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Friday, August 30, 2013

Is he crazy?

I could be referring to anyone, but in this instance, I'm speaking of Andre Villas-Boas, the real manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

This is NOT Andre Villas-Boas

I know a lot of my loyal readers have no idea what I'm talking about. Despite the success of Major League Soccer (MLS), there is still a lot of work to be done with expanding the fan base for the beautiful game here in America. Come on ya'll! The World Cup is coming up in June of next year and the US Men's National Team is almost a lock for qualification so it's time to get on board right now!

But this blog isn't about MLS or the World Cup - it's about the sanity of Andre Villas-Boas...or AVB for short.

AVB rose to prominence as a football manager in 2010 when he became the manager of FC Porto, one of the premier sports clubs in Portugal (cultural note: in world football, the person we would refer to as the head coach is called the manager - or in the UK perhaps the Gaffer). At the age of 32, he was considered very young to take the helm of one of Europe's storied clubs. But he had some experience, having worked on the coaching staff of The Special One, José Mourinho, at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan. AVB left Inter to take the manager's position at FC Porto and promptly went undefeated and won four trophies in his first season. After his stellar year, AVB was lured away by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to become manager of Chelsea FC, one of the marquee teams in the Barclay's Premier League.

AVB was happy...for a little while

AVB lasted less than a year at Chelsea. I won't bore you with the gory details but suffice it to say that Mr. Abramovich is not known for his patience with club managers. Fast forward a year and a half and the third manager since AVB was let go has taken the reins at Chelsea: Jose Mourinho, AVB's old mentor.

So what happened to poor AVB? Was he crazy to leave Porto after his stunning superfecta? Was his career ruined by the mad Russian ownership at the club known colloquially as Chelski?

Au contraire!

A little more than a year after getting the can at Chelsea, AVB was hired as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Spurs, as they are more briefly known, have been a fixture in and around the top four of English football for years but never really achieved the same level of success as their peers. After an uneven season in 2012-2013 that saw Spurs finish 5th and miss out on the coveted Champion's League place available to a fourth (or higher) place finisher, many wondered if AVB would be cut loose again. Surprisingly, a couple of ambitious European clubs courted AVB but he chose - and was allowed - to stay on at Tottenham.

If you're still with me, you're probably thinking in between yawns, "What's the point?"

The point is, Tottenham are the proud "owners" of the hottest football player on the planet, one Gareth Bale. You would think any manager worth his salt would do everything to keep Bale, a player with lightning fast speed, excellent ball control and tremendous shooting ability. I mean, you'd be crazy to sell the guy that almost single-handedly carried your team during the previous season, right?

So long Spurs?

Today's news reports that the summer-long transfer drama that has continually fanned rumors sending Bale to Spanish giants Real Madrid was all but sealed, with the only remaining business calling for Spurs to agree on the player transfer fee - estimated to be anywhere from £70 - £90 million pounds.

That's crazy, right?

Crazy like a fox, maybe.

AVB and Spurs ownership have overseen a summer spending spree that is certainly on a par with their bigger-spending neighbors. Including today's signing of Argentina forward Erik Lamela, Spurs have dropped more than £90 million pounds on new players with some high quality names among them, including Spanish forward Roberto Soldado along with winger/countryman Iago Falqué, and Brazilian central midfielder Paulinho.

It seems to me like AVB is still the young magician that guided FC Porto to an unprecedented four titles in one season. He's taken one phenomenal player and parlayed him into a team with depth and talent. I'm a life-long Manchester United fan and to be honest, even though we're the reigning champions, I'll be keeping my eye on AVB and his Spurs.

Objects in the rear view mirror could be closer than they appear.

What do you think?


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Literary Review: Glass Frost

In January 2013, I read and reviewed First Frost, the novel that launched the Frost series by Liz DeJesus. I remarked how grown men aren't supposed to get all gushy about fairy tales, unless they're reading them to their young children. Well, I'm hooked now so I might as well man-up and get on with it...

In Glass Frost, we pick up the lives of lead character Bianca Frost as well as those of her friends Ming, Terrance, and Prince Ferdinand. Readers of First Frost will remember that Bianca is the seventeen-year-old daughter of Rose Frost, and a direct descendant of Snow White. Up until stumbling upon her mother battling the witch Lenore, Bianca believed that she was just an ordinary teenager. But as Terrance reminds her in Glass Frost, " are everything but normal."

Terrance, who Bianca wasn't sure she'd ever see again, has called in a few markers and found his way to the normal world, where Bianca and her family live. I say normal because Terrance lives in Everafter, where things like magic and witches and such are, well, normal.

As all of us know - because we were teenagers once - we would move heaven and earth to find someone whom we loved; and Terrance and Bianca have a budding relationship that is explored, expanded, and sternly tested in Glass Frost. Of course, that's not the only reason Terrance has crossed the magical boundaries between Everafter and our world: and therein lies what causes Glass Frost to get really interesting.

