Friday, January 13, 2012

The Non-Squeaky Wheels Need Grease Too!

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor 12.7)

I was thinking recently about how well Alida (my wife) and I usually fit together. We each have strengths that the other doesn’t and our weaknesses are usually covered up by the abilities of the other.

Let me give a really silly example: When it comes to road trips, Alida and I each have some particular skills that help us greatly. Alida is great at making lists of things to include but she doesn’t usually have the time required to actually get the things ready for the trip. I’m horrible at thinking of all the things we’ll need, but I have time to follow her directions. I’m pretty horrible with cardinal directions (if it weren’t for the mountains north of Pasadena I would be lost half of the time!) but I really enjoy driving and I can drive and drive and drive for hours. Alida is great with directions and is also great at patiently giving me instructions regarding which way to go, but Alida doesn’t really enjoy driving at all. Alida has a sweet tooth, so she makes sure that we have some sweet snacks to take with us. I love savory foods, so I make sure we have some hearty snacks. I could go on and on. My guess would be that most married people could probably say some similar sorts of things about their marriages.

Now there’s no point in over-emphasizing this point. In each marriage there are places where the couple’s personalities and habits clash. And these clashes usually get more attention than the places where there is harmony. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But I believe that God made us to complement one another. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul is, of course, writing to the various members of the church in Corinth. But his words can apply well to a marriage. Let’s rephrase the verse to highlight this point: To each spouse a manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good of the marriage.

So here’s the challenge, instead of focusing on the personality and habit clashes that are inevitable in marriage, let’s start focusing on how we are specially gifted by the Holy Spirit for the common good of our marriages.

What special gift or quality does your spouse bring to your marriage that enhances your marriage’s common good?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Path of Success for Tebow and the Broncos

In the past few months the sports world has been all atwitter (to use a Sheldon Cooper phrase!) about Tim Tebow. And, yes, people have been tweeting about it! The interesting thing, however, is that Tebow-mania has broken free of the bonds that typically restrain other sports stories. People all over the US (and in many other countries too!) are simply going nuts over this guy, whether they are sports fans or not.

As a result, the following question has often been found on TV, the radio, the internet, social media, and the tips of many of our tongues: Why is Tim Tebow so popular? I've seen and heard some of the following: his faith, his good looks, his generosity, his charisma, his unorthodox abilities, his underdog status, his humility, the way his success thus far has proven the "experts" wrong, etc., etc.

Robert, a good friend of mine, pointed out that Tebow has many of the elements that make up John Wooden's Pyramid of Success...except one: skill. I think he's right. Here are the non-skill components that make up Wooden's Pyramid: industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, condition, team spirit, poise, confidence, and competitive greatness. Coach Wooden also said that faith and patience together served as the mortar that held all the other bricks of the pyramid together.

So when looked at in this light, Tebow's less-than-ideal skills with relation to throwing the football at an NFL level can be offset to a great degree by the strength of all the other bricks of his pyramid. And then you add the patience-faith mortar and that one weak skill brick doesn't get in the way of Tebow's success. I think my friend Robert is really onto something here!

There is a big problem though. Tebow does have some exceptional football skills, namely various abilities required to run the ball well. However, as any football person (from a casual fan to a meticulous GM) knows, running the ball well is always handcuffed together with the risk of injury. You may protest and say, "But injuries are part of football! Denver could just play their backup QB and all would be well." Well, not really.

On a normal NFL team the backup QB is somewhat similar to the starter, because most NFL QBs are pretty similar to one another. Sure, Michael Vick and Cam Newton can run the ball well, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are superbly accurate, and Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo are tough enough (or dumb enough!) to play through serious injuries. But in each one of the cases above, the QB listed also throws the ball really well. Behind each one of the guys listed above stands another QB who has solid skills at throwing the football. Thus, when the starter gets hurt not much about the offense has to change when the backup takes over. Sure, the team loses its primary signal-caller, but the replacement is almost always skilled enough to perform at a decent level.

So now just imagine a scenario with me. The Broncos lose to the Patriots next weekend and their coaching staff and upper management decide to go all in with Tebow. They spend the entire off season designing new plays and re-configuring team practices so that Broncos, with Tebow as QB, have the best chance to succeed. This means, of course, that much of this new offense will be predicated on the size, speed, athleticism, and running ability of Tebow.

Now continue using your imagination with me. It's Week Seven during the 2012 regular season and Tebow gets injured when a linebacker tackles him from behind after a great 26-yard run. The injury is serious and he's going to be out for the rest of the season. What do the Broncos do? Brady Quinn can't run the offense that Tebow runs -- no disrespect to Quinn, but he's no Tebow! Are they going to have to try and install a new offense before Week Eight begins? Will they be able to this? How successful will this process be?

