Thursday, December 29, 2011

Baptism

In the Christian faith, baptism is one of the most important events in a person's life.  Usually baptism occurs when a person is an infant, but many times it is done later in life when the individual converts to faith.  Often times the event of a baptism happens during a church service.  I and many of you, I am sure, have witnessed dozens of baptisms during services such as these.  As Christians, we are always taught about the importance of baptism as mentioned above and how powerful and miraculous of an event it is.  I must confess, though, that not knowing the child being baptized or his/her family sometimes makes it incredibly difficult to appreciate the significance of what I am witnessing. 

Today I had to unspeakable pleasure to witness and sponsor the baptism of my goddaughter, Hannah.  Hannah is just a few weeks old and is the second child of my very good friends.  I remember when they told us the they were expecting and how excited my wife and I were when they asked us to be godparents.  I joked that I was going to slick my hair back during the service and wear a suit like Al Pacino.  When we stepped up to the font today to speak for her, an indescribable feeling fell over me.  It is certainly true that God is present all around us all the time, but there are few circumstances in which one can say "I could really feel the presence of God."  Today as Hannah had the water poured on her was one of those times.  I could almost see in my mind's eye God holding her in his arms like a father does his new born child, smiling down at here with sincere and heartfelt eyes.

The feeling that this gave me was twofold: first it made me ashamed that I had taken the baptisms of so many children for granted as I watched from 15 rows back.  It took seeing the miracle up close and personal that made me realize how amazing of an event each one of them were.  Second, it filled me with joy that cannot possibly described in any sentence, in any story, or in any phrase.  To look down on a little baby and know that she is saved is one of the best feelings a person can ever have. 

What all of these things made me think of is something I do not think of often enough: my own baptism.  While none of us who were baptized as infants can remember the day or the events surrounding our baptisms, we can always remember the result of the baptism and that is that we are saved by the washing of our sins away in Jesus' blood.  Whenever I witness baptisms, from this time forth, I will always remember how magnificent of an event it is and how blessed I am to have been washed with the same spirit as the person being baptized.  Finally the phrase "Remember your baptism" has a more profound, serious meaning to me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Return to Sherlock Holmes

Let me make one thing clear before I begin: I find the new Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downy Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Dr. Watson) to be utterly entertaining and well made.  There are weak points as there are in a vast majority of films, but these do not deter my fondness for the movies.  That being said, I shall now unload some new thoughts and criticisms:

A word of advice: if you go see a movie and enjoy it and later find out it was first a book, don't read the book.  Usually I am a proponent of reading, especially in reading of quality literature, and specifically in the reading of books that the literary world labels as "classic."  I, of course, knew of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but I had not read them.  In fact, I waited until after I had seen the two new movies based off of his characters and after I received a Kindle on which I could download the books for free to begin reading them.  In doing so I have only reaffirmed my stance on reading a book after one has seen the movie: it is simply a terrible idea.

Let me clarify: reading the Sherlock Holmes adventures have not in any way made me less of a fan of the new movies.  In the same way, the movies do not (at least in my mind) hinder my ability to enjoy the literary stories.  In truth, I find them both enjoyable; which is something I can say about VERY few movies based off of books that I have read.  This is perhaps helped by the fact that the movies, to my knowledge, are not based of particular stories written by the original author but rather on his characters and their characteristics.  Some people, known as Sherlock Holmes purists, find this rather distasteful and either will not see the movies or see them and hate them because they do not follow the characterizations as they are presented in the stories.

It is this that I want to make note of and share with my small, limited audience.  I can certainly understand where these so-called purists are coming from.  As I read the stories, I find myself criticizing some decisions made by the movie makers and comparing the characters in the movie with those in the book.  The major criticism I have is not as much aimed at movie makers, but instead upon the culture that watches movies and dictates what kind of story is to be filmed (I myself am among the indicted): Only in a culture that lacks a high aptitude for critical thought and high intelligence can the transformation of a rather simple yet eccentric genius detective into a eccentric genius action hero detective.  Some of the most entertaining scenes in the new movies are the ones where the action slows as Sherlock Holmes anticipates and plans his sequence of punches and other fighting moves right before they film it in real time and the audience is left in amazement how he was able to predict exactly what would happen.  As far as I have read in the book, however, no such scenes take place nor have they come close to the level that they appear in the movies.  The closest an altercation comes to in the stories thus far is when Holmes knocks a criminal's pistol out of his hand with a riding crop.  In books, Holmes is much more of an intellectual detective that relies solely on his wits than on his wits and brawn as he is portrayed in the movies.

My next point is not so much a criticism as it is an observation.  For those of you who have not read Sherlock Holmes, you may not be aware that it is written from the perspective of Dr. Watson.  When you begin to read through the stories, you find that Watson has nothing but praise for Holmes and is anxious to accompany him on his cases and never stops lauding him for his genius wit.  In the movies, Watson is portrayed as a man with a strong desire to leave the world of Sherlock Holmes behind him and is often found cursing him or making jokes at his expense while all the time exhibiting extreme annoyance towards him.  Since the movies are more action-adventure themed than the adventures in the book, the character of Watson needed to change.  A Watson who answers Holmes' every call without question has not place in the new films as their bickering relationship is a major theme in the plot.  What I have found, though, is that both characterizations of Watson are perfect for their intended purpose and I cannot say that I like one better than the other because neither one belongs in the other's stories.

As mentioned at the beginning, I do enjoy the movies a great deal; but if I could do it all over I would have read the books first.  Not because the books are better or worse or that they would have made me enjoy the movie more, but because I would not have felt the need to spend a good 30 minutes of my time writing about it and could have included it in my reviews of the movies when I first saw them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I'm Not Bothered by Jokes Made About Tim Tebow

If Tim Tebow were a Muslim, would secular society be so quick to make jokes and Saturday Night Live skits about him and his faith?  If he were a Buddhist would people make youtube videos of themselves imitating his touchdown celebration?  While this is a question that many sportswriters and Tebow "haters" like to avoid, Christians in America are quick to bring this to the forefront.  Everybody knows that if Tebow believed in any other faith, if he prayed to any other god, anyone who made fun of his religious observations would be blacklisted by the NFL, probably fined by the league, and forced to take some kind of tolerance class as a punishment.  Instead of this, Tebow and his Christian faith fall under the spotlight of ridicule from opponents, analysts, and comedians.  There is a large number of Christians who are offended by the attacks on Tebow's faith, and it is certainly true that they have a valid excuse to feel the way that they do.  However, as a Christian myself, I have found more and more that while I am at first angered by jeers and criticism of my faith, I find an inner peace once I have had to time to allow myself to cool off.  It is a peace I get from the God both Tebow and I believe in.

I am not saying that Christians should not be angry by the insults they have to endure, and I am certainly not saying that it is acceptable to mock people of any faith.  However, Christianity is a very unique religion in that it has many teachings that are not found in other religions (by this, I mean that there are some teachings that can be found in a great number of religions; for example, doing good to others is a command found not only in Christianity, but in dozens of other religions as well).  One of these teachings unique to Christianity is that we [Christians] were told by our Savior, Jesus, that we will be persecuted: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:26).  The message Jesus gives here means that we are going to be persecuted and that we need to be aware at all times while maintaining our innocence that is ours' in Christ.

In another passage, Jesus says, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed by teaching, they will obey yours' also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for the do not know the One who sent me... In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world." (John 15:21, John 16:33). I like to imagine that these are passages the Tebow reads or recites to himself every day, as do other Christians who face even worse persecution in countries where being a Christian is illegal.  In any circumstance where there are Christians facing prosecution of any kind, they can be comforted with the fact that they are suffering because of Christ and that they will be rewarded for their plight when they are taken to be with God in heaven.

So you see, there is no real need to be bothered by the criticism thrown at Tebow and Christianity.  Yes, the people who heap the taunts and jeers high are wrong and certainly should be stopped if at all possible (making taunting of a religious belief in the NFL would be a good start); and of course Christians have every right to be hurt and annoyed by the ignorance and indifference society shows towards our religion.  However, once we let our human emotions pass our faith in our good and gracious God brings us a peace that passes understanding.  Because of our faith, we know that any hardships we go through because of Christ will bring us more happiness and joy in heaven.  Let all Christians, like Tebow, persevere through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

This past Friday my wife and I went to go see the new Sherlock Holmes movie staring Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law, both returning to their previous roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson respectively.  Jared Harris co-starred as the villain in this film, and faced the not-so-desired task of having to follow up a brilliant villainous performance by classic bad guy Mark Strong in the first movie; a task Harris fulfilled to the utmost delight of the viewer.