Beyond his own growing feelings for Bianca, Queen Felicia has dispatched Terrance to come and fetch the young witch who, the queen believes, can be of some assistance with a slippery problem that is growing into a real danger for Everafter. Bianca would accompany Terrance even if they were going to battle a fire-breathing dragon, simply because of her heart. Yet, like any seventeen-year-old, she has to seek parental permission. Rose mandates that if Bianca is to go, then her friend Ming must go with her.

After Ming arrives at the Frost household, Bianca chants the spell that causes a door between worlds to materialize before them...

Find the shortest distance between
This place and the faeries’ green.
A place for weird-less days and weary nights,
Put this door within my sight.

...and the three friends step through into another thrilling fantasy adventure.

Glass Frost picks up shortly after the end of First Frost and carries on with the education and maturation of young Bianca. Although she demonstrated great resolve and tremendous magical ability in First Frost, there is still much for the fledgling witch to learn. As readers will discover, her learning curve is steep and not without significant mortal danger. Beloved characters are met, Everafter is explored in greater depth, and very old magic is uncovered.

Ms. DeJesus has penned a worthy sequel to First Frost. The main characters are fleshed out expertly and continue to grow into the story - and our hearts. Delightful new characters are introduced and blend artfully into the narrative. The plot is exciting, believable, and interwoven with well-known and little-remembered fairy tales from long ago.  

Thankfully we didn't have to wait long for Glass Frost, following just eight months or so on the magical heels of its predecessor. A little Faerie has whispered in my ear that book three is being cast even as we speak, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Relax and enjoy the adventure, romance, magic and action of Glass Frost - you'll be glad you did!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Can you really sell your soul?

It's been a plot device in film and television for decades - and in literature for a lot longer than that - but I would hazard a guess that not many people believe you can actually sell your soul to the devil. However, based on the fallout from the 2013 MTV VMA, Miley Cyrus has succeeded.

I'm fairly certain that Goethe was not the first to fictionalize a mortal's pact with Satan, but his Faust is the archetype from whence we derive the term Faustian bargain. The literary Faust was a scholar, successful yet still dissatisfied. His deal with the Devil exchanged his mortal soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Goethe's character has been the basis for many of the literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works that have ridden his creative coattails over the years. A Faustian bargain implies a situation wherein the person making the eternally damning covenant surrenders their moral integrity in return for some worldly gain - fame, fortune, power, or all of the above - albeit limited by their human lifespan.

Fortune and glory...until it's time to pay up...

So what did Ms. Cyrus hope to gain from her escapade? A BBC article today highlighted complaints by the Parent's Television Council, brought against MTV for several areas of the broadcast. Ironically, the article also revealed that Ms. Cyrus' father, Billy Ray, is on the PTC advisory board. Now before everyone starts dog-piling me for censorship, I'm just saying that if I had a 14-year-old daughter, these are not the role models I would want her emulating. MTV is free to raunch out as much as they like - just make sure the program's rating reflects the content you plan on broadcasting, please.

But back to the gain...the Beeb highlighted that, in addition to Ms. Cyrus herself boasting that her Tweet-per-minute count was greater than the Super Bowl, she would be reaping an expected 10-20% boost in record sales as a result of her performance. In fact, they noted, Ms. Cyrus' new album (do they still call them albums?) was already climbing the charts...and it hasn't even been released yet!

And lest we heap all the Faustian rubble on Ms. Cyrus alone, she had a partner in crime: Robin Thicke. And I really can't say anything else about that; I have no idea who Robin Thicke is other than, apparently, he is a singer and fancies himself a modern day Betelgeuse...perhaps Mr. Thicke's wardrobe was an unwitting Faustian reference in itself?

The most recent real-life reference I can find regarding someone making a deal with the devil is a legend that comes out of Haiti. The truth of the matter is, we don't really know what happened in Bois Caïman during a reputed vodou ceremony presided over by Boukman Dutty and Cecile Fatiman on August 14, 1791. Did the Haitians make a deal with the devil to get the French out of Haiti or were they just really motivated with effective leadership? Either way, the Haitian rebels were able to defeat tens of thousands of troops sent to quell the rebellion.

The best example - and advice - I would propose for Ms. Cyrus is to take notes in Matthew chapter four. The ego-driven fallen angel himself can be found attempting to entice Jesus with some pretty righteous pre-Faustian deals. In verses 4, 7, and 10 Jesus puts the Scriptural smack-down on the enemy, who promptly leaves to cancel the after-party.

My overwhelming feeling here is one of sadness. Yes we live in a free country and, as so many are prone to trumpet, "We can do whatever we want!"

But at what cost?

I'm thinking Billy Ray is keeping a light on and waiting for his daughter to come home. Hopefully the devil will let her out of the deal before it's too late.

What do you think?


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hate or Love?

