An Ode to a Dog

On June 18, 2009, I drove to Randolph, Mississippi, to look at a litter of golden retriever puppies.

It was a fun experience. There at the gate were several puppies and a mama dog fighting for attention. They were puppies, and golden puppies to be more specific, so of course they were cute. Every last one of them. But there was one puppy in the back corner of the pen who refused to leave the large bucket of water set out for the dogs to drink from. He was wet and muddy. And for whatever reason, I knew that was MY dog. So I wrapped him in a towel, dried him off, and drove back to Oxford.

I named him Trapper because my dad had a golden retriever named Trapper. I didn’t actually know until this year (9 years after the fact!) that the original Trapper was named for Trapper John McIntyre from M*A*S*H* – I knew it was one of my dad’s favorite shows, but to this day I’ve still never seen an episode. So that was neat to learn.

But in a lot of ways, that puppy that refused to get out of the mud to come greet me along with his brothers and sisters was who he always was. Golden retrievers are sociable and friendly, and Trapper was no different, but he was always content to do his own thing, especially if it involved mud or water. A couple of weeks before he died, he ran off for an hour or so. It never really bothered me when he ran off, because he always came back, but when he finally came running back to the house, he was covered snout to tail in thick, black mud. He looked almost like a black lab. Dad and I laughed a lot about that.

I didn’t think we were going to lose him until the day before we did – I wasn’t ready at all. But the night before, I started looking up quotes about golden retrievers. I found one, I don’t know who said it, or what the context was, or a single other word this author wrote or said, but this one stuck out to me:

“The face of a golden retriever feels like home.”

That was always true for Trapper. I think, in many ways, he was a gift of God’s providence. I got him right as some hard things started happening in my life – I was finishing up college without any direction, realizing a lot of my friends had graduated and moved on, and I think that was right about the time when I started to struggle with the idea of “home” and what that meant and where it was. But something about that dog felt like home. Everywhere we went – from Oxford, to Jackson, to Brookhaven, to Tuscaloosa – felt like home.

So, it’s weird. I have close friends. I have a wonderful wife and an amazing son. My family loves me. But whenever things went south – and that was often – there was rarely a time when a stiff drink and Trapper asleep at my feet didn’t provide at least some solace in otherwise hard times.

Last week was rough. He got sick really quickly – he lost nearly 20 pounds in just about 2 weeks. His liver was failing. He was losing blood, but not bleeding. Still don’t know exactly what happened. But I lost him on November 8, 2018. My last few minutes with him were special – I can’t pretend to know what goes on in the mind of a dog, but I sat down with him. He looked up at me, then rested his head in my lap. I think he knew. I think he was at peace. Again, I can’t know for sure, but I think the last thing he heard was me thanking him for everything and telling him I loved him.

I said this when Maggie died, and it rang even more true for Trapper. I don’t understand all of God’s gifts, or His goodness. I don’t understand our relationship with dogs. I don’t understand why they’re man’s best friend, or why I feel weird admitting that a dog was among my best friends.

But he was, and so I sit here with my son and our 3 year old golden, Beau, with a piece of my heart missing. We buried that piece of my heart in my parents backyard, next to Maggie and with his tennis ball – the two things he loved the most in this world.

The Bible is silent on whether or not our pets have souls and go to heaven. I’m definitely not saying that they do, but I take some comfort in knowing that they might. We asked one of my seminary professors, himself also a dog lover, if our pets went to heaven. He said he didn’t know, but animals were present before the Fall, and so we have every reason to expect they will be present in the New Creation as well. And so whatever our relationship with our dogs looks like unaffected by sin, I look forward to seeing it.

And so I’ll end this thing with a few pictures. Two from the hospital room, and one that has Trapper and Maggie, running ahead of me in a field at the golden hour, doing exactly what I insist on imagining them doing together, right now.

Rest easy, Old Man. You are deeply and painfully missed.

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OK, I’ve Got Some Thoughts (The…Mississippi State edition?)

So, before I get into this, a couple of things. Most of these are obvious, but I feel like it’s always a good thing to be up front with where you’re coming from (or, in other words, IF YALL WOULD JUST ADMIT TO BEIN THE GALLDARNED LIBRUL MEDIA rabble rabble). I’m obviously an Ole Miss fan, and seeing Mississippi State struggle, to put it as nicely as I can, does not bother me in the least. But I also enjoy being a college football fan in general, at least when Alabama isn’t ruining the sport. THERE I GO AGAIN, PAWL, DISRESPECTIN THA TAHHHHHHHD. So I’m going to try to channel the college football fan in general part of me as I write this.

Today is Monday, September 24. I tell you the date because the narrative for Saturday’s Mississippi State/Florida matchup has drastically changed in the last 48 hours. Saturday, September 29 has been circled on the calendars of many Mississippi State (#clanga) fans ever since Dan Mullen was announced as the new head coach at Florida. The excitement was palpable. State fans felt wronged by Mullen’s departure, and looking at the roster left behind in Starkville vs. the roster inherited in Gainesville, they saw what should be a very winnable game against not only their former head coach, and not only a name program, but an SEC team. It’s rare you get those – any “winnable” SEC game for anyone other than Alabama (and, I assume, the not yet fully functional Death Star that is Georgia) is something to appreciate, and when you get the added bonuses, the day itself looms even larger.