I have to admit that my expectations were quite high going into the movie.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first movie and the previews for this one created the impression that it was going to be even better.  My biggest disappointment with the first movie was the character played by Rachel McAdams, (spoiler to follow here) who they killed off early in this new movie, much to my delight (Do not get me wrong; Rachel McAdams is a great actress, but this role for whatever reason was terrible and I cannot figure out if it is because of poor writing or poor acting; in any case, the writers did themselves a figure by getting rid of her).  The first two-thirds of the movie were as action-packed as one could have wished for a movie like this to be.  I was on the edge of my seat during the numerous fighting scenes and was very much impressed by the camera work and effects during them.  Admittedly, the last third of the movie became less exciting and many viewers will no doubt find it disappointingly dull.  I, however, enjoyed the psychological and intellectual, albeit figurative, game of chess that came to a breaking point between Holmes and Moriarty (Harris) in the final scenes.

Unlike the previous Sherlock Holmes film, I did not feel that there were any weak acting performances.  Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law exceeded all expectations and were surprisingly better in this film than the last (surprising not because I doubted their ability as actors, but because I felt they were so brilliant before).  As mentioned earlier, Jared Harris played an incredible villain as Professor James Moriarty, a highly respected Mathematics professor and whose genius rivals that of Sherlock Holmes.  The tension between the two characters was portrayed perfectly on screen and one could see the determination and desire to defeat the other in both of their faces.  Stephen Fry (known to many as Deitrich in V for Vendetta) was also incredibly solid in his role as Mycroft Holmes, the politician brother of Sherlock Holmes.

Overall, the movie was excellent.  As I said, the last third of the movie was a bit slow and will be a turn off to some viewers.  However, I feel that these scenes serve the purpose of reminding the viewer that Sherlock Holmes is not an action hero, but rather an intellectual (albeit unusual) sleuth whose greatest weapon is his mind.  Without giving away the ending, I will say they left it open for a third film, an endeavor I hope they undertake sooner rather than later.  Sherlock Holmes is one of the most prominent literary figures, even among people that have not read the stories, and seeing new stories portrayed on the big screen is certainly a thrill to any aficionado of classical literature.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lessons From a Younger Brother

In most brotherly relationships, the older brother is the role model and sets the standard for the younger brother.  This is especially true when the boys are young, but as the age the roles can reverse sometimes.  I experienced this situation myself today, and not only did my brother's actions cause me to admire him, but they also made me ashamed of myself.  He certainly did not intend to make me feel bad, nor does he even know that his actions had this affect on me.  He caused me to reevaluate my motives and attitude just by being himself.

Before I get into what exactly it was that he did, I must introduce a number of important factors.  First, this is a very special Christmas for me this year.  While all Christmases are special in their own ways, this year's celebrations mark some very big firsts in my life: it is the first Christmas my wife and I are spending together as a married couple and it is our first Christmas with her birth mom and family.  Both of these firsts have been on our minds continuously as we prepare for December 25.  Second, this is my first Christmas as a college graduate and professional teacher.  Unlike previous Christmases that saw me going to my parents' house for a couple of weeks, I am now on my own (with my wife, of course) and do not have to go "home" for the holidays.  Third, preparing for this Christmas time has been increasingly stressful for myself and my wife.  We have been focused on getting gifts for everyone in our families and not breaking the bank.  Our attitudes have been one of finding the cheapest gift possible while still being tasteful.  We have found ourselves (or at least I have found myself) watching our back account like a hawk to make sure we have enough funds to pay bills and figuring out where we can cut corners.  All of this, I am sure, is typical for couples who have just been married and are still getting used to life in the real world; but it has made us (or at least me; I should not speak for my wife) lose focus of the true meaning of Christmas and what being the Christmas spirit is supposed to be like.

That all leads me up to today.  Earlier this week, my brother had interviewed for a job and was informed last night that he would not be hired.  He has been on the job hunt for months now with no luck.  The money he received from high school graduation has been used up, although not wasted as he was very smart with his spending.  Also, earlier this week our grandma sent each person in my family $50, including my wife which means we were able to add $100 to our bank account.  As grateful as we are for my grandma's gracious generosity, I do believe we were not as thankful as we should have been; our focus was still on the stress present in our lives.  Today I took my brother out to lunch in an effort to cheer him up from his recent disappointment in missing out on a job opportunity, and afterwards took him Christmas shopping.  In years past, he had gotten money from our parents with which to buy gifts and I had assumed that it would be the same case this year; not because he asks for it or is overly dependent, but because he likes the feeling of getting things for others.  When we returned to our parents' house, my mom pulled me aside and asked, "Did he spend a lot of money?"  I said "No" because he really had not spent too much; to which she responded, "That's good.  You know he's using the $50 grandma gave him to buy presents for everyone."

Words cannot begin to describe how small I felt as that moment.  Here I was, thinking that I was doing my older brotherly duties by taking my brother out to take his mind off of his letdown and he is thinking of my family, me, and my wife and how he can use the $50 to get us all something for Christmas.  I immediately felt great pride in him that he was so selfless and thoughtful; I also felt great shame that I had not gotten into the same spirit as he was, the right spirit to be in.  It really made me think of the poor widow in the temple who gave her two mites in the offering, everything she had, and Jesus said that she had given more than the rich pharisees who gave large amounts.

So now, as I reevaluate my Christmas mood, I am going to try to be like my little brother, who is sacrificing almost every dollar he has so that the people he loves can have a present from him.  Even though things have not gone his way lately, he has not let that break his spirit or get in the way of how he feels and thinks about others first.  In the past I was the one showing him how to act; this year he is the one teaching me the lesson.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Continuous Celebration

Christmas: a time for celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.  Understandably, we make a very big to do about this time of year.  After all, the coming of God in human form to live and die for us is the most monumental event in the history of the world.  It is this thought that started me thinking about which holiday is greater: Christmas or Easter?  What is more important, the coming of God to die and rise again or his actual dying and resurrection? 

If one were to analyze how our current culture celebrates each of these holidays, the impression would be given that Christmas is by far and away the most important of the two.  Sadly, Christmas has become more and more of a secular celebration than a religious observance.  Easter also has become more secular as the years have gone by, but is nowhere near the blockbuster commercial season that Christmas is to American consumers.  Instead, Easter has become associated with Spring Breaks and vacations to get away from the redundancy of everyday life.  It can, therefore, be concluded that in order to answer the question of which of these events is more important we must look at it from a purely religious point of view and not through the eyes of modern society.

That being said, let us look at how Christians observe each of these events.  Both Christmas and Easter have Church seasons leading up to them: Advent coming before Christmas and Lent coming before Easter.  In these seasons, Christians are preparing themselves for the celebration.  This preparation is not one of monetary or physical means, but rather one of a spiritual nature.  Before Christmas, Christians spend six weeks reflecting both on the first coming of Jesus the Christ and also look forward to his second coming at the end of times.  In a word, they prepare for Jesus's second coming just as the Jews of the Old Testament were to prepare for His first.  Before Easter, Christians spend six weeks reflecting on their sinful condition, a practice that will help them to appreciate God's sacrifice all the more.  It is so easy to take Jesus for granted because He is ever willing to forgive the repentant heart; this attitude is wrong in and of itself, and Lent's purpose is to help us break that bad habit and realize the magnitude of our sins and the consequence we deserve, but will not receive through our faith in Christ's sacrifice.

Observe the, if you will, the importance both of these events have in the lives of Christians.  Both are of such great preponderance to Christians that they will spend weeks spiritually preparing for them.  Notice also that the time frame of preparation is the same: six weeks for each.  From this we can conclude that the answer to our question of which is more important cannot be answered by looking at the seasons leading up to each event because they are extremely identical.  We must, then, look in a different place.

However, what if that is our answer?  What if neither Christmas nor Easter are more important than the other?  This idea, while not unfamiliar to some Christians, may seem like a new idea to some (and certainly to those outside of the Church who see only secular differences between the two).  Ponder this, if you will: Without Easter, Christmas would have no meaning.  This is a true statement, is it not?  Without Jesus fulfilling the purpose for which he had been sent, Christmas would be worthless.  Christmas is the celebration of the Messiah coming to save humanity from its sins.  What would there be to celebrate if He had not done what He came to do?  In the same way, it can said: Without Christmas, Easter would have no meaning.  This is also a true statement.  How could there be a celebration of the Messiah's saving work if the Messiah had never come?  It is for this reason that the followers of Judaism do not recognize Easter in the religious sense.  There is nothing to celebrate because they believe nothing has yet happened (For that matter, it is the same reason they do not celebrate Christmas in the religious sense; they do not believe the Messiah has come so why celebrate his coming?).

What we can conclude from this is that Christmas and Easter are not only equally important, but are also major events that should be part of a singular celebration.  Since neither could exist or have any real significance without the other, shouldn't both be held in equal esteem?  The fact of the matter is that this is how it should be, and that the religious preparation that occurs before each of these events should be part of a Christian's everyday life; not just something that happens in one Church season throughout the year.  There is a song that states, "If you have love in your heart and your mind, it will feel like Christmas all the time."  A more accurate lyric would be: "If you have Christ in your heart and your mind, it will feel like Christmas and Easter all the time."

Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if people did not reserve their religious thoughts and observances for only once or twice a year?  The simple truth is that Christmas and Easter are both part of the ongoing celebration that should be a continuous part of every person's life.  Everyone is quick to proclaim how much they love Christmas or Easter because of the feelings those times of year bring with them.  What they fail to realize is that Christmas and Easter are really one continuous celebration that can last their entire lives if they truly desired it to.  Christ creates that desire, making him the reason for all seasons, not just this one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Letter to Public Teachers and Schools

Dear Public Teachers, Schools, and Families:

For nearly a year you and I have not been friends.  I voted for Scott Walker and support his budget fixes while you will hear none of my reasons for doing so.  Instead you choose to focus solely on yourselves and how you personally are affected by these new laws.  Since I cannot express these thoughts without you rudely interrupting me or shouting over me, I have chosen a route of expression that you can choose to listen to or quit reading at your convenience without either of us becoming irrational.  From this point on, if you do not agree with me or do not like what I write, stop reading.  I am going to try to be as calm and civilized as is humanly possible, but I cannot make any promises.

First qualm I have with your protests and complaints: your unwillingness to pay small portions towards your health care and retirement plans.  You and I both know that before these budget fixes, your health care and retirement were paid for by the tax payers of this state, whether they could afford their own plans themselves.  Now you are asked to pay 5% of your retirement and 12% of your health care (or the other way around; I have lost track of it in my constant contemplation of your ridiculous logic).  Do you not realize that those numbers are still BETTER than anyone else is paying?   Don't you understand that while you are paying the basic bare minimum of both of those plans, you are saving the rest of us millions of dollars?  You still have it better than anyone else!  I myself pay 20% of my health insurance and 100% of my retirement fund; and I am lucky to only have to pay that much of my health!  Most Americans do not have the luxury, and all you care about is the access money you are losing out on.  Money that has turned our state's debt into a surplus. 

One commercial you and your schools continue to run states that these changes never would have had to have been made if everyone would have just paid their fair share.  The question I have in response is this: "What were you paying before?"  You were taking and taking and taking more and more of my tax dollars and were still demanding more benefits and more money!  From your perspective, everyone should pay their fair share except you.  I don't know about you, but when I was young my parents taught me that things do not always work out that way and that I had to contribute like everyone else.  If your parents neglected to teach that lesson, then your schools should have.  And if they did not, then I am sorry for you.  I am sorry that you have lived so long in the real world without actually being part of it.  I understand that your ignorance has made this transition difficult.  Please understand, though, that now you are the ones paying your fair share.  The rest of us have been doing so for a long, long time.

To schools and parents, please cease insulting my intelligence by claiming that Scott Walker is responsible for your schools being overcrowded and your teachers losing their jobs.  Every informed and logical Wisconsin citizen knows that all school districts that accepted Walker's budget fixes saved money and jobs.  Those who did not accept the fixes had to make cuts and teachers were fired.  If your schools are overcrowded and the class sizes are too big, the only ones you have to blame are yourselves.  In addition, parents, you of all people should be outraged if your school did not accept the fixes.  More and more districts that did apply Walker's plan have announced a decrease in property taxes while maintaining the same faculty as they had before.  By going on television and speaking out against Walker, you are implying that you want to pay more taxes and do not care about those of us who may not be able to afford it.  By labeling Walker and Republicans as greedy and ignorant, you are actually identifying yourself as those things.

Wisconsin is a great state with a great many opportunities to offer people and businesses.  Walker's plan, while forcing schools and teachers to actually pay THEIR fair share, have made Wisconsin a destination for businesses searching for a venue in which they can make a profit.  The profit these businesses will make is not only going benefit them, but our own economy.  In a time where the federal economy is in recession, having a thriving state economy is that much more important.  If you can open your eyes and look past your greedy, self-centered interests then you will be able to see that.  I do not blame you for being upset; I would be to if my gravy train was suddenly taken away.  But let's also be realistic; in a time where everyone is hurting, no one can be exempt from paying their dues.  I realize this sounds socialist, but isn't that the kind of ideology you people love?  And when you think about it, this isn't really that socialist of an idea (maybe that's why you hate it); rather, it is a logical idea, one that has the best interests of everyone in mind.  You see, it is possible to provide for the common good by using capitalist methods.  It just takes some sacrifice from everyone.  We have all been making the sacrifice for many years.  It is your turn to help us out too.

Sincerely,

A 7th Grade Teacher

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Criticism of Tim Tebow

No, this is not a post that is dedicated to criticizing Tim Tebow; rather it is a post that is dedicated to the criticism of Tim Tebow.  Tim Tebow: Heisman Trophy winner, National Championship winner (twice), NFL quarterback (7-1 as a starter this season), and outspoken Christian.  All of these descriptions of the Denver Bronco's quarterback have earned him many headlines throughout his football career (including college); however, it is the final description in the list that makes him the target of bad publicity.  The simple fact of the matter is that our society does not want Christians to succeed, and if they do then they better not talk about their faith.  It (Christianity) is politically incorrect and overwhelmingly strict.  In the same way, Christians are close minded and incredibly ignorant.  Seeing a Christian who is proud of their faith succeed the way Tebow does is just as detestable as watching a pedophile walk away, without remorse, from a trial in which he was acquitted by a technicality.  It just makes your stomach turn.

Here are five irrevocable, non-arguable facts: Tim Tebow is a Christian; Tim Tebow does not have the best quarterback mechanics; Tim Tebow has six come from behind victories this year and is 7-1 as a starter in the 2011 season; Tim Tebow gives thanks to God for all of his victories; and, finally, Tim Tebow is trashed in the media for being too vocal about his faith and for not being a good quarterback.

Now here is a subtle, controversial fact that almost every sportswriter who trashes Tebow will never admit to: The reason they hate Tebow so much is because he is not the typical alpha-male athlete.  He does not think of himself first and does not attribute his success to his own hard work.  Instead he attributes all his blessings to his God and publicly thanks Him for his continuous goodness.  Why is this so annoying?  Because he is not supposed to win!  It is true, his quarterback skills are far below average; ever since he was in college experts have said that if he wanted to win in the NFL he would need to alter his mechanics.  His delivery is too slow and his accuracy (or lack there of) makes Aaron Rodgers look like football's version of  Robin Hood.  Despite of all this, though, he keeps on winning!  He won two national titles in college, a Heisman trophy, and is well on his way to leading the Denver Broncos to the playoffs. 

While in college, Tebow was known to accompany his dad on mission trips to the Philippines during his spring break while other people his age either went home or on binge drinking party vacations with their friends.  While some players wrote stats in their eye black before games, Tebow wrote Bible passages (a practice that prompted the NCAA to create a rule banning the writing of anything in players' eye black).  In his final year of college, Tebow created a huge buzz by appearing in a pro-life commercial during the Super Bowl, thanking his mom for choosing not to abort him even though her doctor's advised her to do so.  All these things made news, but until the Super Bowl commercial had ever garnered him any substantial negative publicity.  College football, after all, is a world apart from professional football; quarterbacks like him are made to fail on the big stage and all of this Jesus stuff was supposed to go away.

For a while, it looked like the critics were right.  Even though Denver took him the first round (a move they were highly criticized for), he was the second string quarterback at best.  When he did get the chance to play, he showed the exact inability to play like a typical NFL quarterback that all the experts predicted.  Up until this season, the Jesus Freak was just a man on the sidelines.  But then John Fox became the head coach; replacing the pass-happy Josh McDaniels, Fox decided to try an obscure offensive strategy using Tim Tebow as the quarterback.  All of sudden, after a 1-4 start, the Denver Broncos are on their way to the playoffs thanks to the late-game dramatics of Tim Tebow.

If it were any other man or if Tebow was a believer in any other religion, this would not be big news.  In any case, it certainly would not be the kind of big news it is today, the kind that makes football writers and fans claim they want to hurl and scream whenever Tebow pulls off another victory.  Remember the last quarterback who was more of a runner than a passer?  His name was Michael Vick and until he ruined the first part of his career by hosting dog fights, he was praised as the quarterback who would revolutionize the position.  Before him were Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair, two quarterbacks who were more dangerous running over defensive backs than throwing to the wide receivers those backs were covering.  None of these men were outspoken Christians; but even though they lacked the traditional quarterbacking skills, they were praised.  Tebow, while admittedly his skills are even less than the three men mentioned above, is having a spectacular year; not with personal stats, but with wins.  The last time I checked, being an NFL player was about winning, not racking up the stats.

