 for 78, 485 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU.  So maybe he can keep improving some?  Bielema isn’t known for his great passing offenses, and while that’s not entirely fair, that reputation probably won’t change this year.

3. Jeff Driskel, Junior, Florida – Driskel is an enigma to me.  The talk is always how talented he is, but his best season was pretty pedestrian.  2013 didn’t give us much to go on, either, because he got hurt in the third game of the year, but he was off to a 2 TD/3 INT start.  But he’s right here because he’s better than whatever UK or Arkansas will put out.

2. Nick Marshall, Senior, Auburn – I flip flop between Marshall and Wallace, but Marshall just isn’t a good passer.  He completed a shade under 60% of his passes, which is good, and he threw for 14 TDs and 6 INTs, which is also really good.  He’s a great trigger man for Auburn’s offense, and he’s probably most effective as a runner.  If you take away three plays from their season – the end of the game against Mississippi State, the ridiculous play against Georgia, and the shenanigans surrounding the Iron Bowl, then we’re talking about what a nice story Auburn was, going from whatever their crappy record was to 8-4 and a nice bowl game.  But while Allen and Smith would be at the very bottom of the league, Marshall would be at the top because of how effective he is running that offense, even if he isn’t the best passer.  If their ground game can produce like it did last year, Marshall should have another strong year.

1. Bo Wallace, Senior, Ole Miss – Wallace completed 65% of his passes for 3,346 yards, 18 TDs, and 10 INTs.  Bo’s the best returning quarterback in the SEC statistically.  It’s a bit more impressive considering he hasn’t been fully healthy since getting to Ole Miss.  The end of the regular season left a bit of a sour taste in Rebel fans mouths, with the offense only generating one offensive touchdown in two games, but the season was capped off pretty nicely against Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl.  The question for Wallace, and the entire Ole Miss offense, is the offensive line.  Laremy Tunsil is the best LT in the conference, and if Aaron Morris can stay healthy, LG should be pretty solid, but the right side of the line is up in the air.  Gone is Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan, but Laquon Treadwell, Vince Sanders, and Evan Engram come back.  So if Bo’s really healthy, like they say, and the OL can get him some time, Dr. Bo should be able to lead the Rebs to another solid year.

New QBs:

This is a bit of a crap shoot, but two guys stand at the top of this list – Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.  So beyond that, who knows?  Three of these are “situations,” because I have no idea what is happening in any of them.

9. Tennessee’s situation – Tennessee just isn’t going to be good.  They recruited well, but I just don’t know that they’re going to be good any time soon.  Justin Worley is probably the best of their options, but he’s not all that impressive.  Josh Dobbs finished the year when Worley went out with an injury, but he wasn’t great either.  So…who knows?

8.Vanderbilt’s situation – I’m kind of assuming Patton Robinette wins this job, but apparently there’s a legit 4 way battle going on.  Stephen Rivers is an intriguing prospect, because of his brother and because he’s huge.  Robinette has experience, but Rivers apparently has the talent and only one year to play.

7. LSU’s situation – As I just mentioned, Stephen Rivers is gone.  Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are competing for the job.  Most people seem to think that Harris has the edge, which wouldn’t surprise me, but going into the SEC with a true freshman quarterback is a scary thing, even if he was a highly sought after prospect.  LSU’s quarterback play has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, so…again, who knows?

6. A&M’s situation – Kevin Sumlin knows QBs, and Kyle Allen should be a really good one.  He lacks the mobility of his predecessor, but then again, so does everyone.  My bet is Allen gets the nod, but I base that on nothing.  But I have faith in Sumlin as an offensive coach, so he’ll have one of those guys ready to go.  I also think that the biggest loss is Mike Evans, but we’ll see.

5. Hutson Mason, Georgia – Mason is this high because he was forced into action last year and looked pretty good.  He’s kind of a rare breed in the SEC this year, as he’s a true drop back passer in a true drop back system.  Georgia’s situation is pretty similar to Alabama’s in that there are some great running backs around their QB and a great OL in front of him, so whatever his weaknesses are will be masked in some ways other QBs weaknesses won’t.

4. Jacob Coker, Alabama – To me, Coker is the most intriguing potential starting QB in the SEC.  Apparently he and Jameis Winston had a pretty legit QB competition at Florida State, which Winston obviously won, so Coker transferred.  Alabama still has the best OL in the country, a phenomenal defense, and a stable of great running backs.  He doesn’t have to be the most talented guy out there, but he may actually be the most talented guy out there.  I don’t really like Alabama, but I am looking forward to seeing how he does as a starting quarterback in the SEC.  Of course all of this is irrelevant if Blake Sims wins the job.  Sims has some experience, but not much.

3. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina – Thompson got a decent amount of reps 2 years ago, and played sparingly last year.  He seems a lot like Coker and Mason, who have a lot of talent around them.  That’s really all I have to say about him.

2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – Prescott and Mauk could be changed out here, but Mauk gets the nod for reasons I’ll discuss in a second.  Prescott is a great runner, but he’s a pretty average passer.  If he’s going to be the guy State fans are hoping he is, he’s going to have to get better throwing the ball.  He’s also going to have to stay healthy.  He missed two games, and with a quarterback who embraces contact like he does, injury is always a concern.  State ended the season with some momentum, so the hype surrounding him is totally understandable (though I think way over the top).  He’s got some weapons – Jameon Lewis is really good and the SEC’s returning leading receiver, De’Runnya Wilson has a great name and has shown flashes, and Marcus Green is a really good tight end.  Health, accuracy, and the offensive line are the major concerns here.

1. Maty Mauk, Missouri – When James Franklin went down last year, I think everybody thought Missouri’s run was over.  And they did lose the South Carolina game, but Mauk was lights out in those games.  Keeping a championship run alive and staying healthy are why I put him here over Prescott, but you could pretty easily argue this gets flipped back because Missouri lost 4 of their top 6 receiving targets.  Mauk also did it as a true freshman.

This is a really hard list to come up with.  Every single one of these guys has major question marks, and several of these jobs won’t be settled until well into the season.  Coker, Marshall, and whoever LSU trot out will have a chance to lead their team to the SEC championship from the west simply because of the talent around them.  My bet is on Thompson and South Carolina representing the East, but I wouldn’t sleep on Mason and Georgia, either.  Florida may pull it off, but it’ll be more on the defense than Driskel.

24 days…

Thomas the Twin

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by Thomas in the Bible.  You know, the guy who we’re taught to pretty much hate in Sunday School?  We walk away from the Bible knowing him only as “doubting Thomas,” as if doubt is some fatal thing that no good Christian should ever experience.  Then again, the story of Noah was always presented as this happy children’s story, and completely devoid of Noah getting smashed and everyone on earth dying.  So…going back and re-examining children’s Sunday School stories is usually a good thing.

Anyway, I was reading through John, and John 11:19 struck me.  This is the part where Jesus heads to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Then John 11:19 happens:

“So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.'”

This stood out to me as kind of funny.  Thomas’s reputation is that of a doubter, as I mentioned above, so to see him say something courageous surprised me.  That prompted me to see what one of my favorite writers, J.C. Ryle, said on the issue:

“On each occasion he appears in the same state of mind, – ready to look at the black side of everything, – taking the worst view of the position, and raising doubts and fears…Here he sees nothing but danger and death, if his Master returns to Judea.  Yet He is true and faithful nevertheless.  He will not forsake Christ, even if death is in the way.  ‘Let us go,’ he says to his fellow-disciples, ‘and die with our Master.  He is sure to be killed if He does go; but we cannot do better than be killed with Him.'”

“Let it be noted that a man may have notable weaknesses and infirmities of Christian character, and yet be a disciple of Christ.  There is no more common fault among believers, perhaps, than despondency and unbelief.  A reckless readiness to die and make an end of our troubles is not grace but impatience.”

Then, this:

“Let us remember that this same Thomas, so desponding in our Lord’s lifetime, was afterwards the very Apostle who first preached the Gospel in India, according to ecclesiastical history, and penetrated further East than any whose name is recorded.  Chrysostom says, ‘The very man who dared not go to Bethany in Christ’s company, afterwards ran alone through the world, and dwelt in the midst of nations full of murder and ready to kill him.'”

I don’t really know why that stood out to me.  Maybe it’s because we’re never really told “the rest of the story,” but letting the story end with “well Thomas doubted and that’s bad so don’t be a doubting Thomas” is doing a great disservice to the guy.

Holy Week Thoughts

I don’t exactly know how to say what I want to say here.  This is really just kind of a ramble, which I guess fits in with the title of this blog, as opposed to a well thought out argument (which I usually try but may not really successfully pull off).

It’s “Holy Week.”  I woke up this morning (I started writing this on Palm Sunday, I don’t know when it’s actually going to get posted), and pretty much everyone I know who’s a Christian and posts Christian things on their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram had posted something about it.  Our call to worship this morning was from Zechariah 9.  Those things were great.  I, in no way, want to criticize that.  It served as a wonderful reminder of the significance of this day.

