Monday, March 28, 2011

Play Calling in Football- WAS THAT A GOOD CALL?

I wanted to take a few minutes and comment on observations I have made about play calling over the years. What is a 'questionable play call'?

I have been watching a lot of football film over the last few weeks and it is always refreshing to get away from the game and come back after the computer has had time to shut down a re-boot.

When a coach is planing for a game- he is putting into his mental rehearsal a lot of information. First, he knows his team and players. He has watched them live and on film and he knows both strengths and weaknesses. He knows how healthy they are. He knows who is likely to perform under pressure and who is likely to choke. He has certain plays and players he trusts and he has certain others he does not.

Secondly, a coach tries to guess what the other team knows. As an opposing coach breaks down his team, what does he see? Who is he impressed with? Where does he see weaknesses?

Both coaches see schemes- and almost any coach knows the strong and weak match-ups of scheme. Behind the scheme are philosophical beliefs that have strengths and weaknesses as well. Some teams are very good against your philosophy and scheme- and other teams create real issues.

Thirdly, there is the plan and practice of the plan. What was new this week? How did it look? Was it repped enough to a point where the players can execute it in the game?

Finally, there is the game condition itself. How is the game going? What is the weather, field conditions, momentum?

There are many different styles and ways to call a game. I see it being very similar to playing a par 5 in golf. The drive is the field position- are we in the fairway? Then there is the risk and reward- do we lay up or go for the green in two? And you can always out think yourself a little- what is the other guy going to do? Is he coming with the blitz or will he back off in a zone?

Now- let me add one other factor- PLAY CLOCK. A good play caller has to immediately call out personnel, formation, and play- you really get no time to weigh pro and cons. That is why the excellent ones have experience and mental rehearsal to quickly pull the trigger.

This coming season will be the first time in almost 15 years that I have not been calling the game- it is a fun thing to do- but I am very OK with not doing it as well. My job will be helping the play caller with info and coaching my position with great energy- having fun! I know the guy calling the plays is very talented.

The bottom line is this: it is kind of stupid to ever say "That was a dumb play call" unless you are privy to all the conditions I have described above. That is why it is very, very rare for me to even entertain the idea of questioning a play call. I will be a very supportive coach in that area.

To the common observer -  A GOOD PLAY CALL WORKS AND BAD ONE DOESN'T.

I have had coaches tell me that I called a good game- it feels good- but the bottom line is this- only I know when I botched a call- which means I put the formation to the wrong side of the field- or I messed up the personnel- or I called something that I knew the players struggled with- or mis-spoke.

Next time you are at a game- don't fall into the temptation of saying 'that was a dumb call'- it might have been a brilliant call, but it just didn't happen. I have had dumb calls go for TD's and great ones lose the game..... it is that crazy of a sport!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Long Goodbye

My last week before my last month in Nashville.

I cannot express how excited I am about my new assignment in Birmingham. Every single interaction I have has with the people I am going to lock arms with and go to work has been sincere and motivating. God is being so gracious along the way- His kind hand is leading and protecting.

AT the same time- the relationships and uniqueness of Franklin and Nashville will always be a part of me. These last few weeks I have been running long distances and just drinking in the beauty of where I live right now. I love the Harpeth and I am going to miss it. I still laugh at the first day we just went for it and put in at Christ Community and floated to FieldStone Farms- my wife looked at me like I was crazy!

But we did it- and it lead to countless walks and rafting rides through beautiful banks and bubbling min-rapids. I met God there many times, just He and me, catching sunfish by the dozens.

Add to the Harpeth the Natchez Trace and the Percy Warner parks and Radnor Lake and we had out fill of venerable woods and water. Long bike rides, and runs, and hikes have been building spiritual memories and charging old batteries.

And my thanks to Chris Nishan, Field and Streams writer and guide, who allowed me access to one of the most scenic private lakes I have ever seen. I hope I finally pull in that 10 lbr.  without breaking my line before I leave.

It's funny, when I left B'ham 7 years ago I lamented leaving the access I had to Shoal Creek, Greystone, and all the private bass lakes in Shelby County- God easily provided me opportunity to play Belle Meade and other great golf in Nashville. Now I go back and ,in time, I will get to commune with Him on a lake or on a course in my new home.