Chances are that if the Broncos fully support the style of offense that Tebow's skills demand, then in the imaginative scenario I painted above they would be in serious trouble. So what's the solution? How can Denver truly succeed with Tebow as their starting QB?

The answer is pretty simple. They must find at least one backup QB that can run the offense that Tebow runs. Will they be able to find someone as good as Tebow? Well, maybe if Carolina didn't want the services of Cam Newton anymore! But, no, they probably wouldn't. The backup won't be nearly as skilled as Tebow at running the ball, nor will he be as big, nor will he have the same running instincts. But that doesn't mean that there aren't options out there...and many of them would come at bargain-basement rates!

Here are a few ideas for potential Tebow backups: Joe Webb (Minnesota), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh), Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco), or Pat White (free agent, formerly played for Miami and then the Virginia Destroyers of the UFL). Some even cheaper options could be found in the draft or after the draft by sifting through the undrafted free agents. Two possibilities who are seniors are Chandler Harnish (Northern Illinois) and Kriss Proctor (Navy) (don't worry, I had to look them up too!).

And not only will signing a backup QB that runs the ball well serve as an insurance policy for the Broncos, it may help push Tebow to improve his running skills even more due to increased competition during practices.

Lastly, the Broncos could to take an additional step -- they could find an older veteran to serve as the third QB who could work with Tebow every single day on his throwing mechanics. Or, even better, maybe John Elway could take off his suit and tie and help out Tebow himself!

So my point is this: if Denver really wants to succeed next season and beyond with Tim Tebow at the helm, then they must find a suitable back up for him as soon as possible!

Friday, November 13, 2009


Movember is a tradition originated by some men in Australia. In order to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research, they do funny things with their facial hair for the month of November. That is why it's called "Movember" -- mustache + November = Movember.

So, in light of this tradition, for the second consecutive year I'll be participating in Movember. To see what I did last year, click here. This year, however, I decided, with my wife's misguided consent, to grow only a mustache.

Since Halloween is the day before Movember began, I first had a bit of fun with my facial hair, rocking the walrus-style fu manchu. Goose Gossage would be proud!

The following day I shaved off the bottom portions, and moved my sideburns up a bit too. So now I'm sporting the "I look way too much like my dad at this age" facial hair do.

Last year I did this to raise awareness for autism (click here to read more about that). This year, however, I want to shed light on another issue: namely, child mortality. While the rates of infants and under-five children who die in the US are relatively low (6.3 and 7.8 out of 1000 live births respectively) [SOURCE 1, 2], there are many places in the world where this is not the case.

In fact, there are five countries who have under-five mortality rates at or above 20%. Those countries and the number of under-five death per 1000 live births are Mali (199.7), Liberia (205.2), Angola (230.8), Afghanistan (235.4), and Sierra Leone (278.1) [SOURCE 1, 2]. Here is a map [SOURCE] which highlights well the areas of our world that are struggling with this issue the most (dark red indicates the highest rates):

What are the causes of death for these children? Lots of things, many of which are preventable, such as infections, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and malnutrition [SOURCE]. In other words, with the provision of medication and educations, some of these deaths could be prevented.

In the remaining days of Movember I am going to be thinking about how I can get involved in the solution to this issue. I hope you'll join me on this journey!

For more information on child mortality, I recommend the World Health Organization's websiteas a starting point.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Novel Review: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Around four years ago my wife (Alida) and I were having a Barnes & Noble date. I suppose this needs a bit of explanation. When you are a young married couple and don't have a large surplus of unassigned funds, you try to find creative ways to get out of the house together without spending much. So my wife and I discovered a fun way to do just that - we would go to a bookstore, buy a coffee or two, and peruse books and magazines for a while. Often this kind of date would result in the purchase of a book, like the time we bought Shel Silverstein's silly book of spoonerisms called Runny Babbit.

On another such date I picked up Anne Rice's Christ the Lord out of sheer curiosity. My first thought was, "Could this possibly be the same Anne Rice who is responsible for books like Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned?" Sure enough it was. If we had just arrived at Barnes & Noble I probably would have read the first twenty pages or so. However, whenever I discovered this book on the shelf the store was nearing closing time. So I decided to simply read the author's note at the end of the book. I was surprised to discover that Rice had come to write this book out of genuine interest in Jesus: first as a historical figure, then as the figure of faith. Through studying Jesus, even through reading academic works!, Rice's faith was revitalized and she became serious about her Catholic faith once more, which she had more or less abandoned since her college days.

I was hooked! I simply had to read this book! However, our budget at the time said otherwise, as did my reading load at Truett Seminary, where I received my M.Div. Rice and her return to faith left a major impression on me though. Three years or so later, while in another large bookstore, I saw a mass market paperback edition of Christ the Lord on sale for under five dollars! I consulted with my wife and bought the book. In short order I put one hundred pages behind me and within two weeks I was nearing the end of the book. A multitude of projects put my completing the book on hold, but eventually I did.