But this week, a lot is going to be made of Easter.  There will be Maundy Thursday services (I’m preaching one), Good Friday services, and sunrise services Sunday morning.  These are good things.  After all, Easter is the very reason Christianity exists.  No resurrection, no Christianity.  Pretty simple.  Easter is a big deal.

I know lots of pastors, and they all share similar frustrations of the pattern many people hold of going to church on Easter and Christmas and pretty much no other time.  That is frustrating, but I kind of wonder if it’s not, at least in part, our fault.

I grew up in a weird church.  There were lots of great things about it, and there were lots of weird things about it.  That’s the best way I can sum it up here.  During my time there, I saw it go from your average Southern Baptist church to something that bordered on Pentecostal to something attempting to be super trendy.  But the one constant was the big deal that Easter was.  Growing up, we had a huge passion play.  Then for a few years we rented out a livestock arena and had a service where about a million people showed up and we had shuttles coming in and all that.

Like I said, Easter was a big deal, and we treated it as such.

But my thing is this – and this may be feather ruffling, it may not be though – I wonder if we put too much emphasis on Easter (please notice I said Easter and not the resurrection).  I wonder if part of the reason people only show up on Easter and Christmas is because we make it seem like those are the only days worth showing up.

I mean, my church was a pretty normal church – passion plays and having big services aren’t anything unique.  Other churches do crazy stuff.  I’m sure there are many levels between.

But why?

Why does Easter get such special treatment?

Is Jesus any less resurrected on a Tuesday afternoon in August than on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox?  If He is, then Christianity is lame.  If He’s not, then why do we act like it?

The amazing thing about preaching the Gospel is that week in and week out, we get to proclaim Christ crucified, buried, and risen.  Every Sunday.  The apostles saw the resurrection as such a big deal that they centered Christian worship around the Lord’s Day, Sunday, as opposed to the traditional Sabbath.  We celebrate, or we should celebrate, the resurrection every single Sunday.  That’s also the point of the Lord’s Supper.  We take it, or at least we should take it, on a regular basis, as Jesus said, to remember Him.

Everything we do has consequences, intended and unintended.  When we make a spectacle out of Easter, whether it’s dressing up way nicer than you normally would or giving away cars, flat screens, and iPads, you may be sending the message that this one Sunday is special.  You may also be sending the message that the other 51 of the year…aren’t so special.

So celebrate Easter this Sunday.  But celebrate Easter every Sunday, too, because it’s just as big of a deal next week, the week after that, and all the other weeks after that.

Wrestlemania XXX

On April 6, 2014, I got to go to Wrestlemania XXX.  I love pro wrestling, and while I’m not this guy (though I likely sat by one of his relatives), it’s one of my favorite pastimes.  So when we found out Wrestlemania XXX was happening in New Orleans, Leah and I decided to go.

I say this without any qualification:  that was one of the most fun things I have ever been to.

It’s hard to exactly define what it was.  Professional wrestling is equal parts drama, production, and, yes, sport.  And you just can’t understand how big of a deal it is until you take it all in.

The size of the event alone was ridiculous.  There were 75,000+ in the Silverdome Superdome, which…is a lot of people.  For reference, Super Bowl XLVII had 71,000.  The set was unbelievable – it was MASSIVE.  I couldn’t really get a good picture of it because of where our seats were, but it just dwarfed everything.  And any time you have 75,000 people who are there, locked in, and energetic, whatever the event is will be awesome for that reason alone.

It’s also pretty cool to see such a huge production in person.  Watching on TV, you don’t notice everything that goes into the production.  On TV you see a close up shot of the wrestlers walking to the ring.  It’s fairly simple.  But live, you see the camera crew of like 12 guys walking backwards as one unit to give you the great shot you see on TV.  Although it’s not always as cool – the Wyatt family’s entrance is awesome on TV, and it was still pretty cool in person, but it was kind of funny to see Erick Rowan dragging Bray’s rocking chair behind him.

But the thing I appreciated the most about the event was how good those guys are at telling a story.  When you go to a live event, you don’t get to hear the commentators (which actually is awesome, because WWE’s announce team sucks), and you don’t have a play by play guy in the stadium calling out what happens. So when you’re watching live, you’re depending on the guys in the ring to tell a story.  And that they did.

From a wrestling and storyline standpoint, I loved the show.  It was the payoff of a year’s worth of storylines, and for Daniel Bryan, four years worth of hard work and frustration.  From a production standpoint, I was absolutely amazed.  I have to remind myself sometimes that the WWE is a billion dollar entertainment company, but after seeing what I saw, I get it.

Overall, though, it was an amazing night.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to see a WWE event live again, but I do know that chanting “YES!  YES!  YES!” with Daniel Bryan and 75,000 other people is something I’ll never forget.