Another fun part of Nashville is the celebrity sightings and interaction. After a while, it gets less cool- but I have been very blessed to spend a little time with fun people that we all know. I have grown to love and admire Stephen Curtis Chapman and count it a privilege to have has his sons in class. Who will ever forget how that family walked through tragedy and the song 'Beauty will Rise' has become a personal anthem to me. I had the honor of having him sing a song for me at our football banquet in 2008. I also had the honor of John Elefante (lead singer of Kansas) dedicate a song to me in concert. It was hilarious having people look around and ask "Who is Jay Mathews?". John is another great brother in the Lord- and man can he sing! I also am very thankful for reconnecting with Glenn Garrett and think of him as an inspiration and his music is powerful. Terry Warren is one of my closest brothers who can sing a power ballad as well as anyone in the world- a man of God and a dedicated dad.

Others have included master songwriter, Tom Douglas- a real encourager in Christ. I have had funny encounters or a good story  with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at a 5th grade football game, Keith Urban and  Nicole Kidman at the Good Cup, Alan Jackson at a track meet, Michael W Smith at CPA, Vince Gill on the golf course, and Amy Grant at a track meet. All just regular people who happen to be in a profession that produces unimaginable recognition. My final name dropping memory is my friend Jim Weatherly- who told me the story of how he wrote "Midnight Plane to Houston" after talking to Farah Fawcett on the phone- which Gladys Knight got permission to change to "Midnight Train to Georgia" and the rest is history. Jim was one of my parents and his son will be a dynamo.

And last, how in the world can I mention all the friends and families who poured out love and service to me these last 7 years? I made a list in my prayer guide of those who really showed up when things went down. We had dinner with one of these couples last night and I sat there thinking- "How can I ever say 'thank-you'?"

I guess that is pat of what heaven will be about........

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My NFL Kickoff/Kick-off Return Rule- It Would Be Wild!

Now that the league has adopted new rules for KO/KO return I wanted to post an idea I have had for more than 2 years and one that I actually pitched to some NFL coaches and union player reps. When I mentioned it, I got everything from 'rolling eyes' to laughs... but I wanted to write it down.

By the way- this came out of a concern I have had for a long time about the safety of players on KO/KO returns- it is one of the most physical  plays of a football game. I first thought of my idea after watching a Titans game and seeing that both teams were using OFFENSIVE linemen as wedge setters in the back wall. These are fast 300 lb men running all out and having LB's and Safeties hit them full speed!

The Coach Jay Mathews NFL Return Plan:

#1- The Kickoff is no longer a scoring play- it is just about starting field position. The worst a team can start with is the -20 and the best a team can start with is the -45. The only change is after a safety where the field position is adjusted according to the kick-off from the 20.

#2 So team A will kick-off after a score- team B will try to return it out to the 45- but the play is blown dead once a player reaches the 45. Also, there cannot be a turnover on the kickoff- any fumbles recovered by the kick-off team goes back to the 20.

#3 There are still onside kicks- but must be an option selected by the scoring team. There are no surprise onside kicks.

#4 (AND HERE IS WHERE IT GETS CRAZY)- Each NFL team will hire weekly their kick-off and return team. There is an open tryout for the team during every preseason, coming up with a pool of eligible players. On Wednesday of each game week the team will select 15 players from the qualified pool who will make up the starters and back-ups on these teams for the Sunday game.

1) Player must reside within a 45 mile radius of the stadium. Has had to be there more than 12 months.
2) The player cannot exceed 6' or weigh more than 180 lbs.
3) The player must have a physical on file, proof of insurance, and sign a waiver.
4) Players practice on Thursday/Friday- play on Sunday.
5) Each player is paid 250.00 for his participation.

So you get a chance for some local yokel heroes to play for their team- the ultimate 12th man!
Can't you imagine some of the crazies that we would watch go after it and some of the amazing plays made while fighting for starting field position! And the high money guys are protected. All volunteer and just for the fun/glory of it!
Kind of like the story of the Eagles player who came out of the local population......

I also thought of having 2 captains from these teams run out and fight for the ball the way the XFL did it- I thought that was funny!

Anyway- this is not the type of thing the league goes for- but would be a ratings boom!