2 Samuel 19:5-6 (NASB) recounts how Joab, the commander of King David's armies, came and gave him the old what-for regarding David's reaction to the death of his son Absalom:

Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased."

David mourning Absalom

What is the backstory here? The trap that Christians and non-Christians alike stumble into (or jump into on purpose) is taking single verses or passages in the Bible and using them as a hammer to prove their point. In effect, are we attempting to use the Bible like a common hand tool and beat people into submission?

In Matthew 5:44-47 (NASB) Jesus tells us, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"

I wonder what Joab would have made of that instruction? Don't get me wrong. I totally get where Joab was coming from. As Commander in Chief of Israel's military, Joab was looking after the King's interests. And although he knew David had asked that Absalom be spared, Joab drove three javelins through the young man's heart while he hung helpless in a tree. There may have been malice between Absalom and Joab, but it was probably more an act of political expediency than outright spite and disobedience to the King. Absalom had attempted to usurp David's throne; David was God's anointed. Had Absalom been left alive, he would have always been a threat to the King, to Jerusalem, and to Joab.

Joab wanted to wrench David from his grief over Absalom so that the men who had fought and risked their lives to restore the throne to David would not be sitting around saying, "Well that's a fine thank you."

Joab was also family - as were many others in David's court - and those who supported David without question needed to know that he, in turn, supported them.

Going back to the New Testament again, Luke 8:19-21 (NASB) provides another interesting statement by Jesus, "And His mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. And it was reported to Him, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You."

But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it."

Our earthly families are important; what was Jesus trying to say? How does that differ from Joab's reaction in the Old Testament? Shouldn't Joab have understood that, even though Absalom had usurped the throne, conquered Jerusalem, defiled the King's concubines in full view of Israel, and previously raped the King's daughter (his own half-sister), the King would still mourn the loss of his son?

It sounds to me like, at least in this case, Joab was taking the longer view and acting as he believed appropriate to maintain and support God's chosen ruler. Joab knew that God had anointed David King - and that was more important than the death of (one of) his son(s).

Yet family or no, David was loving his enemy.

It was brought to my attention the other day that there was a group page on Facebook named, "Witches Must Die By Fire". The founder of this group was a self-professing Christian and he/she challenged other weak Christians to join his/her cause and fight the enemy. He/she said that if Christians united as strongly as pagans or Muslims, we [sic] would have already taken over the world.

First of all, as a Christian, I'd like to point out that it's not my job to take over the world. Naturally, I have reservations concerning witches and pagans. However, any thoughts I might have regarding their beliefs and practices fall into the same category as those regarding anyone who does not believe that Jesus is our eternal King. But seriously, die by fire?

The founder of this hate-filled page - which has since been (thankfully) taken down by Facebook - obviously skimmed over the love your enemy references that Jesus made in the Gospels. He/she must've also missed Paul's note in Ephesians 6:12 (NASB), "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Paul doesn't mention a hate-filled Facebook page when describing the full armor of God.

I don't claim to have the Bible all figured out. God's Word is complex and He will speak to us in different ways through different passages at different times. However, there are some pretty straight forward passages, and I've tried to point out a few in this blog. Finally, Peter - that rabble-rousing, ear slicing fisherman that Christ used to start His earthly church - has an oft-quoted instruction in 1 Peter 3:14-16 (NASB) that bears repeating: "But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame." [EMPHASIS from BLB text]

Thanks Peter; that's some good advice I needed to hear again today.

What do you think?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

David Wood Doesn't Suck

With apologies in advance to my more genteel followers, friends and family, this book review uses the phrase you suck and the word suck frequently. This word/phrase was discouraged in our house as the boys were growing up, along with stupid and other derogatory terms. So even though our boys are now grown men, believe me when I tell you, I wouldn't typically use these terms in regular speech, much less a public blog. Don't shoot me, I'm only the book reviewer, and You Suck happens to be the title of another good novel written by David Wood.

Frankly, I don't recall how I came by my Kindle copy of You Suck. I can't remember if Mr. Wood provided me a review copy, if he put it on sale, or if I just bought the darn thing. I only bring it up to emphasize that there is no grease that will affect my review of any book. If you want an honest-to-goodness review of your book, and I can stand reading it, I'll put it out there.

You Suck is the first entry in what Mr. Wood calls the Dunn Kelly Mystery series. I'll preface everything else with this: I am weary of vampires, zombies, werewolves, and all manner of supernatural creatures in popular culture. The only reason I even read this book is because of the esteem in which I hold Mr. Wood as a writer. That, and I read his previous young adult supernatural novel, The Zombie Driven Life (What in the Apocalypse am I Here For?), and enjoyed it thoroughly.

It takes a lot to get me interested in the over-worked genre that has taken flight since that "T" series was published and made into film. If you're a young adult or just a body who loves vampires, zombies - and from what I hear Dunn Kelly #2 will feature werewolves - then feel free to skip the rest of this review and click on over to Amazon using one of the handy links above and get busy buying and reading.