This is not the ramblings of a Christian writer demanding that everyone layoff Tim Tebow.  I know, and Tebow knows this too, that all Christians are going to be criticized and persecuted because of their faith.  The One we have faith in told us that Himself.  Instead, this is a challenge: if you do not like Tim Tebow, that is fine; but do not let the media blind you.  Tebow is far from being the best quarterback in the league and may not be the best quarterback on his own team; but he wins, and that is what he is paid to do.  People who do not like the Bronco may not like him for that reason, but not liking him for any other reason, to me, seems ridiculous.  The secular media has created a stigma surrounding him that makes people hate him.  I asked someone why they hated Tebow, and they said: "His mechanics are awful and he keeps on winning."  Since when is this a reason to not like a player?  There are numerous examples throughout sports of athletes with unusual techniques that achieve success.  I don't think it's time for Tebow's critics to rethink their criticism of his skills, but I do think it's time that they rethink why it is even that big of a deal.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Need To Be Right

I am going to try to present this idea without expressing too much bias or opinion.  I tell you this right away because it is going to be very hard for me to avoid going on tangents that have nothing to do with what I am trying to say.  That being said, let me get into this observation: our society is intolerant.  While we can point to any political group or any individual and say they are intolerant of a specific religion, race, sexual orientation, or any other belief system, I believe it goes much deeper than that.  Our society is intolerant of being told that it is wrong.  Every person without exception has an extraordinary desire to be right, no matter what.

Take for example what is happening in Wisconsin (and these are the facts, not opinions): Governor Scott Walker swiftly took away collective bargaining rights for public teachers, an action that created many angry school districts, parents, and, most of all, teachers; the school districts that went along with Walker's plan saved millions of dollars and laid off very few, if any, teachers; school districts that did not go along with the cuts fired more teachers and are still in financial trouble; the budget cuts have helped Wisconsin go from a $3 billion deficit to a surplus.  Again, these are facts; no one can refute that these things are true.  On the other hand, though, Walker's tactics have been depicted as bully-ish and irresponsible.  There is now a movement to recall him from office and restore a democrat to the governor's office so that public workers can get their benefits back.  Both sides believe they are right and are willing to do anything to defend their belief, including berating, harassing, and verbally assaulting each other.  This is not something that only one side is guilty of; both sides partake in senseless arguments that do nothing but ostracize the other side.  In America we believe and have fought for the freedom of speech; but when someone states an opinion or belief about the situation in Wisconsin, it does nothing but spark a fight because no one respects that opinion.

Do not get me wrong; along with the freedom of speech we also have the freedom to disagree.  However, this freedom to disagree does not mean that one has the freedom to be rude and distasteful.  This attitude to being told you are wrong or finding opposition to your belief, in my opinion, comes from our society's current treatment towards young children when they make mistakes in school.  When I studied Eduction in college, I read many articles and studies that claimed that it is detrimental to tell children they are wrong; that we need to make them feel positive all the time.  While I agree that it is important to build children up, current behavior by young people in today's culture show that this idea is not working.  We may have made students feel more positive, but we have taken away their ability to handle and deal with rejection and opposition.  Instead of teaching them that everyone makes mistakes and that they can use them as learning experiences, we have babied them and made them overly sensitive.  Instead of teaching them that there will be people that will disagree with them and how to respectfully debate or discuss issues, we have left them lacking in these skills and they revert to immature bickering and tasteless insults.

How can this be fixed?  It needs to be fixed first and foremost in how we treat young children.  It is imperative that children know that they will not always have their way and not everyone is going to agree with them.  To reiterate, this is something that people on both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of to one degree or another.  If someone is told that they are wrong, they must be respectful even if the person who told them they are wrong is not.  It is time that everyone takes the higher road.  It's time to be civil.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: J. Edgar

Last night I went to see the movie J.Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood.  I figured a movie that combined one of my favorite actors and directors was definitely worth seeing; I certainly was not disappointed.  I am very particular about the movies I go to see, especially movies that are supposed to depict historic events or people.  J. Edgar, because of the controversial and secretive life of the infamous FBI director, had the potential to really flop in terms of accuracy.  However, from what I could tell it did not.  The majority of the events and people portrayed in the movie were as accurate as they could possibly be (those that are up to question have to do with the secret, personal life of J. Edgar Hoover and would be difficult to corroborate).  Perhaps the most noticeable accuracy in the film were the use of accents by DiCaprio (who played Hoover) and the men who played the various presidents (Hoover served during the administrations of 8 U.S. Presidents).  In addition, as Hoover aged his voice also aged; this is also true of Armie Hammer, who played J. Edgar's best friend (and lover) Clyde Tolson.  Both actors were also made up perfectly in the scenes in which they played old men.  From what I have seen from movies thus far this year, the make up jobs done on the actors in this film is most deserving of the oscar.

Another major strength of the movie was the pace.  While it felt slow in some parts, it is only because those moments were meant to be slow and could not have been done any other way.  They also could not have been taken out because they were necessary.  Such scenes include a couple of the conversations J. Edgar has with his mother (played by Judy Dench in another fabulous performance).  These conversations, though, did wonders in helping the audience understand a few personality traits about J. Edgar and why he was the way he was.  If one believes psychology textbooks that claim that an unusually close relationship with his mother will make a boy become a homosexual, then it is apparent that J. Edgar's feelings towards his mother and his lack of a father figure made him into the closeted homosexual that he was.  In one scene after his mother passes, J. Edgar is depicted putting on her necklace and dress and talking to himself as if he were her.  While this scene cannot be proven as true, it was a disturbing but explanatory depiction of a man tortured with self doubt who had just lost his main source of encouragement and identity.  According to the movie, no matter he did, J. Edgar's mother while not knowing exactly what he knew or was doing was driving him to succeed.

The cast as a whole was incredibly solid.  DiCaprio was brilliant as J. Edgar Hoover and displayed the accent/voice talent that has allowed him to play such a wide variety of roles in recent years.  In my opinion, he is the best actor in Hollywood when it comes to taking on a different accent for a role.  Armie Hammer, the actor who played Clyde Tolson (and known more recently for his part in The Social Network), should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  His performance was incredible; his interactions with DiCaprio, especially in the more serious and tense scenes, were masterfully done.  He also aged his voice well in the scenes in which Hoover and Tolson were portrayed as old men.  In addition his body movements after his character suffered a stroke were spot on.  As mentioned earlier, Judy Dench came out with yet another brilliant acting job as she played Hoover's mother.  Not to be overlooked is Naomi Watts, who played Hoover's secretary and long time friend Helen Gandy.  While her character was sometimes overshadowed by the focus on Hoover and Tolson's homosexual relationship, she made the most of the camera time her character had and did quite a marvelous job.

Director Clint Eastwood has won two Best Director awards in the past, and this movie could make it three.  After the movie ended, my friend and I observed that many of Eastwood's movies of late have generally been about older men who struggle with an identity problem (Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino for example).  In addition, I have noticed that as time goes on, the more serious his movies become.  All of his most recent movies depict people who are going through some sort of adversity and the movie teaches the audience some kind of moral lesson.  This movie is no different.  While it is not blatantly obvious, a definite lesson that can be drawn from this movie is that we should not judge people or form a premature opinion about them because we have no idea what they might be experiencing in their personal lives.  As we left the theater, I overheard one gentleman say "Still doesn't change my opinion of him."  It is certainly his right to feel however he does about J. Edgar Hoover, but now at least he can feel that way with having seen some of the things Hoover dealt with in his personal life.  There's an old saying that you should not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.  In J. Edgar, Eastwood allows us to spend over two hours in the shoes of one of the most legendary and mysterious figures in American history and by doing so allows us to understand him better than we could have before.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dear Male Figures

Dear Male Figures,

It is unfortunate that you, who play arguably the biggest role in young children's lives, are falling short of the role everyone else expects of you.  Now I know that many of you are trying, or at least claim to be, but let's face it: when it comes to male figures having a positive influence on the lives of the children around them, more and more of you seem to be dropping the ball.  Some of you are just gone, and perhaps that is not fault of your own; perhaps you have been called off to war or have a job that requires you to be gone a lot.  That is understandable, but do not forget the other people in your life.  You may be putting a lot of food on your children's plates, but I am sure many of them would sacrifice an extra helping of broccoli for some time with their dad.  I don't know if you have noticed, but children today are hurting and lost; recently their have been many major news stories that have brought to light the failure of certain men to be positive influences on children, and instead became tormentors of children.  I do not mean to clump all male role models in with these detestable slugs, but I think there are a few reminders (however obvious they may be) that sadly need to be heard by many adult males on how to be a good role model:

To fathers:

Remember when you were in middle school?  Remember all the activities you did, like sports or drama or newspaper?  Remember how excited that stuff made you?  You were probably so thrilled to be a part of a team, cast, or writing staff that you couldn't wait to tell your parents when you got home, most notably your dad.  If you did not have a dad, remember how much you wish you did or that he was around or that we would actually care?  Well now it is your turn!  If you remember how rewarding it was to receive acclamation from your dad for all the things you did, it is your turn to give that same joyful feeling to your children; if you did not have a dad, or if he did not care, then it is your turn to make sure that your kids do not have to suffer that disappointment like you did.  Think about how depressed it made you when your dad did not seem to care; your kids will feel the same way if you do not get excited about them.  You are their cheerleader; you are the one they want to impress the most!  If you are not there to encourage them, they will look for it elsewhere; and that alternative is usually not a healthy one for them or your family.  Step up and be a dad.

To coaches...