ON TOP OF ALL OF THAT, a lot of people (not me) looked at the Mississippi State roster and didn’t see a team with many, if any, flaws. “Best DL in the nation.” “Our QB is setting SEC rushing records for QBs.” “4 and 5 star receivers.” The critiques were largely ignored – and I guess I’ll be a tad hypocritical here because I’m not going to spell them out.

AND ADD EVEN FURTHER TO THAT Joe Moorhead’s reputation as an offensive mastermind. With weapons like Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, his system lit up the Big Ten plus six.

It has seemed like the entire conversation of the season has hinged on September 29. State, and for that matter, Florida, would pit 4-0 records against one another. But Florida obviously lost to Kentucky. I watched that game with some State fans, and the reactions were predictable. “How could he lose a 31 year streak to Kentucky?” “I guess DAN isn’t the MAN anymore!” “#CLANGA.” Fun stuff like that. In the midst of steamrolling three very bad teams, September 29 went from a big, emotional game to a coronation of sorts.

Then Saturday happened.

Kentucky straight up whipped State behind a 4 touchdown, 165 yard performance from Benny Snell (SHOULDA GONE TO BAMA, PAWWWWWWWL). Some (again, not me) said it was an anomaly, some (this time, me) said it was pointing to some bigger issues State has as a team. The bigger issue, to me, wasn’t Snell – it was linebacker Josh Allen. He wreaked (wrought?) havoc on State’s offense by himself.

All of that to say – Saturday’s a bit tougher for State than initially thought. I may be better served writing some of this after the Mississippi State/Florida game, because a win for State (which, honestly, I still expect) can get a lot of the bad taste from that Kentucky loss out, but it becomes more complicated.

But here’s the reason I’m writing all of this. If you’re a State fan, you need to be able to take the long view of this. Yes, beating Mullen in his return to Starkville will be satisfying if it happens. I remember how sweet it was for Ole Miss to beat Auburn in Tommy Tuberville’s first game against Ole Miss. It ruled. But, at the end of the day, it’s one game. It’s a game you might lose. It’s a game you might lose badly. And I do confess, considering I’ll be driving through Starkville about the time the game is over, the crater created at Davis Wade Stadium should State lose Saturday would bring a slight (ok massive) smile to my face.

But don’t overreact. Joe Moorhead’s legacy is not going to be defined by one game. It won’t even be defined by one season. He’s still (probably) a good football coach. But he’s a first year coach. There are deep flaws on his roster, and he’ll be going up against a defense that has some strengths where those flaws exist, and the coach who built Nick Fitzgerald and is intimately familiar with his strengths and weaknesses.

You’ll probably win Saturday, and you’ll have your chance to rub it in Mullen’s face. But honestly, this game doesn’t mean a whole lot outside of all of the normal reasons SEC games mean a whole lot. You’ve got a good team who will win a few SEC games, and from where I’m sitting, that’s not something to take for granted.

By the way, what universe do we live in where I, of all people, am trying to be a voice of reason for State fans?

OK, I’ve Got Some Thoughts (Or, a not open letter to the Ole Miss administration)

Rebel-bear

Me too, Rebel. Me too.

Open letters are stupid, so this isn’t an open letter. But if I were to have a moment to talk to anyone in the Ole Miss athletic administration, this is what I’d say.

This also isn’t, in any way, about Matt Luke. If Ole Miss called me tomorrow and offered me $3 million to coach there, I’d do it too. And Luke may turn out to be a great coach. But his predecessor and his bosses have set him up to fail. A good man’s career is going to take a serious hit because a sleazy dude who tried to (and did) convince us he was a good man tanked the program before he was fired in disgrace, and that bothers me.

But, here’s the thing. Ole Miss football used to be fun for me. I’m not a championship or bust kind of guy – that’s unrealistic for a school like Ole Miss right now. But the whole experience of getting up, heading to Oxford with my dad, taking in the Grove and catching up with old friends, and going to the game has always been a special thing to me.

But what’s the point now? In the last 2 seasons, Ole Miss has lost 128-10 to Alabama. And yeah, Alabama’s good. But they’re not untouchable (I’M DISRESPECTING THE TIDE, PAWL). But it’s not so much losing to them as to what led to losing them.

Our administration fought tooth and nail to keep a guy that was clearly destroying our program. I tried to block it out too, but eventually, it became obvious. Miss after miss after miss in recruiting mounted. That guy kept getting more and more paranoid. And eventually his phone records and habits came out. But here’s the thing – had his phone records not come out, 66-3 still happens. 62-7 still happens. And honestly, coach Luke did a better job in 2016 than his predecessor would have, because – even though I don’t know this for sure – it looked like his predecessor had completely lost the team.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, his predecessor is currently engaged in a massive campaign to rehabilitate his image without taking responsibility for pretty much anything. He doesn’t have a job right now because, in his mind, the culture on our college campuses is too politically correct because of all the sexual assault stuff. Seriously. He said that. Nevermind the fact he’s still arguing with Mississippi State fans on Twitter. And the sports media is fawning over the whole “Alabama is 33-3 in their last 36 SEC games, and 2 of those are to Ole Miss” narrative while campaigning for him to get a job. He gets all the credit for those Alabama wins – which admittedly were an absolute blast – but Memphis never gets mentioned. Nor Florida. Nor Arkansas (multiple times). Nor Vanderbilt. Nor a couple of borderline Mississippi State teams. Nor TCU.