For the rest of you, I'll continue.

You Suck opens by introducing us to Delilah Idaho, one of the most beautiful, self-absorbed and wildly popular teen idols you can imagine. But Delilah has a problem (other than being self-absorbed): she's found a wrinkle. Now to you and me that may not be cause for concern, but to this seventeen year old reality star, pop singer, and all-around heart throb it's practically the end of the world. But quicker than you can say, "Botox!" dear-old-dad comes to the rescue with an idea that I just know would happen if all these supernatural critters were actually real, like they are in You Suck. Daddy, better known as Buddy Jay Johnson to his old football and action (B) movie fans, placates his young daughter and gets her to buy into his latest scheme: a new reality show that will pair Delilah and a cast of vampires, with the winner getting to bite the fair maiden on her eighteenth birthday - on national television - allowing Delilah Idaho to be young, vibrant, and eighteen forever!

Remember Dunn Kelly? Remember that You Suck is the first in a series of mysteries? That's right; things don't quite go according to plan with Buddy Jay and Delilah's reality show. In fact, things go off-script enough to cause the police to be summoned, along with their Special Populations Officer, Martin Kelly. Problem is, Detective Kelly has hit a bit of a rough patch and his son Dunn has to run interference for him. Dunn is a high school senior and, through his dad, no stranger to police work. Before you can say, "I want to suck your blood!" Dunn Kelly is on the case, dodging vampires, crazed crew members, and Chief of Police Stanley Lescrote, who is out for Martin's blood - the old fashioned way.

You Suck is engaging from the start. Wood plops us right into the lives of his characters who are three-dimensional and wholly developed. His protagonist is beset with all sorts of standard teenage angst and issues, from uncomfortable relationships, too many responsibilities, bullies, lack of sleep and many others that really added to the believability of You Suck. It would have been easy for Mr. Wood to just gloss over these real life issues that plague most high school students in one way or another but his exploration of them, expertly woven into You Suck's multiple plot lines, is the glue that holds everything together and makes the story so readable.

There were a few typos here and there but not enough to distract me. If you're an English teacher, you might be miffed but as I've followed Mr. Wood's progression as an author, his editorial skills have improved immensely.

The pacing of the plot, the character introduction and development, and the cohesion of the overall story make You Suck and enjoyable read. The denouement is believable and surprising - as it should be. And, of course, Wood hooks us at the very end with a teaser about the next installment of what could turn out to be a very popular mystery series; not as popular as Delilah Idaho, but that would suck anyway.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

To be or not to be...

Perhaps the most difficult biblical instruction to follow is for us to be in the world but not of the world. This is one of those instructions that some folks will kick back and say, "That's not in the Bible." And they're right. There is no direct quote from Jesus or one of the Apostles that states, "You believers, be in the world and not of it."

However, the instruction is there, you just have to discover it. Joshua 1:8 finds God instructing the man who was stepping into Moses' huge sandals, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

The meaning of prosperous and success is a subject for a completely different blog...stay tuned. But, in fact, the Bible does instruct believers to be in the world and not of it. Here are a few examples...

In John 17, just before His arrest, Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father on our behalf; the key verses for the purposes of our discussion today are John 17:13-16.

In verse 15, Jesus says, "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one."

More's the pity. The problem with being in the world is that it is hard not to be of it. Living on Earth is like constantly being at a carnival with hucksters and tempters drawing you in with their promises of amazing things behind the curtain.

So that's how they do it...

Life, with all it's booths and rides, with all the Internet, movies, television shows, games, music,'s not hard to realize that grabbing it all - or as much as we can - is just another way for us to give up our dollar in order to see the bearded lady behind the curtain, to ultimately be disappointed with the fact that we've fallen for yet another sham.

So what do we do? Paul gives us a practical answer in Romans 12. Verse 2 guides us to, "... not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Easier said than done of course, but the instruction manual is freely available if we're willing to pick it up and read it.

In keeping with the more practical aspects of life, in the Bible Jesus also calls for us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) to the people of the Earth, not cheerleaders for the enemy. I don't want to fall down the rabbit hole of expounding on the many values of, and references to, salt in the Bible. Briefly, salt was of tremendous value in ancient times. As something that brought flavor and zest to food, as something that acted as a preservative, and even as something used to establish binding agreements.

Salt was a precious commodity. But our ancestors did not have the luxury of popping down to the local Wal-Mart to pick up a bag of Morton's. It was collected from natural sources and didn't quite have the staying power of our purified salt of today. It needed to be replenished...refreshed.

We could easily chat for a couple of hours on all the connotations of Jesus' instruction to be salt and light to the world. My understanding leads me to the conclusion that Jesus is instructing his followers to add flavor to the lives of others, not with the things of the world, but with His teachings. He is asking us to share His light, His preservative, His flavor, with those in our little corner of the Earth.

Psalm 12:6 affirms that, "The words of the LORD are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times."