Sometimes dads fail.  Sometimes kids do not have any positive male role model in their lives except you.  That is a huge responsibility!  If you don't want the burden of possibly stepping in as the main encourager or counselor for kids, then don't coach.  It's not about sports, it's about kids.  If you are coaching for your own selfish love of sports, find a different outlet.  Do not poison these kids with false accolades and motives; they think you are there because you like sports and you like them.  If it's all about you, reevaluate what you are doing.  Furthermore, and it is a shame this has to be said, DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH THE KIDS!  I mentioned earlier that some of these reminders would be obvious and this one is probably the most glaringly obvious.  It saddens me that this even needs to be said, but recent events that have been made public make it apparent that it needs to be.  It only takes a moment for a child's life to be ruined and your actions affect more people than just yourself and that child.  Men who molest children are the lowest of low and deserve a long and drawn out prison sentence (and that is even too good for them; I'm sure the parents of their victims have other ideas, ideas I would not necessarily object to).  You are a role model; not a parent, not a friend, and certainly not a sex partner!  Step up and be a coach.

To teachers...

Like coaches, you sometimes are the only positive male role model in a child's life.  Also like coaches, if you feel that is too much responsibility, find another line of work.  We who teach do it because we love it, and we love it because we love children.  There are some circumstances where you spend more time with a child in a day than their parents do.  That means that you have an extraordinary task to help mold these children into upstanding citizens.  You cannot do that if you show students that you do not care.  Some children do not have structure homes, so your classroom is the only place they find the structure they so desperately desire (even if they do not admit it).  You have been given a tremendous opportunity to change and influence the lives of children.  Therefore, and again it is a shame this has to be said, DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH YOUR STUDENTS!  Like I said before, you sometimes spend more time in a day with a child than their parents do.  Students who are molested at school therefore spend the majority of their days in a living hell.  You are a teacher, you are their to teach.  Students will sometimes trust you with their most significant problems; do not take that for granted.  Step up and be a teacher.

Dear pastors/priests...

To you falls perhaps the most important part of a child's young life: developing faith in God.  It is true that this is a responsibility that can and should be shared with teachers, but when a child has a serious question about faith, they will seek you out.  Pastors are God's representative to the churches they serve, which means that children are going to look up to you with a certain reverence.  Not that they think you are God Himself, but that you are more pure and more good than the evil in their lives.  They want someone like that in their lives, they need someone like that.  It is for this reason that you need to make time for the children in your church.  It is a great responsibility being a pastor, everyone wants a piece of your time; but that is the sacrifice you made when you took your vows.  The Bible says, and this applies to teachers too, "We who teach will be judged more harshly."  Pastors, you have accepted a call, a call that sets you apart from everyone else.  Not to say that you are better, but that you have consented to being held at a higher standard.  The eyes of the world are watching, just waiting for you to slip so that they can pounce on you and the entirety of God's church.  Therefore, and it is saddest that this has to be said to some of you, DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH CHILDREN!  Just yesterday a major figure in the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church was arrested for possessing and distributing child pornography.  It is not just Catholic priests, it is everywhere.  God is always watching, you who are ministers should know that better than anyone else.  If you truly believe what you preach, your personal life and actions MUST reflect it.  That is the call God extends to you and all believers, but because you are a leader you are held to an even higher standard.  Step up and be a pastor.

To all men...

Everything I have said to each of the groups above applies to you as well.  The Bible says that the male is to be head of the household and provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the family.  If that is too much responsibility, tough.  If you do not want to be an active participant in your child's life, then you have failed as a father and as a man.  Today's culture judges manhood on strength and stature and monetary accomplishments.  It should judge manhood on fatherhood, or on how positively a man influences the people around them.  Strength, stature, and wealth will all fade away, but the lessons men can teach kids and the lasting affect their words and actions have on children can spread through generations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NL Manager of the Year

Kirk Gibson was named Manager of the Year in the National League for the 2011 season today.  He certainly can make a case for winning the award.  He took an underachieving Arizona Diamondbacks team that was below .500 in 2010 and won 94 games and the National League West division with them.  In addition, Gibson is one of the most iconic players to have ever played baseball, his Game 1 winning home run in the 9th inning of the 1988 World Series while standing on two bad legs is one of the most famous hits in history.  A great player, a good man, and a great coach.  When one thinks of the ideal manager to win an award such as this, a coach with Gibson's credentials certainly comes to mind.

It is, however, my opinion that he should not have been the man with this award at the end of the day.  I am not saying that he doesn't deserve it and I am not trying to diminish the Diamondback's achievements this year.  What it comes down to, for me at least, is history.  The Diamondbacks most recent World Series Championship was in 2001, 10 years ago.  Two years before that in 1999, they won 100 games.  The year after their title they won 98 games.  In the seasons between 2003-2010, the Diamondbacks only finished above .500 three times, most recently in 2008 when they went 82-80.  The recent struggles in the decade make a case that the more immediate history of the franchise was not as successful as it may have liked, and it certainly needed a manager with the talents of Kirk Gibson to help return the team to its former glory.  Regardless of five losing seasons in ten years, there is another manager with another team with a more dismal history that won a division title this year, and he is the one who deserves this award.

That manager is Ron Roenicke, first-year manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, and that history is one that has not (until very recent memory) seen a season worth being proud of since 1982.  Roenicke's Brewers won 96 games (a franchise record) and won the National League Central division (its first division title since 1982 and first title as a member of the National League; from the franchise's foundation in 1970 until 1998, it had been a member of the American League).  1998, the year the Brewers moved to the National League, was also the year the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball franchise was founded.  In three years, the Diamondbacks were world champions; the Brewers were in the cellar.  From 1993-2004, the Brewers finished each season below .500; that is a streak of 12 years!  In 2005, the team finished 81-81; 2006, back below .500.  It was not until 2007 that the Brewers had a winning record and it was not until 2008 that they broke their 25-year playoff drought.  Unfortunately for Brewers' fans, the very next season, and the season after it, witnessed two more seasons below .500 (let it be noted that the Diamondbacks were also under .500 both those years as well).

Why bring up this history?  Well it seems to me that history is the main factor that won Gibson the award.  Gibson took a team that had losing records for two straight years and won their division, a division that included the defending world champion San Fransisco Giants.  Let's take a look at Roenicke though: his team also had had losing records for two straight years, he too was a first-year manager, and he too won his division.  In addition, his division included the eventual World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.  Gibson and the D-backs won 94 games.  Roenicke and his Brewers won 96.  On top of this, the Brewers were the team that knocked the D-backs out of the 2011 playoffs.  Both men came to teams with young players with a lot of potential, franchises that wanted to win, and division rivals with a much more recent history of winning.

If history is what we are looking at when deciding who wins this award, there should be no doubt in any baseball writer's mind that the Brewers have a far more depressing history than the Diamondbacks.  The Brewers won more games and beat the Diamondbacks in the playoffs; even so, their present statistics are so evenly matched that one would have to look at history in order to decide which manager deserves it more.  Considering the decades of inadequacy that Milwaukee fans have had to endure, I do not see how a team that won a World Series within its first three years and winning records in nearly half of the years of its existence can make a case for having a more challenging history to overcome.  Roenicke had more to overcome, more to prove, and more pressure to succeed (with it being Prince Fielder's last year, it was a "go big or go home" year for the Brewers).  He did what many said he could not do: turned a perennial loser into a winner, and that is deserving of Manager of the Year.

Generations

They hated America, moved far away.
Came back home and decided to stay.
Lived life their way, no care for the cost.
Depressed and alone, the generation was lost.

They loved America, traveled far away.
Some didn't come home, in foreign graves they lay.
Life or death, they knew not their fate.
They sacrificed all, the generation was great.

They lived America, traveled all over the land.
No money, no cares, and dreams in their hand.
Jazz, drugs, and drinks were moving their traveling feet.
Controversial and young, the generation was beat.

They hate America, and all it stands for.
They refuse to leave, they only want more.
Greed and ignorance flow in the their minds.
Ungrateful and sad, my generation is blind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Basketball Culture and the NBA Labor Dispute

Please do not mistake this blog as a fervent desire on my part for the NBA season to finally start.  On the contrary, I am quite delighted that my ESPN homepage is not covered with NBA game news, pictures of players, and other NBA related items that I really could not give much of a care for.  However, the ongoing labor dispute between the millionaire players and billionaire owners is really touching a nerve.  The owners recently offered the players half of the entire league's revenue, money that would go towards their salaries, and they turned it down.  The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry, and half of that money was not enough.  This is not an attack on the players, nor is it a defense of the owners.  This is an indictment: the NBA players and owners are nothing more than greedy parasites who will never have enough money and refuse to work together to overcome their differences.