And, to be honest, he didn’t even cheat well. The most the NCAA got on him was a $10k payment to a kid who didn’t even go to Ole Miss. The NCAA didn’t even take it all that seriously – he got a 2 game suspension that he’ll end up not serving. So, for all the cheating he supposedly did, he lost out on TONS of talent on signing day.

But this isn’t just about him. The talent on the field is still mostly his responsibility right now. Most of the coaching staff is also his.

And so, for some reason, the higher ups at Ole Miss took a look at everything happening in the program and thought, “you know, we really need to keep that going.” And so they did. And then we did keep it going. So good job there, guys.

It wouldn’t be in any way prudent or fair for me to criticize coaching decisions. I spent all of one season in seventh grade playing football, and half of that season I was on the bench. I’ll just say that it’s bad when I have that little experience in playing and can look at a defense lined up pre-snap, pick the player who’s going to screw it up based on where he’s lined up, and then watch him do it. That may not be on coaching. Look, if I were tasked with guarding Lebron James, I could be in perfect position every play and still give up 38, 11, and 10. But just by virtue of being in position, something weird would happen and I’d be able to walk away from the game saying “yeah, we lost, but I got a steal on Lebron!” If I weren’t in position, though, I’d give up 70. Or, we’ll just stick with 66 and 62. Whether it’s coaching or talent I don’t know, but I do know that this is only the third time in the history of the SEC that a team scored 49 in a half. So, go Rebels.

This is deeper than coaching, though. I think this is a fair question to ask – what hope do we have? Point me to something tangible that says “Yes, we see this massive gap between us and the rest of the SEC and here’s what we’re doing to fix it.” But I don’t think those guys have that plan. Remember, this is the same administration that decided to brand THE ENTIRE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT after a defense that has given up 21+ points in the last 22 games, and 28 in the last 15 SEC games. The same administration that thought that putting the chancellor, the athletics director, and the previous head coach in front of a camera to defend said head coach in what can only be compared to a hostage video was a good idea.

Maybe these folks aren’t particularly good at their jobs.

But here’s what the whole thing boils down to – I love Oxford, and I love Ole Miss. I want my son to love Ole Miss. But loving Ole Miss is not cheap – loving any school, at this point, isn’t cheap. And I’m just a regular dude who isn’t really in a position to donate money to the school in any meaningful way. But eventually, and I think we’ll see this Saturday against Kent State, fans are going to really start showing their distrust for our leadership. Jeffrey Vitter is in over his head, and has been since the start. I like Ross Bjork personally, so I’m inclined to think he’s never been allowed to really do his job due to typical Ole Miss politics.

Even as more of a basketball fan than a football fan (and to his credit, Ross knocked it out of the park with Kermit Davis), I understand that the football program at an SEC school is the face you put forth for the world to see. That face has a very, very big black eye right now. It needs to be fixed, and we need someone or something we can look at as some sort of a symbol of hope.

A lot of programs have this mentality that they should be good because they used to be good. We see it every year – are the Irish FINALLY back? Are the Horns back? TALK ABOUT THE ‘NOLES, BABAAAAY! Tennessee. LSU. But those programs are all ignoring something bigger – there’s a culture that needs to be changed. Alabama realized it in the Shula era. Texas A&M, even as little as I believe in Jimbo, went out and got their guy. And as much as it pains me to admit this, Mississippi State may be the model we need to follow. They went out and got someone that could build a steady foundation and build on it.

Ole Miss apparently has this mentality that we should be good because…we were good in the ’60s?

And one other thing – people obsessed, during our last coaching search, over the right “fit” for Ole Miss. That’s code for “we don’t actually care about winning.” Saban wasn’t a fit at Alabama 10 years ago. Tommy Tuberville wasn’t a fit in Oxford, yet his greatest contribution to the program was getting that dadgum flag out of the stadium. Houston Nutt and Matt Luke’s predecessor, on the other hand, fit the Ole Miss culture. So maybe, if a coach doesn’t fit a culture, it’s not the coach’s problem.

Something’s gotta change. Apathy is setting in, and apathy is a hard thing to bring people back from.

On Lent…

What I’m giving up… Continue reading

May It Last…

Herein I reflect upon The Avett Brothers.

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I Built a Table

I built a table. It’s not a very good table, but it seems sturdy, and it was pretty cheap, so I did it.

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A Thought…

it me, guy who remembers he has a blog! I always want to write more. I probably won’t, at least not here, but here’s something that happened today.

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Oh Say Can You See…

index

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.

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.