That furnace could very well be fired with salt. Salt was often mixed with other materials because of its catalytic properties and used to start fires. How many fires have you started recently?

I know that some folks get tired of hearing Christians talk about Jesus. I'm not going to apologize for doing so because over and over in the Bible, Jesus tells us to do exactly that. If someone is a believer in Jesus, then they are duty-bound to do the same. I think one of the reasons people get cranky is that only a fraction of people that profess to believe in Jesus actually do what He says we should do. If every believer in the whole world talked to their friends, neighbors, family, co-workers and others about Jesus...just think how much salt and light there would be.

To be or not to be...that is indeed the question.

What do you think?


Monday, August 12, 2013

The team formerly known as...

I've almost completely stopped reading Slate. My doctor says I need to get my blood pressure down and frankly, I'm pretty sure the job description for writers at Slate includes the words, "Write your articles to be as blatantly controversial as humanly possible in order to cause our readers' blood pressure to elevate by at least 50 points (systolic)."

I caved this morning and read an article entitled, "The Washington _______________". The tag line clarified, "Why Slate will no longer refer to Washington’s NFL team as the Redskins."

I didn't even need to read the article, penned by Slate's blood pressure terrorist-in-chief David Plotz. Every single article I've ever read by Plotz I've disagreed with. He's like the anti-X.

For $21 million, I'll play for a team named after a racial slur?

In this day and age when we can all take principled stands against such things, why didn't highly coveted Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III include a clause in his contract stipulating the Redskins had to change their name? "Sure, I'd love to play in our nation's capitol! I'll accept $21 million over four years and, oh yeah, you guys need to change your name or the deal's off. I cannot in good conscience play for a team that disrespects Native American heritage."

This is PC run amok. There have been similar moves in Florida to force FSU (Florida State University) to change their team nickname (Seminoles); yet Chief Osceola still rides his distinctive Appaloosa Renegade out onto the field before every home game and plants the flaming spear into the turf at midfield, literally throwing down the battle challenge to FSU's opponents while more than 82,000 screaming fanatics do the "tomahawk chop" and chant (see also Atlanta Braves, just without the flaming spear).

Look out Chief, your next...

No one in their right mind believes that anyone associated with the Washington Redskins organization is a racist, Native American hater. Whatever the original motivation for the name was, the team's traditions have long-since outgrown any negative connotations.

Just to set the record straight. I'm totally with the Native Americans in our country. Tribes all over the land received significantly raw deals from the US Government. Their treatment at the hands of settlers, the US Army and various mercenary forces was indefensible. Maybe Daniel Snyder, the Redskin's owner could pledge a portion of the team's profits to help underprivileged Native Americans. I believe that would be a much worthier tribute than the witch hunt attempt to get the team's name changed.

And you just know what's going to happen if the name-change precedent is set. If we go down this path, what other teams should be looking over their shoulders and thinking about new names?

1. Cleveland Browns: Obviously something sinister is going on here; Cleveland took the sly route by just naming their team after a color without associating the color with anything specific.

2. Houston Texans: A clear slap in the face to Dallas Cowboy fans who believe THEY are the only real football team in Texas. Perhaps America's Team is taking the moral high ground and letting Houston have Texas - since the Cowboys have the rest of the country.

3. Tennessee Titans: Nobody likes giants (David vs. Goliath, Greek Mythology, etc.) and the flaming thumbtack logo is hideous. Maybe this isn't offensive but just really bad marketing.
Go, er, you flaming thumbtacks...

4. Kansas City Chiefs: You know it's coming. If the Redskins are forced to change their name, the Chiefs are next!

5. Oakland Raiders: Go back into history and ask the millions of people who were raped, pillaged and plundered, how much they enjoyed it. Unless you're a masochist, goth or suffering from a John Madden hangover, you don't like the Raiders anyway, so a name change is called for.

6. Dallas Cowboys: If you can't have teams named after Native Americans (Indians), you can't have teams named after Cowboys. How many of us grew up playing Cowboys and...never mind.

7. New York Giants: (See Tennessee Titans). Wait a minute; after seeing Eli and the Mannings' latest rap commercial for DirecTV, I think the Giants should be forced to change their name as punishment.

8. Minnesota Vikings: (See Oakland Raiders, only more so).

I don't want my kids growing up thinking this is okay

9. New Orleans Saints: These guys should be sued for false advertising for sure. How about making them change their name to "New Orleans Sinners"?

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (See Raiders and Vikings). Okay, Buccaneers aren't quite as bloodthirsty as Raiders and Vikings, but they aren't choirboys either.

11. San Francisco 49rs: Really? How long before the gentile folks of Northern California demand a name change so their team isn't named after a bunch of hard-drinking, money-grabbing opportunists? How about the "San Francisco 9th Circuit Court of Appealers"? Okay, maybe 49rs isn't so bad...