Earlier this year, many people were [justly] upset over the NFL labor dispute because they felt it was a battle of millionaires (players) versus billionaires (owners).  What many people did not realize is that it is a smaller percentage than one would expect that makes millions playing professional football.  That is not to say that all football players do not make a lot of money; the average salary in the NFL is $1.9 million, a number that is greatly ballooned by the mega-deals signed by superstar players like Albert Haynesworth (who signed a $100 million dollar contract a few years ago).  In actuality, most NFL players make less than $1 million a year.  This is certainly not a bad annual wage; one would have to be incredibly irresponsible not to be able to make a living off of that salary.  However, because NFL players make considerably less than other professional athletes, they garnered more public sympathy.

This fall, though, NBA players find themselves with far less public support than the NFL players received.  The reason being is that instead of the average NBA player making less than $1 million a season, the average player makes more than $5 million a year ($5.15 million according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com).  Of course, NBA players play more games in a year than NFL players, but NFL player careers are considerably shorter than those of NBA players and the chance of serious injury is far greater when playing football.  Not only that, most NFL players will find themselves on the field at one point or another during a game.  If they do not play offense or defense, they most likely will be used on special teams.  There are NBA players collecting millions sitting on a bench, playing MAYBE 10 minutes a season.  These scrubs are living the kind of life every lazy Tom, Dick, or Harry wish they could have.

Alright, so NBA players make more than NFL players; so what?  What's the big deal?  Why don't NFL players demand to be paid like NBA players?  The answer to all of those is simple: the culture of the NBA does not take the value of money seriously; they take the value of having a lot of money seriously, whereas NFL players know they have the potential for a very short career and are more apt to conserve their money (this is also a generalization; there are plenty of NFL players who file for bankruptcy after they retire, but most find work in other areas of business or communications).  If we were to look into the financial records of any NBA player, it is a reasonable hypothesis that we would find quite a bit of heavy spending.  I realize that I am stereotyping, but let me defend my stance with a few observations.

Observation 1: Have you ever stood outside an NFL stadium parking lot and waited for the players to drive in?  I have.  I remember standing outside Lambeau Field and watching the likes of Ahman Green, Donald Drive, and Brett Favre drive into practice.  It is true that some of these players had very very nice cars (nicer than I will ever own), but the majority of them were driving trucks, midsize cars, or SUV's like any other person would drive.  One the other hand, NBA players typically have very nice cars (or several cars for that matter).  When NBA players are shown driving into workouts or games, they are usually seen in high-end convertibles, sports cars, or fancy SUV's.  They, of course, make more money so they can afford these vehicles, but it also goes to show how much more lavish their tastes are.

Observation 2: NBA players, more than any other athlete in any other sport, do not end up with high-paying jobs that will allow them to keep their rich life-styles after they retire.  Again, there are exceptions to the rule: Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan have done very well for themselves in the business world, broadcasting world, or by coaching.  When NFL players retire, most of them have stashed some money away because of their fear of an early career-ending injury.  Some do go into broadcasting or stay in coaching; others invest into small businesses and maintain a steady income in their post-football years.  NBA players, on the other hand, do not always find their way back into the luxurious life-style they once had.  We find some players attempting music careers or investing in some businesses, and that is all well and good.  However, very rarely does one hear of an ex-NBA player thriving in the world post-basketball.  As I said before, there are exceptions; but this is just an observation I have made as a die-hard sports fan.

Observation 3: NBA players do not have the greatest work ethic.  Do not get me wrong, obviously becoming good enough to play professionally took a lot of hard work and determination.  However, like many people, once they achieved their dream, they stopped working as hard.  Again, there are many players who do not stop trying to work hard.  In fact, many players are concerned about being the best player they can be.  Their work, though, does not extend far past the court.  They are nothing more than glorified high school and college athletes who can not do anything of value off the field.  They care nothing for anyone or anything besides themselves, evidenced by their unwillingness to come to a compromise with the owners and start playing for the fans who really pay their salaries.  Some NBA stars have been playing in exhibitions and signed to play overseas during this lockout.  Most have not and we are left to wonder if they are really working out or practicing at all.

I said before that this is not an attack on the players and I have spent a considerable amount of this blog pointing out things they are doing that aggravate me.  All of these observations may admittedly sound like an attack, but they combined with the "thug" demeanor that many players have make it difficult for one to feel sorry for them at all.  I would rather pay to see people play sports that care about their fans and can [in general] give an intelligible interview.

Let us not forget the incredibly greed of the owners.  It is true that they have a lot more to worry about financially than the players.  It is also true that if the players had their way, there would be very few teams and cities that could afford to pay a team every season.  Players do not have to worry about paying anyone except their agents (and alimony payments, child support payments, bail payments, out-or court settlements; again, I realize I am stereotyping, but NBA players have done nothing to show the public differently).  It is, however, also true that fans do not pay to see the owners.  When we go to see games, we want to watch our favorite teams and athletes succeed.  Owners, like all businessmen, need to make a profit; how else will the keep a team?  They, like the players, have extravagant life-styles to uphold, though.  I have never seen an owner in any sport drive up to games or events in their own car; they are always driven via limo.  Nor have I ever seen an NBA owner, besides Mark Cuban, get in touch with the people who pay to see their teams.  To owners, we the fans are nothing more than cash cows to be milked out of every dollar possible.  Even if players were not demanding more money, ticket prices would be marked too high for some to afford in order that owners can pocket more cash themselves.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on the NBA.  It is entirely possibly, and probably likely, that this is the way it is in all sports.  However, as long both owners and players continue to complain in the media how one side is trying to destroy the other, they will also bring criticism such as mine on themselves.  They deserve it.  There are thousands, ten thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of kids/young people that would love to make just a fraction on an NBA player's minimum wage.  In addition, these guys are making a living PLAYING A GAME!!!  Teachers, police officers, garbage men, postal workers, and many other blue collar individuals do more real work in a year than these players will do in their lives and the players will make more in a year than many of these other people will make in a life time.  Is that fair?  No, but it's life.  Those of us who work for a living can deal with these owners and players making money we cannot dream of ever achieving, it's their inability to shut up and do their "jobs" that is irritating.  Players, owners, accept that you are and always will be richer than 95% of the population and get a deal done.  Not because you are missed, but because you are being ridiculous.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pop Culture and Fairy Tales

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  Many of us as children grew up watching Disney Classics such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and many others.  Now that we are grown up, we find ourselves drawn to adult remakes of these stories: television dramas like Once Upon a Time and Grimm and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman.  Like C.S. Lewis (who wrote classic tales himself in the form of the Narnia stories), we find ourselves becoming more open about our love for fantasy.

Many of us have fond memories of gathering with our families on Friday or Saturday nights (when there was no school the next day) for family movie night.  Perhaps some of these times were various family favorites particular to individual families, but it is a valid societal assumption to believe that many of these nights were spent watching Disney fairy tale movies such as the ones listed above.  These movies, which were family friendly and geared towards the developing education of young children, are internationally renown and beloved.  Sometimes young girls may have had slumber parties dedicated to watching all the Disney princess movies and dreaming about one day being carried off on a white horse by their own Prince Charming.  Young boys secretly enjoyed watching these movies (especially the sword fighting scenes and the fights with monsters), but would never admit to watching or liking them in front of their friends.  To do so would have been uncool.

Like our parents before us, we have grown up to realize that life is not a fairy tale.  Very rarely does Prince Charming come to take a damsel in distress away from her life of poverty and trouble.  Sometimes the man labeled as Prince Charming turns out to be more like a troll or Rumpelstiltskin.  As boys grow, they find that impressing girls are far more difficult than it is in the fairy tales of their youth and that they, unlike Prince Charming, do not always get the girl that they desire.  It is for these reasons, perhaps, that pop culture has begun remaking our beloved fairy tales with a young adult audience in mind.

This time around, however, we are not so ashamed to admit that we enjoy watching these shows.  Once Upon A Time is the highest rated drama on Sunday nights, showing the a significant number of Americans are enthralled by the story the show has to tell.  More and more movies are being made that have characters like fairies, wizards, vampires, and other mythical creatures.  The successes of the Twilight Saga and Harry Potter and the adequate cultural reception of the new Narnia movies further prove this present society's fascination with fantasy and fairy tales.

This development has the potential to have a very positive effect on both young adults and young children.  In a world where broken homes and single parenting is prevalent, the more interests parents can share with their children, the better.  What I mean by this is that many children have grown up in homes in which parents refuse to take an interest in what the child likes.  Fairy tales, like sports, provide a small but significant bridge on which both young and old can meet and find common ground.  Of course there needs to be more to create a healthy and lasting relationship between parent and child, but all big, important things start with a seemingly small but sturdy foundation.  While children may not enjoy the "adult" versions of their fairy tales (and they probably should not be even watching them), the shared enjoyment by child and adult can make the family movie nights spent watching Disney fairy tales more possible and enjoyable [for the adult] than before.

On an intellectual level, the incessant rise in popularity of fairy tales provides the opportunity to observe and analyze how our present culture's view and presentation of fantasy compares to the depiction of the same stories in past cultures.  A recent example that comes to mind is the movie Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe; while this Hollywood production did not retell a previous story sang by troubadours and storytellers of the Middle Ages, it did create enough buzz about classic Robin Hood stories that the History Channel was prompted to create a special that compared and contrasted the portrayal of Robin Hood throughout history (a history, by the way, that does include a Disney version of the Robin Hood legend).  While this intellectual reaction to the popularity of fairy tales is far from common (only Literature and English majors in college may even care about it), it is nonetheless another result of the rise of the modern fairy tale.