Back to the real world.......

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tribute to My Grandmother

My Grandmother ALMON, DOROTHY "DOT" Dorothy (Dot) Mulinix Almon, 91, went to be with her Lord and Savior on Monday, March 14, 2011 with her loving daughters by her side.
The following are remarks I will give at her Memorial Service today please pray for me to honor her and glorify Christ:

I Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers (and Sisters), we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

It is my privilege and honor to stand before you today and represent our family as we pay tribute and offer encouraging memories of our beloved mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, Dot Almon. I am her grandson, Jay Mathews, and unfortunately I do not have the time or words to adequately reflect her life and love as the matriarch of our family.

“Nanny” was  stubborn. Now wait a minute- how can you stand up there and say something like that. Well, it is true. My earliest memory of her powerful persistence was at Morrison’s cafeteria after a church service. As I went through the line she would always say “Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach” and “You better get something green- not just starches”- but I had to get those giant french fries! So I got them and we sat down only to find the French fries were cold. Though I pleaded with her not to make a big deal about it- she demanded and received hot and fresh french fries for her grandson.

Nowadays we tend to look at that type of stubbornness as a flaw. But I am here to say that this ‘powerful persistence’ is a virtue. You see, her perseverance was never selfish- in fact, quite often, it involved sacrifice for the benefit of someone else. In the old days, this attribute was listed as a virtue called fortitude- we call it guts. And believe me, our Granny had guts!

How can you explain a woman who at the age of 91 worked the checkout line at Publix and had customers choose her line over others because she knew them, loved them and served them with a special personal warmth?

How many 91 year olds lived home alone and drive? In fact, her daughters will tell you that this was her secret to longevity. This beautiful woman could never sit still alone at home- she was always out and about. She visited and traveled and clipped articles and called people and drove- and we all hoped she wouldn’t do it at the same time.

A few years ago, I was coaching a high school football team in Nashville and my wife answered the phone on a Friday. It was Nanny on the phone, “I’m here” she said. “Where is here?” asked my wife and the answer was clear- she hopped in the car and drove herself to Nashville to see that football game.

My grandmother saw a lot of football both live and on TV. I have seen her with so many winter clothes on that she looked homeless- but she wasn’t going to miss that football game.

When I was a little boy, she took me to the Alabama/Auburn football game. We left early with Alabama leading 16-3 in the 4th quarter. We got on the bus with a lot of sad Auburn fans only to watch the bus crowd grow chaotic as Auburn blocked two punts and win 17-16. I was praying that no one would rub it in my face because they would have incurred the wrath of my granny. She was a loving person- as sweet as you can imagine- but she defended her family.

I hope you don’t mind one more football story. Coach Bear Bryant was going to introduce an evangelist at Ruhama Baptist church in East Lake in the early 70’s. I think I must have been around 10 years old at the time. It was the largest crowd that the church had in a long time.

Nanny pushed us through the crowd and we stood face to face with the Bear. She looked at Coach Bryant and said, "My grandson wants to play for you one day, Bear." He smiled and said "Smart boy". The funniest part of that story is that she had a game program that belonged to my uncle Jerry. He had sent it with her to get an autograph. Later that afternoon, she gave the program to Uncle Jerry who was thrilled until he read Coach Bryant's signature: "To Jay, See you at Bama, Paul Bear Bryant".

It was this deep core drive to get things done that was the hallmark of her life. For 91 years my grandmother represented selfless and tireless service. She came out of retirement and earned her real estate license. Her formula was brilliant- she would sell a house and go on a trip. She went with a group called the Friendship force and she saw the world.

Her energy was legendary. She and I rode with my roommate to Orlando when I was a sophomore at Alabama. Think about this, my college roommate and I rode to Orlando, FL in a Ford pick-up truck with Granny in the middle. We spent 2 days in Disney World and rode a greyhound bus home. I was beat, dead tired, because Granny wore me out!

Where does that come from?  I think all of us who have rubbed shoulders with the children of the depression know the answer. There was something forged in the fires of those lean times that produced faith, thriftiness, and an understanding of what is truly important.

We would laugh about what the depression instilled- Nanny saved butter bowls- she recycled water bottles-and she stock-piled sweet and low packets from restaurants. But we must equally admire what it did in terms of building her toughness and her appreciation of life.