The combination of the book being written from the (first-person) perspective of Jesus and the interesting subject matter in general made wanting to read this book come natural to me. The basic premise is that Jesus and his family (including some extended family) are in Egypt. After Joseph hears that things have more or less smoothed over after the Herod-killing-all-the-babies thing, the Holy Family returns to Israel and re-settle in Nazareth. They make a couple of trips to Jerusalem to visit the Temple on high holidays, as well as a business venture in Sepphoris. The book ends with Jesus and his parents returning to Nazareth from Jerusalem after Jesus' impromtu stay at the Temple, as is recorded in Luke 2.41-52.

Several things to note about this book:
  1. The reader should understand from the beginning that Rice is going to accept most of the Catholic dogma about Jesus and his family. This turns up almost immediately as it is made clear that Mary has had no other children, which is in support of her perpetual virginity. Even though I disagree with this point based on the evidence in the New Testament itself, it did not distract me much from the story. At several other points a careful reader could spot other examples of Rice advocating Catholic theology.
  2. Rice accepts some of the apocryphal stories of Jesus childhood as recorded in various non-canonical Gospels. This will, of course, rub many readers the wrong way, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. However, Rice was simply attempting to work with the traditions which are available. Plus, the stories she includes are so intrinsically fascinating that the writer in her probably would not let her pass them over!
  3. As already mentioned, this story is told in first-person and Jesus is the narrator. I naturally have to wonder what sort of historical situation would have allowed Jesus the time to write and/or tell this story? I know that this may be an odd quibble to have with the book, but several times this question nagged at me. I'm not sure of the answer and Rice gives no real clues except that narrator Jesus is clearly telling this story from some undetermined future date.
  4. The basic arc of the book is Jesus coming to full-realization about who he really is. This was the most interesting part of the book for me. As a young child, Jesus gradually begins to understand that he has certain powers and that when he prays things happen. The problem, however, is that Jesus does not know why he has this power or how much power he has! Part of the problem is that he has not been told the whole story surrounding his birth, which he finds out in more and more detail as the plot moves along. By the end of the book Jesus has fully come into his own - realizing his identity, vowing to use his power only in accordance to the Father's will, and even understanding his ultimate fate. While this clearly would be considered a stretch by many of my academic friends, it makes for a great read!
Overall I would recommend Christ the Lord to almost anyone. It is a book written explicitly from a faith perspective different than my own but this does not tarnish its sheen at all! Instead it only makes it more interesting for me to read! I'm sure that I could nitpick many of the historical details in the book (such as the identity and location of the Essenes), but that would serve no one except maybe me (and that's a big maybe!).

Friday, June 05, 2009

Novel Review: Shantaram

At the request of my good friend Mike Wolfe, I agreed to read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. When I said "yes," I was under the silly preconception that this would be a normal-sized novel of around three hundred pages or so. A week or so after my acceptance of Mike's charge, I went to see him and retrieve the novel. Needless to say I was in for a bit of shock! The book he handed me was well over three times the length I expected - 936 pages to be exact! Never to be one to turn down a challenge, I swallowed hard and accepted the book with a smile. Several months later, after reading this book in between studying for my dissertation proposal, grading papers, preparing Sunday School lessons for Crossroads, among other things, I can honestly say that I am glad Mike asked me to read Shantaram and I'm glad I completed it!

At the onset I have to admit one of the most interesting and most confounding things about this novel is that it is a strange but fascinating mix between fiction and memoir. The author, Roberts, has actually lived many of the things which he describes in the book, whether as a "doctor" in a slum in Bombay, a fighter in a war in Afghanistan, or a mobster in Bombay. So the reader is often left trying to decide what is fact and what is fiction. Maybe that is part of the draw of this novel, namely, how real it presents these seemingly fantastic scenarios.

The basic summary of the novel is that an escaped Australian convict finds himself in Bombay. He has no friends, no connections, and very little hope. What he does have, however, is a certain level of ingenuity. He makes some money and some friends and eventually decides to live in Bombay instead of just passing through. He winds up in a slum where he heals wounds, makes friends, and learns quite a bit about himself. From this point on in the story many things happen, so many that it seems almost impossible that they all could have possibly happened to one man. He visits an Indian village, he is incarcerated in an Indian prison, he because a gangster, he gets involved in the conflict between Russian and Afghanistan, and, oh yeah, he falls in love somewhere in there too. For the author's own overview of the novel, check out this video, which will only confirm the strange problem of memoir versus fiction in this book!