Like C.S. Lewis, we have discovered that by growing up, we only appreciate childhood more.  And like Lewis, we no longer see fairy tales as stories meant for children, but as portrayals of an alternate reality that provide us with hope of our own happy ending.  By remaking our favorite stories into television dramas geared towards adults, networks have reignited a desire in us to achieve our own goals no matter what obstacles we might encounter.  It has made living happily ever after a plausible and reachable reality.

We are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a teacher.  Once I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to be a history teacher.  Upon graduation from college, I was called to serve at a Lutheran school as a 7th Grade teacher... and the middle school Science teacher.  God sure does have a sense of humor.  There is an old saying that states: "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."  Even though it sometimes seems like God is having fun with our lives, in reality He is pushing us in a direction that is better for us than we could have planned for ourselves. 

Take for instance my teaching of Science: because it is a subject that I am not entirely familiar with, I am learning along with the students (Actually I am learning one step ahead of the students in order that I can prepare my lessons).  Up until holding this teaching position, I had always accepted that human beings were wondrous creations made by God in His image.  Most Christians will probably agree with this, but what I have discovered in my current studies of the human body (8th Grade Science) is that many of us really do not realize how amazing and complex our body is!  Everything has to work in such a precise way in order for us to live.  Everything inside of us relies on each other to complete the processes that keep us alive, and they do so in ways we hardly ever consider.

For example, when blood leaves your cells and has traveled through your capillaries (which are only one cell thick, by the way), it enters your veins.  When blood is in your veins, it does not have the force from the heart's pumping to make it back to the heart.  How then does blood get back to the heart?  God made our bodies in such a way that other bodily movements and functions would help return blood to the heart.  Veins are located next to skeletal muscles (the muscles that move your bones) and when those muscles are contracted, they help push blood back to the heart.  Veins also contain valves, which close as blood flows through the veins to keep the blood from flowing backwards.  In addition, breathing movements create pressure against the veins in your chest and help blood flow back into the heart.

Astounding, is it not?  Evolutionists theorize that everything came from a common ancestor, that the entire world, humans included, are nothing but a happenstance.  In other words, we are an accident.  Many things throughout history have been made or discovered by accident (penicillin for example), but I refuse to believe that humans are one of those things.  The more I learn about the complexity of the human body, the more astounded I am and the more I am certain that we are a product of an intelligent creator.  This may be hard for some people to believe, but how is it harder than believing that we are the result of an accident.  I personally find more comfort in the fact that there is a plan and a reason behind the way we are made than in the belief that I am just another wrung in the evolutionary ladder.  The human body is too amazing and too unique to be an accident.  We truthfully are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why We Act

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to be a part of six theater productions: two children's shows, two musicals, and two dramas.  In addition, I was an active member of the two theater clubs on campus for most of my college career.  I also took quite a few credits of theater classes to improve my acting.  The stage made me feel free; it made me feel like I was on top of the world.  In the last year of my college career, I did nearly no theater in order to focus on finishing my degree.  I am nearly certain that if I had not done theater, I would have finished college a semester earlier than I did; but I do not regret spending the extra time and money.  In the nearly two years since I have acted on stage in a full scale production, I have been able to observe and reflect on the reasons why I and others act.  Some of these reasons may be more true for some than they are for others, but I believe that every actor acts for the same reasons.

In a society that has a particular standard for how people should look and behave, many people find that they do not live up to popular expectations, whether those be in how they look, behave, or treat others.  There is an inner longing to be accepted, but that is overpowered by the instilled power of self; the distinct identity that every person on God's green earth has.  We cannot help who we are.  We can put on a rouge in front of our peers, but that makes us fake and transparent.  No one buys the act when it is part of real life.  But on stage... the stage is a different world.  The stage allows people to explore parts of themselves they might be too afraid or ashamed to allow reach the surface.  No one can criticize an actor for being loose, immoral, cruel, heartless, or evil because of the character they play; it's not who they really are.  The actor may never dream of acting like their character in real life, but the show gives them the opportunity to let whatever dark side they may have out without scrutiny.

On the other hand, an otherwise unpleasant person may explore their softer side while in a show.  A person who other people find a complete and total prick can win over peers with a character that is tender, nurturing, and kind.  Classic examples of this kind of actor are found all over Hollywood.  Notorious egotistical actors such as Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon have won over audiences with emotional performances of what society identifies as "good guys."  Their personal lives, of course, make headlines all the time, but only because the public is shocked that people who can play such good people are really not as wonderful as the people the play.  It does not take long, though, for the actors to win over their peers again, if they are able to turn in another stunning performance as a hero or romantic protagonist.

Some people do not wish to explore different aspects of their personality or different ways to behave.  These people, like myself, are happy with who they are.  Despite this inner acceptance of self, there is still a kind of selfish desire to flaunt who you are in front of an audience.  A self-centered drive to show everyone what your personality is and why it is great.  This is not to say that these actors are conceited or egotistical (although that could be the case for some people), but to say that they are delighted to be who they are and want to share that happiness with others.  For this reason they mostly accept acting parts that are most like their own personality. 

There is another type of person who mostly takes parts because they are most like themselves: the person who likes who they are but is looking for acceptance from others.  I find myself, personally, in this category of actors who sometimes draw criticism from friends and peers for being who I am.  People like this do not let criticism change them, but do desire for some kind of positive feedback for being themselves.  They are able to find this on the stage.  For example, I am sarcastic (some say overly so), irritable, and at times too loud.  I try not to let these personality traits make me into a mean person, which they easily can; but I cannot change who I am.  In addition, they are not always negative traits, but what I do because of them might be negative.  By taking parts of people who are like me on stage, I can allow these traits to show without worry of criticism. 

There are countless reasons for why people act.  Some people do it to be the center of attention; they cannot thrive without the positive reinforcement of others.  We can criticize that personality trait as much as we want; however if we really look down deep in ourselves, we all have that trait to some extent or another.  Some people do take it too far and demand the praise and adoration of all those around them, no matter what.  Others find that being on stage is the only time that they receive positive attention, and for that reason they thrive in the spotlight.  And who can blame them for wanting that?  No person alive can live a healthy psychological existence without some kind of positive base.  A positive base that comes from people showing us that they like us, that who are is acceptable.  Therefore, it can be said that no matter what reason a person gives for acting on stage, it all comes down to one thing: acceptance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

One of the benefits of being a teacher is that you get to take part in a lot of trips, ceremonies, and presentations you would otherwise not be privileged to.  Some lucky teachers get to accompany students on trips to other states, Washington D.C., or even other countries.  I, on a smaller but more significant level, had the pleasure of one such trip today.  The 3rd-8th Grade classes at the school where I teach went to Memorial Hall in Racine and got to take part in the memorial service there. 

Sitting there next to my students, I was a flood of different emotions.  Perhaps most of all was the feeling of gratitude towards the veterans sitting across the aisle from me.  One would have to be a heartless wretch not to feel immense thanksgiving for the men and women who served and continue to serve our country.  It was a great experience for the kids, and myself, to be able to interact and worship with veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Students were able to experience history in an entirely different way than in the classroom: they were able to talk to them men who made that history.  There is no better way to learn than to talk to people who actually lived through it.

The second emotion I believe I was feeling was one of frustration.  Not towards the veterans, of course, but towards some of my students.  A few of the boys were more mesmerized by the guns the veterans were carrying and firing during taps than the actual veterans themselves.  I do not entirely fault them; they are still quite young and immature and I am sure in time they will fully appreciate the people more than the weapon.  Their small lack of priorities paled in comparison to that of some of the other schools that were in attendance.  I do not mean to elevate my school above others or to claim that my kids are better than anyone else's, but I found it very disrespectful and shocking that some school allowed kids to bring cell phones and ipods into the service.  We continually had to deal with giggling, the faint sound of music from ear buds, and the ringing of cell phones.  I was absolutely appalled!  It is a shame that teachers and administrators would even allow those things into a memorial service; I cannot blame the kids as much as I blame the teachers.  They were the reason for the noise, which was distracting from the real reason we were there: to honor and thank all the people who have risked, and in some circumstances given, their lives for our country.  It is because of their sacrifice that many of these kids could even own a phone or ipod.

The third emotion I felt was one of pride.  Disregarding all the extracurricular activities that were going on around me, I found myself holding back tears of pride and thanks for everyone I know who has served or is serving in the military.  It made me think of my grandfather, deceased 11 years, who served our country in World War II; my good friend Dan who is stationed in California; my parents' neighbor Tom who served valiantly in Vietnam; and my cousins Josh and Matt who served in the military when I was younger. 