Now it is very important to me that I stress here that our Nanny did not just survive life- she thrived in life. To some people, time is the dreaded stalker- to Dot Almon, time was a companion. My lasting memory of  her  will be with that smile, saying “Hey”, and clearing her throat and shouting again “Hey, you know what…”   and putting her hand on a loved one and saying positive words of life and joy.

The question is- how can someone do that? Our grandmother experienced heartbreak and hard news in those 91 years- she never did escape the pain of losing her oldest daughter, my mom, to cancer- but no setback ever robbed her of life- why?

The simple answer is this: our grandmother knew God. She had a real relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. She had a firm grasp on the good news of the gospel. She knew that just as all of the good things I am sharing about her today did not earn her place in heaven, she also knew that none of her sins could keep her out because she had a Savior to lean on. She sang, thousands of times and listened to thousands of sermons and held onto the grand story that there is no other name in heaven or earth by which man can be saved- Jesus Saves! She loved her long time Baptist preachers who told that old story with power and warmth!
This good news is found in Ephesians 2:8-10 “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Her faith is Christ was no ritual- it was not a checklist faith- it was fleshed out every day as she read the Scriptures and as she delivered meals on wheels. It was also seen in real sacrifice. She gave everything she had to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Every family member here can testify to a time that she gave it all for you- she gave it all for me. Sometimes we would scold her for doing too much- but that beautiful stubbornness never kept her from doing what she thought was right and it never prevented her from speaking what was true.

So I am asking you to look around- 91 years of fruitful and faithful service. She was a shining light to the goodness of God. Her unflinching leadership held us all together and she worked hard that not even one lost little sheep would go astray.

Just a few days ago- death finally knocked her down. I Corinthinans 15 became more than words- they were her reality. And though she was laid low in defeat- she immediately was raised in victory according to the great promises of Christ.

She was embraced by Jesus and she was immediately led to her daughter, my mom- they are both healthy now- radiant in beauty- and full of the resurrection power. And I don’t think it would shock any of us here right now to imagine her, not even thinking about us- she is too busy swaying to the music of Lawrence Welk.

Nothing would honor her more than for all of us- today- to commit with that same stubbornness to Christ and live our lives more fully for him. Let’s love harder and forgive more easily and let us never stop appreciating all the good things we have in life until He comes or we go to Him.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Too Many Memories- 7 Fun Years in Nashville!

First win- no one thought we could beat Goodpasture and Patrick Turner in my first game!
Fun trip to NY- great time with the Cooks

Tennessee has beautiful parks and trails- here is the bridge on the Natchez Trace
My girls really grew up these last 7 years

Music City Bowl- we always had a blast!
Fire bowl was always good family time
This trip to Princeton in 2008 was one of my favorite memories
Access to Coach Fisher and Titans was cool!
Catching Redfish in Venice LA with Bill Hawkins will go down as my favorite expedition!

How will I ever be able to say thanks to all of the special friends we enjoyed?
How can I ever recount all of the wonderful times?
These days will be remembered as times of true treasure!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Current Trends in Football- Hints on the Horizon

Now that the Superbowl is done, all the football fans and coaches like me will now have to suffer the long off-season. I'm especially pitiful during these times because football is what captures my interest and other than the Masters and US Open, very little other national sports news stirs much enthusiasm.

It was good to talk with Coach Fisher on the phone recently- he sounded extremely upbeat and free "I'm on vacation" and that made me happy for him. I mention him because I see his stepping down as further momentum to the fluidity and speed of change that football is experiencing now. Coaches are being replaced faster than tires at a Nascar race (shout out to former Briarwood LB Mark Miller) and the lack of consistency and stability is having impact on the game itself. With free agency, mobile head and assistant coaches, the game itself is taking on more of a universal language and style.

I wanted to blog a little about some trends in football- these can be found at all levels- and speculate a little about where the game is headed.

FACTORS OF FLUIDITY: The game is always changing- it is the nature of competition. Significant factors in this change right now is pace of play, pressure defenses, and diversity of spread offenses.