There are currently 32 NFL teams. People may not agree with my eleven choices for name change candidates. Heck, the ASPCA and PETA might weigh in on the fifteen franchises who use animal names for their teams. I mean, seriously, what self-respecting Tiger would want to be associated with the Cincinnati Bengals anyway?

What do you think?


Friday, August 9, 2013

Who's the Boss of your Nova?

In a slight departure from my recent missives, I thought I'd take a detour south...

I've mentioned in passing that, musically-speaking, I'm all over the map. If you were to peruse my Pandora stations, you'd find everything from Prokofiev to Peter Frampton, from The Specials to Sash!, and from Devo to Phillips, Craig & Dean. One station that gets a great deal of play is simply titled, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.

This ain't Green Day

So how, you may ask, did I come to know and like Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66? In 1966 I was still in single digits. You might think it's unlikely that a young American kid would be exposed to - much less enjoy - a popular ensemble from Brasil. Actually, I didn't hear SM&B 66 until around 1970 when I moved to England. My dad was quite musically eclectic in his own right and it was riding along some motorway in the UK where I first heard the piano, the bossa nova beats and the dulcet voices of Lani Hall, Bibi Vogel, and later, Janis Hansen.

I was hooked.

SM&B 66 performing their first US Hit Mas que Nada

In 1970, for all I knew, Bossa Nova was just some guy from Italy saying he liked your Chevy. Today, through the power of Google and Wikipedia it's easy to discover that in Portuguese bossa nova literally means "new trend" and that it's a lyrical fusion of samba and jazz. In Brasil, the word bossa is old-fashioned slang for something that is done with particular charm, natural flair or innate ability. And while the exact origin of the term bossa nova remains uncertain, it's clear that the style of music that charmed us as a new trend in the late 1960s continues to influence our musical landscape today.

After Mas que Nada (translated "but that [is] nothing") was released, Sergio and his band, recording under Herb Alpert's A&M label, covered a number of Burt Bacharach and Beatles tunes including The Look of Love, The Fool on the Hill, Norwegian Wood, and Scarborough Fair, among others. The application of their bossa nova style to what we referred to back then as popular or easy listening definitely gave the hits of the day a new trend.

Lennon and McCartney can write, but Lani Hall can sing!

As I fell down the 80's rabbit hole listening to The Police, The Cars and Duran Duran, I gradually forgot above Sergio Mendes. The 80's was a decade that started with me living in northern California so I did not forsake jazz completely. Listening to the smooth jazz of KBLX and attending some incredible concerts with the likes of Miles Davis, Hiroshima, and Jean Luc Ponty, I was definitely bipolar musically.

One of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard is Renaissance by Ponty, from his 1976 album Aurora.

Check out the piano solo by a 22-year-old Patrice Rushen...magic!

But as the years unfolded and our boys grew, Sergio crept back into my musical lexicon. Our sons followed their old man into a love affair with the beautiful game, football. Not the violent, gridiron variety, but the artistic, graceful - original - version. Nike co-opted the term Joga Bonito - roughly translated as play beautifully - in a mid-2000's ad campaign (You may have to click the embedded video to watch it on YouTube).

A Joga Bonito compilation guessed it: Sergio Mendes

If you read the details of the music behind the video above, you'll notice that it's the same Sergio Mendes that recorded Mas que Nada in 1966. But forty years later, he recorded it again with the Black Eyed Peas. And now, in 2013 - nearly fifty years after their breakout hit in the USA - you can even LIKE Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 on their own Facebook page!

That's staying power.

Don't get me wrong, there were and are many, many more bossa nova stars; a lot more than I've ever heard of. But if you've listened to Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Charlie Bird, and Antonio Carlos Jobim to name a few, you're in tune with the bossa nova beat.

Bossa nova is a style as deep and wide as any in modern music. I could go on for days but I'll leave you with a couple of my bossa favorites.

Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 - Ye-Me-Le

Tom Jobim & Toquinho - Wave

Joga Bonito my friends.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Evangelical Hara-Kiri

Hara-kiri is the ritual suicide by disembowelment practiced by the Japanese samurai or formerly decreed by a court in lieu of the death penalty [Merriam-Webster online]

The term has found its way into popular culture as a reference to when someone commits social or organizational suicide. Lately, Evangelical Christians are being led to believe that holding to strict beliefs - biblical inerrancy, the biblical definition of marriage, the wrongness of abortion, to name a few - will kill off any chance we have of connecting with those seeking a higher purpose in life. Frankly, that seems to put faith into the same sphere as fast food or soft drinks or sports apparel.

Things go better with Jesus

Evangelical Christianity has become just one of dozens of religions to go that you can choose from to step up to a more spiritual plane in life. I was reading another interesting blog yesterday that discussed an article published on the CNN Belief Blog. The root of the discussion was Rachel Held Evans' piece on why millennials are leaving the church. This isn't the first time I've come across Mrs. Evans. I read an article discussing Evans' newest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and have perused some of her blogs. Evans is an engaging and witty writer, but I'll admit I don't agree with her on everything, philosophically or theologically speaking.