Living veterans will say that the men and women who died are the real heroes and that they are just ordinary people.  It is this selfless attitude that does indeed make them heroes, though.  No soldier wakes up in the morning and says, "Today I will be a hero."  They are always heroes.  Heroes to their families, heroes to their country, heroes to my students, and heroes to me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's About the Kids

You would have to be living 100 feet under a rock not to have heard anything that has happened in recent days at Penn State University.  Amid growing accusations of sex-abuse coverups, the university president and long-time foot ball coach have both been fired for not doing what any decent human being would do: protect the children.  Instead of going to police, these men decided to let the sex-crimes of ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky go on for over a decade.  Countless boys were raped in the showers of Penn State locker rooms, and no one said a thing.

It is human nature to look for a fall guy, someone who can take all the blame.  Penn State officials have rightly terminated the two men who hid the most, who could have done more.  However, in the media blitz on the school's campus there is a topic that many reporters do not cover enough: the children.  The biggest part of this story in mainstream news is the Joe Paterno was fired after 46 years of coaching football there (that's twice as long as I've been alive).  A secondary headline would be that the governor himself was involved in the firings of both Paterno and the university president.  The headline that no one is writing about is the children these men failed to protect.  Who can possibly imagine what they are going through right now?

The most unfortunate aspect of this media frenzy is that these boys, once again, are slipping under the radar.  Of course newspapers and magazines will run their stories if they come forward, but for what purpose?  To sell issues?  To raise awareness?  What does raising awareness now do for them 10 years ago when they were crying themselves to sleep every night after another Sandusky sodomy session?  I am not saying that raising awareness about sexual abuse towards children is wrong; all I am saying is that we need to be doing something to help these kids now.  In my opinion, Penn State should be taking care of these boys' (now men's) psychological and physical needs for the rest of their lives.  No one should feel sorry for Joe Paterno; everyone should feel sorry for the boys. 

If we are going to focus on how to make sure these things never happen again, then we really need to expand the net of who was at fault.  A controversy that has stemmed from the initial wave of accusations is that assistant coach Mike McQueen, who as a graduate student witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year old boy in the shower, is still left on the coaching staff.  He did what he needed to at the time and told Coach Paterno, but when nothing was done, when no measures were taken, when the next boy was brought on campus by Sandusky, McQueen did nothing.  He is just as guilty as Paterno; he needs to be held responsible. 

There have got to be more than just these three men that knew about what was going on, and all of Sandusky's victims deserve justice from each of them.  It is their lives who have been ruined.  Ruined by a monstrous pedophile and a hidden, shameful group of adults who refused to reveal what was happening.  If they had come forward 10 years ago, countless numbers of victims could have been saved and the boys who had already suffered could have received attention and therapy while they were still young enough for it to make a difference on their futures.  Now they are grown men, haunted by doubt and questions of whether anyone would have ever believed them.  Studies show that boys who are molested are more likely to be drug addicts and alcoholics; this is what they are facing now.  What good does apologizing now do for them?

Joe Paterno, the president of Penn State, Mike McQueen, and the other cowardly bastards who did not come forward when this first came to their attention are just as guilty as Jerry Sandusky.  Furthermore, the Penn State students who rioted in protest of Joe Paterno's firing should be ashamed of themselves.  What they do not realize is that the boys molested on campus where their age, or close to it, when the attacks happened.  If one of the victims had been their brother, or cousin, or them personally, would they be rioting?  This is not about anyone who has lost their job.  It is about a too high number of boys who lost the prospect of a normal life.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's Really Important?

Today in Language Arts class my students and I were discussing topics for their persuasive essays, an essay with a purpose to convince the readers to believe a certain way or do a particular action.  In the preliminary stages of the discussions, some of the students did not have very substantial topics.  Ideas like "Why we should have more recess" and "Why there should be no homework" were prevalent among the group.  However, when convinced that I, their teacher, would not be convinced by any argument they could possibly make about any of these topics, they began to get serious.  Astonishingly very serious; I am forced to admit a feeling of surprise and admiration for many of them.

The new topics being volunteered by the class were, for the most park, quite thought provoking.  I suppose what really impressed me was that some of these topics were things that my friends and I were writing about in high school, not 7th Grade.  Topics like "Why we should recycle," "Why you should not eat at McDonald's," and "Why you should play team sports" were the new favorites.  Of course there were a couple of less thoughtful topics; ideas such as "Why you should buy and use a flash drive" and "Why people who do not try in sports should not be allowed to play" among them.  Two of my students, though, came up with an amazing topic that I feel surpasses all on the level of thoughtfulness and importance: why people should become foster parents.

I cannot deny that I froze for a second.  I could not believe that a 7th Grade student had come up with such a thought-provoking topic.  As I sit and think about it, though, I should not have been all that surprised.  Many young people today are exposed to much more of the world and worldly situations than I was when I was their age (which, let's face it, was technically not that long ago; about 10 years).  It made me really realize how much our society has changed in a decade.  When I was 12 or 13, I would have been one of the students writing about sports and why people should play them.  If I was forced to pick a different topic, I probably would have written about why I should have been able to pick my own topic.  These kids, though, have in a way put younger me to shame.

Foster parenting is one of the most noble things any adult could ever do.  My cousin has been a foster mom for years and my wife is adopted, so when these girls gave me their suggestion it really hit close to home.  I am not saying that the other students' topics are not noble in their own right; to the contrary, I think recycling, playing team sports, and eating healthy are fantastic things for middle school aged students to be thinking about.  However, foster parenting is something that I would have thought would not have crossed their minds for quite a few years.  It would not be as surprising if these girls themselves had come from broken homes, but they both are from great and loving families, which makes their decision all the more impressive to me.  In a world where everyone is looking for the instant gratification and pursuing their own selfish agendas, two 7th Grade girls are concerned about children finding a good home and loving parents.  That is what's really important.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Parenthood: The (Sort of) Uninformed Opinion

When looking at the demeanor of young children and teenagers in today's society, there is a generality that cannot be ignored: kids that we label as "good" have (and again this is in general, not always) pretty involved and loving parents and kids that we label as "bad" or "troublesome" have ignorant, inconsiderate, or unloving parents (if they do have parents in their lives at all).  Of course there are exceptions; there are plenty of kids that have come from abusive or broken homes and have thrived and become upstanding citizens.  In the same way there are kids that came from some of the most nurturing homes imaginable and have ended up as menaces to society.  In general, though, it is the actions and attitudes of parents that will determine how a child develops and how they act towards the people around them.

As we look at the decline in society, the seemingly everlasting free fall into immorality, we can also see an even steeper decline in the quality of parenting and the overall American family.  I, of course, do not have children myself so I cannot claim to be an expert.  However, I do come from a great family, a loving, nurturing, and supportive family; and I am a teacher with a group of students that come from a blend of broken and sustained homes.  In addition I have friends that have come from a mixture of homes and my opinions are based on what I have observed throughout my life as an education student and teacher.

Generally speaking, kids are not really self-motivated when it comes to succeeding in school.  Like most of us when we were young, they would rather socialize with their friends, watch television, or play outside.  Grades are seemingly the last thing on their mind.  It takes the outside motivation from parents (and teachers) to instill in them the desire to do well.  Children that have parents who healthfully drive them to do well in school grow and develop to have that same drive themselves.  It is, of course, easy and common for parents to overdo their motivation and they end up hating education more than when they started.  However, if parents are able to find a happy medium when challenging their children to do well, the kids will have a much better work ethic and understanding of the importance of hard work.

On the other hand, parents who do not care about the work their children do or back up teachers' attempts to get kids to turn in quality work are subliminally teaching their kids that working hard is not important.  In addition to not learning the importance of good work, these kids also do not have an appreciation for responsibility.  Stereotypically (and I do hate that term), children that are taught the importance of hard work have a deeper sense of responsibility, which in turn helps them later in life as they stand up for their actions and accept any consequences that may result of what they did (or take more pride in the reward that comes as a result).  Children who do not work hard and do not have to face any consequences at home grow up not having a good sense of responsibility, which in turn causes them to try and run away from any problem they may face in life.

Is this not what we see all around us in today's society?  People who have never been held accountable are beginning to enter the workforce and (arguable worse) procreate.  There is an increasing amount of lower and middle class workers who have never had to answer for anything they have done or said, and this effects their work ethic.  When they are fired for doing unsatisfactory work or other forms of nonprofessional, they blame the "Man" and join protests against big businesses.  They were never told by their parents when they were doing wrong; it was always someone else's fault.  How is it a surprise that they take this attitude everywhere they go?

The point I am getting at is that it is up to parents to determine the future of this country.  If children are brought up to appreciate hard work and learn the importance of responsibility, then our worries about the economic situation for the future generations will become obsolete, for they will be able to build on the hard work many politicians and public figures are doing now to get us out of recession (e.g. Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, Paul Ryan, and others).  However, if we allow children to be lazy and do not reprimand them when they show an unwillingness to try, our concerns will be validated.  It is not entirely up to our government to prepare for the future; it mostly up to parents.