1) PACE OF PLAY: This game is racing. Current offensive trends is to be on the run and wear out an opponent. Defenses have responded by getting some of the biggest, fastest players the game has ever seen and have them moving and pressuring as well. The schemes being utilized at the high school level is astounding. When I first started coaching in 1991, most teams still used 3 to 5 basic formations, 2 or 3 motions, and handful of running and passing plays. Defenses had a base alignment, a few tweaks (slant, stunt,blitz) and 1 to 3 coverages.
Because of the rapid expanse of spread philosophies- it is not uncommon to see 10-15 basic offensive formations (with shifts and motions)- 25-50 base plays (run and pass)- and multiple defensive fronts, stunts, blitzes, and coverages- on the high school level!

On top of this- teams are going more no huddle- and moving fast.
Defenses are getting better a disguising their pre-snap looks to keep offenses guessing.

2) PRESSURE DEFENSES: Defenses have just gotten plain nasty in terms of the types of pressure game they are playing. The race is now between the weakest coverage match-up and the fastest pass rusher. Offensive lines and backs are having to sort out the protections on the fly and a mess up can get your QB knocked out. For a while, the greatest pressures were coming out of 4 down defenses- but lately what teams are bringing out of 3 down fronts will keep you up at night. The 3 down defenses (base 3-4 or 'old 50') have the ability to rush 3 and drop 8 or bring 8 and drop 3 or any combo in between.

3) DIVERSITY OF SPREAD OFFENSES- The term spread is generic and in some ways out of style. Most all teams (including the NFL) are using spread principles. The more specific breakdown is spread pass or spread run?- zone or power or option scheme running- is the Qb more of a run threat or pass threat? All gun or some under center? Play with the same personnel or do they utilize personnel groupings?

Based of the fast paced- scheme driven- and multiple options- where is this headed? And what questions are interesting to consider?

1) Will an NFL team go spread? This is such an interesting question to me. At what point will an NFL team take what the colleges are sending them in terms of Qb's? More and more college teams (and high schools) are going 100% shotgun and using more of an athletic QB than the traditional drop back guy. The trouble with the NFL going to spread is keeping a Qb healthy. Traditionally that is a BIG money position that is left somewhat unprotected in the spread stuff.

Another factor in this is the loss of the traditional Tight End. Football is producing less true tight ends (they all play AAU basketball as kids).

2) The ODD BALL team. As teams go crazy with scheme- there is still going to be that old school team that runs triple option or 2 tight end or 3 back power attack that will be hard to play in a 1 week turnaround. The tough thing in these systems is the pressure that comes with being different. An option team beats teams that they are not supposed to and win a lot- but they also turn the ball over at times and lose to a less talented team or players and fans lose interest because the style is slow. It is like being a stall team in basketball- you may get a W but lose style points in the process and no one sees you as the model that everyone wants to emulate- and the coaches get more specialized and less useful to the mainstream.

3) Less stability in the coaching ranks. The current trend of AD's is to replace a coach as soon as he cools off a little and get the hot commodity diminishes the development and innovation of the game. This instability makes assistant coaches more on the move and promotes a game that is more universal and less unique. Very few programs are going to have the patience for a coach to implement a unique system of language and technique. Very few programs are going to tolerate the lack of productivity as a system is being developed. In this current trend will there me more Boise States or less? How many coaches will end up like a Rich Rodriguez ? He was once the golden innovator of college offenses and now is generally regarded as a middle of the road coach. Eventually (though scheme matters) it will be a players game and not a coaches game- though this has always been more true than the general fan understands.

High School Trends- All of this flows down to high schools at some point- I do see high school football becoming marginalized in some areas of the country where the passion for the game has ebbed. Current trends for example in the State of Tennessee with fights over public/private and growth of club basketball/baseball/soccer and a smaller pool of eligible D1 football prospects and makes me concerned over the energy and growth of the game there. It is an ever growing divide of the haves and have nots- the Alcoa's/ large D2 schools/ and traditional programs will do well- but the average program without strong administrative and community support will not be sustainable. I was shocked to see how quickly it can happen (in my experience DCA, Ezell Harding, and Davidson Academy had fast falls and may not recover).