In her CNN article, after establishing her millennial cred (aged 32, raised analog but living digital, fan of Nirvana and Pearl Jam), Evans made a number of statements which brought me up short. I don't have time to address them all but I'll note a few...

1. In her bio, Evans makes the statement, "I'm often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church." This would lead readers who did not know Mrs. Evans to infer that she is, in fact, an evangelical leader. I will leave it up to each individual to research and decide if, in fact, that is a true statement. Merriam-Webster online defines the term evangelical variously as:

- Of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.
- Protestant (What? There are no Catholic evangelicals?)
- Emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual.

In the first real meat of the piece, Evans states, "Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness."

- A number of Bible verses spring to mind in which Jesus is shown as political and concerned with social justice i.e. turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple [Matthew 21:12]. That was an incredibly political act, even if He did not undertake it for political reasons. Jesus was inclusive. He famously tells the ever-present Pharisees, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick." when they confronted him about hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners [Matthew 9:12]. But what was the outcome of Jesus' relationship with these people? Did Matthew remain a Tax Collector? Did the adulteress remain an adulteress [John 8:11]?

As I sought to highlight the article's salient points, I struggled not to copy, paste, and comment on everything. Perhaps that speaks to Mrs. Evans' facility as a writer, if not her status as someone I would always agree with regarding all that is good in/for the church. About midway through she continues, "In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular. Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic."

- Unpretentious? I mean, I understand what she is saying but one of the very things that Jesus was most militant about was the pretentiousness of the Pharisees in their behavior, prayer, etc. Jesus taught early and often about believers needing to move away from the established orthodoxy of the day and instead establish a church founded on Immanuel. This new church is described in detail in Acts 2 - which details not only how to join with the new church but also what the church model needed to look like when believers were truly serving God and His people.

Acts 2 doesn't say, "Devote yourselves to the apostle's teaching in a church that makes you feel really good, where the music is just your style and everything is just right." 

I had to laugh when Mrs. Evans relates how, during one of her evangelical presentations, one Pastor will always invariably respond with, "So what you're saying is we need hipper worship bands..."

That's funny, but highlights a key division in evangelical thought lines when it comes to understanding why millennials and others are leaving the church: Do we need a different message or a different way to present the message?

If you go back to the Merriam-Webster definitions of evangelical, there are some consistent messages there that define who evangelicals are and what they believe in. In one of Mrs. Evans' first statements about herself, she says, "Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers..."

What she doesn't say is, "Looking in the Bible we can see that..."

If you take away the Bible, you take away the foundation of the Gospel message and God's guidebook for what the church should look like. 

Toward the end of her article, Evans uncovers a nugget of truth that was lacking in her previous statements: Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

What can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts?

Evans urges us at the end of her piece that in order to win millennials back to the church, we need to sit down and really talk with them about what they're looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

I would add that for any faith community to be authentic, it needs to revolve around Jesus - just like the Acts 2 church. But that's a sometimes unpopular sentiment today. If everyone's faith has to revolve around Jesus that's not inclusive. People get mad about it when you infer that their brand of Christianity isn't a fair representation of the church that Jesus built. But who is different? Who has changed?

Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

So all you Evangelicals out there - and anyone else who might be searching for something to fill the God-sized hole in your heart - the message hasn't changed in 2,000 years. If we change our worship style or open a coffee shop in the basement, it's not because we're trying to be cool. It's because we're searching for ways to reach a generation who have been told from birth that they can have everything their way.

The only One who gets to have it all His way is Jesus. Remember John 14:6 the next time you want to massage the message.

What do you think?


Monday, August 5, 2013

I lost on

Today's sign that the Apocalypse is upon us:

Thomas Hurley III is upset that he lost on Jeopardy!

I don't follow a lot of entertainment industry news but this story on NBC and elsewhere is stirring up a tempest in a teapot over a certain 12-year-old boy not being happy about his Jeopardy! loss. Maybe he needs to listen to the old song by "Weird Al" Yankovic to gain a little perspective on his situation:

From what I can determine the host Yankovic used in the video is an Art Fleming look-alike, the iconic show's original host. However, the announcer in the video is the original and distinctive voice of Don Pardo. Maybe the current Jeopardy! announcer should've taken a page from Pardo's lines in the video and told young master Hurley what he didn't win.

For those with an 80's block, and a need for useless trivia, Weird Al's song was a parody of Greg Kihn's 1983 classic (Our Love's in) Jeopardy...

Right now, I'd say the only thing that is in jeopardy is young Mr. Hurley's pending man card application. I've been watching Jeopardy! for years - and yes, I used to watch the original show hosted by the suitably grave and apparently knowledgeable Fleming, who sadly passed in 1995.