Now on to the bulk of the review, starting with the strengths of Roberts' book. In general this book is compelling. In parts you simply cannot put it down. Roberts descriptive talent is one of the primary reasons for this. He paints such intriguing mental pictures that, to be cliche, you actually feel like you are there with Lin, the main character, where ever he might be. Perhaps the most important character, maybe even more important than Lin, is Bombay itself - its people, its crime, its smell, its food, its movies, its music. Besides a few small and silly introductions to Bombay previous to this book, I knew very little about India or its shining jewel, Bombay. I must say that I am so thankful to Roberts for this introduction.

However, the book is not perfect. At times Roberts is so extremely verbose that it is prohibitive. Roberts describes in painful detail each and every character, no matter how important or how small. The nature of the book also necessitates that many of the characters are absent from the story for long periods of time, which is perfectly fine. However, when these characters come back into the story, Roberts goes into the same level of detail reintroducing them. This sadly weighs the plot down at points. Honestly, at times I would simply skip over paragraphs which I knew only contained irrelevant details about how a minor character looked or sounded. Another major issue is that there are times when the novel simply drags. Perhaps Roberts could have better served his audience by splitting this book into two or three parts because the reader invariably will fall in love with the characters from the beginning of the book only to find that most of them play a very small role in the remaining two-thirds of the story. I believe that this problem is what caused the momentum of the book to fade as it moved closer to the end. Lastly, Roberts is quite preachy. At times the reader may simply disagree with some commentary that Roberts provides, which seems to neither move the story forward or aid in character development. At times I feel like the audience is addressed directly by Roberts but in a thinly veiled indirect way (if you know what I mean!).

Overall, Shantaram is a good book. Sure, it's long and in parts it's tedious. But it is also beautiful and richly textured throughout. As a quick aside, I watched Slumdog Millionaire after reading this novel and found that the novel was brought to life in a new way by watching Slumdog. Some of the settings became clearer, as well as the accents of the characters. I would highly recommend fans of the book to watch Slumdog or fans of the movie to read Shantaram. Speaking of movies, Shantaram has been bought by a production company and it appears that Johnny Depp may play the role of Lin (source). How they translate this behemoth into a movie will be interesting!

For more information about Roberts or his book, please check out the official Shantaram website!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

NBA Finals

I'm not the biggest NBA fan on the planet but I do enjoy the sport. Living in LA, however, has given me an interesting view of the Lakers and their fans. I have two main observations: 1) When the Lakers lose a game (any game) all the fans immediately ask for Phil Jackson to be fired, Lamar Odom to be traded, doubt Kobe's heart, etc, etc; and 2) At the start of every series Lakers fans overestimate their team, despite past performance. I'm not sure if this is a phenomenon that is common, but as a Cubs and Cowboys fan I guess I'm used to underestimating and giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone. I mean I don't want to be depressed all the time, since I love two losers!

Anyway, I think this series will be much tighter than most Lakers fans are expecting. The Lakers have the best player in the series in Kobe, their bench is deeper, and their coaching is better but the Magic have some important advantages as well. Namely, the Magic are tough, which has caused the Lakers trouble throughout the playoffs and regular season, and they have several guys who shoot the three well, including two who are 6'9" or above. If the Magic get their inside-out or outside-in game working, the Lakers will be in some trouble, especially since the Lakers three-point shooting has been less than stellar this post-season. One more thing, the Lakers are the favorites, while the Magic are hungry. These facts could be positives or negatives for each side.

My prediction: Magic in 7. If the Magic pull a win out of the first two games at Staples and then get two out of three at home, the Lakers would have to win both of the final two games at home. I'm betting that the Magic could steal one of those games! This is going to be an exciting series! We won't even remember LeBron/Kobe when this is over!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In the Mail: Man in White

I just received a new book in the mail: Man in White by Johnny Cash -- yes, the one and only Johnny Cash! This is a novel based on the life of the Apostle Paul -- yup, you read that sentence correctly too. The book was first published in 1986, on the heels of a very dark time in Cash's personal and professional life in which Cash was battling addiction to painkillers (Michael Streissguth, Johnny Cash: The Biography, 215).

Here's the publisher's blurb for Man in White:

Johnny Cash. The Apostle Paul.

Passionate. Controversial. Fiery. Destructive. Redeemed.

Two legendary men. Two thousand years apart-yet remarkably similar.

Both struggled with a "thorn in the flesh." And both had powerful visions from God.

Paul's encounter with the Man in White knocked him to the ground and struck him blind. It also turned him into one of the most influential men in history.

Johnny Cash's vision was of another man entirely-his recently deceased father-a vision that helped spark his imagination to write this historical novel about the amazing life of the intriguing figure with whom Cash identified so deeply-the Apostle Paul.

See Paul as you've never seen him before--through the creative imagination of one of the greatest singer-songwriters America has ever known. Subsequently see Johnny Cash, the man in Black, as you've never seen him before--as a passionist novelist consumed with the Man In White.

I look forward to reading this book and reviewing it here!