I'm not 100% sure what the official rules are for Final Jeopardy but I've seen contestant after contestant rocked during regular and double Jeopardy for things as innocuous as a question pluralizing something that is meant to be singular.

Quick note for the uninitiated: In Jeopardy! all of the contestants responses have to be in the form of a question. For Mr. Hurley and his fellow contestants, the Final Jeopardy answer (i.e. clue) was:

Abraham Lincoln called this document, which took effect in 1863, 'a fit and necessary war measure'.

The correct response was, of course, "What is, 'The Emancipation Proclamation."

Unfortunately for Mr. Hurley, his written response said, "What is the Emanciptation Proclamation", and he was adjudged to be incorrect due to his misspelling of the word Emancipation. I would hazard a guess that veteran watchers (and no few contestants) would agree completely with the ruling. Personally, I'm waiting for Ken Jennings to weigh on on the subject. Perhaps more than anyone, as a record winner of 74 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy!, Jennings is eminently qualified to speak on all matters relating to answers and questions.

Ken Jennings and the no-doubt envious Trebek

And let's not forget that Mr. Hurley, had he spelled Emancipation correctly, would still have come in second. So really, he's just whining about the public shaming he's taking for being either a poor speller or just a regular person like all of us - except for Ken Jennings - who would succumb to the pressure cooker that is Jeopardy!.

In closing, to quote a great line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "You lost today kid; that doesn't mean you have to like it."

But it does highlight a life skill that young Master Hurley needs to learn and employ:

How we respond to loss in life is equally, if not more, important than how we respond to winning.

What do you think?


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is Enhancement Over-rated?

Any human on the planet Earth with an email account is likely tired of all the spam messages they receive for Viagra, Cialis, Enzyte, and other so-called male enhancement products. One must remember that it's not personal - after all, it's just spam, right?

I think Bob is missing a few beans in his coffee...

Somehow or another, the makers of Enzyte (and the others) believe that men and women want to go through life smiling like a Cheshire Cat after too much nip. To me, the entire enhancement industry portrays a false caricature of life; one that presupposes the most important thing on everyone's agenda is, well, getting busy. The issue is not that intimate relations are bad, it's that we've elevated them to a point where Madison Avenue would have us believe our life is meaningless without them.

Officially, enhance is a verb meaning intensify, increase, or further improve the quality, value, or extent of. For example:
  • His refusal does nothing to enhance his reputation
  • Computer techniques that enhance images
For the linguists in the audience, the origin of the word enhance is Middle English (formerly also as inhance); from Anglo-Norman French enhauncer, based on Latin in- (expressing intensive force) + altus 'high'. The word originally meant 'elevate' (literally and figuratively), later 'exaggerate, make appear greater', also 'raise the value or price of something' Current senses date from the early 16th century.
Calvin looking to improve the quality of his brain (Bill Watterson)

Modern society tends to use the term almost exclusively in a cosmetic sense. Open up Google in your browser and search for images using the word enhance. Go ahead, I'll wait...

The majority of images you see on your screen have to do with cosmetics, hair, body, fitness, etc. In other words, ways that we might enhance (improve the quality or value) of our outside. But what about the inside? Somehow we've become a people who value how we appear to others over how we treat them. Is it any wonder that young people struggle with their identities when they are awash in messages from adults that the very concept of identity is flexible? Are we becoming a nation - a world - of aesthetes?

So what is the solution? Naturally, everyone will have an opinion on the answer. I've noted a few things below which I believe will help.
  • Psalm 139:13-16 reads, "For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them."
It's difficult for anyone to recognize their own, personal, intrinsic value when they are told that their very existence is the result of a cosmic coincidence of events and at the end of their life is nothing. In effect, all the enhancement in the world won't change our eternal destiny, yet we pursue it as a means of giving more meaning, more value to our lives. David reminds us of our divine origins, that God knows each one of us deeply and personally, since before we were even conceived.
  • In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, King Solomon teaches us, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart."
In effect, all the enhancement in the world is not going to save you from adversity. Helping your fellow humans, supporting each other; that's where increased value lies. Regulars to The Stream will know that I've just returned from a trip to Haiti where I served with Mission of Hope. One of the most powerful community ministries they have undertaken is known as 3 Cords. 3 Cords employs amputee women and mothers of amputee children, giving them hope that they are still whole, valuable, and precious. The MoH vision for this ministry comes directly from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. If you would like to support this tremendous project, you may do so here.

  • So what really makes for the best male enhancement? Although the passage speaks primarily of women, men can take this to heart as well when the Apostle Peter gives this great advice in 1 Peter 3:3-4, "Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God."
I could go on; but I think you get the idea. I'm not saying that it's bad to make an effort to enhance our personal appearance. If I didn't take a bath or shave before I came to work, I probably wouldn't last very long. But when that enhancement becomes our entire focus, we have to stop and wonder, "Why?"

Paul brings it home in Romans 8:38-39...

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That from a guy who continually took it on the chin from the world.

What do you think?