I do want to mention that as teaching credentials continue to get more cumbersome and PE type positions get fewer- the professional high school coach is getting more rare. There is not a lot of incentive for a young sharp coach to choose the high school career path and if he wants to change over at some point- the academic trends are not favorable. Less money and fewer positions will make it harder to hire quality coaches in the future- the game is getting more sophisticated and requires more time than ever to be competitive- but school administrators are less athletically minded and under more pressure to produce academically. It will be interesting to see what high school athletics looks like in 10 to 15 years- are we approaching the Euro-club team model?

My Personal development- I am excited to spend some time re-tooling in the coaching profession. I have the privilege to be connected with some great innovators in the game and will have the opportunity to study and assimilate a lot of different systems over the next few systems. My desire is to formulate a fast, diverse offense, that incorporates universal language and gleans the best parts of the current trends and styles. I also want to tweak a system that has maximum flexibility of run/pass and personnel groupings.

The current offense I have been using will be off the field for the first time in 15 years- it had a great run- we truly were spread before spread was cool. The offense was developed over a 5-10 year period beginning in 1994. It used parts of Homer Rice, Nebraska, Tennessee, Green Bay Packers, and Louisiana Tech. I loved it and will miss it- but I'm thankful to step away, let the dust settle, and spend some time in Tony Franklin and Gus Mahlzon's lingo for a little bit. I'm going to get updated on Coach Cutcliffe's offense next week and as always will be attending on-line clinics and watching a lot of film.

I don't think I will ever lose my fascination with the schemes and development of football.

The team I am joining has most of its starters returning on a team that played in the 5A championship game in Alabama- I'm ready to get to work and have a lot of fun in the process!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Summarizing Sheen: What We Love- What We Hate- What We Fear

 This will be one of millions of blog posts about the latest exploits of Charlie Sheen and reactions to the recent interviews. Why do we watch? Why do we care?

I do not know Mr. Sheen and I have never seen one episode of "2 1/2 Men", so my comments are general to his persona.

What attracts us to Charlie Sheen is what I call the 'Admirable Qualities of the Existentialist". Charlie's passion for 'winning' and the fearless freedom that he promotes has drawn attention for individuals throughout the history of man. Mark Twain suggested the the 'average man is a coward' and Thoreau articulated that the 'mass of men live lives of quiet desperation'. It is the unique man, who cuts against the grain of culture, that has always sparked interest. The articulation of this can be found in literature, history, and film. Sheen represents a specialized type of rebel that is called 'the Hemingway Hero'- the man who fights and survives without purpose or virtue in sight.

Albert Camus captured this quality in his famous essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, as he imagined the Greek hero rolling that rock up the hill over and over... in defiance of the gods. See the quotes below:

At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. 

I watched the new movie "The Adjustment Bureau" with my oldest daughter last night. Matt Damon's character has the same quality- "I will even take on heaven itself to establish my autonomy". (I will post more on this movie at another time.)

The reality is that these type of men stay in conflict and the froth of controversy generates energy- it is stressful and potentially harmful...but never boring.

Camus expresses this idea in his summary of existentialism: "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

What I have appreciated about the thoughts of Camus and other 'rebels' is honesty and tenacity. The fight of these warriors is noteworthy. We admire the man who struggles against all odds, even if he dies in a blaze of glory.

The Hemingway hero has no hope at all and finds energy in the freedom to keep swinging. The glory is to fight like hell- even when victory is long gone.

I can learn from that. Can I  strive with energy even if it seems that defeat is inevitable? Can I learn to scorn the praise or approval of men and stand firm even if I am all alone in the pursuit? Am I willing to let it all hang out there or do I always play it safe?

But here is the danger- and this is what we hate. The Sheen attitude is ultimately a selfish attitude. I decide and I do- and I really don't care what YOU think. The problem with selfishness is that it creates a wake of brokenness behind it.  Selfish people see the worth of a human only in light of what it offers as a commodity of entertainment, protection, or pleasure.

And it all comes at a price- God is not mocked, whatever a man sows, he will also reap.

And finally, that is what we fear. Are we watching Charlie from a distance like a NASCAR fan expecting the collision at any moment? Will Sheen's end game be any different from James Dean or any host of celebrity collisions- death by addiction? disease? suicide? pick any possible tragedy and we see it connected by less than fractions of circumstances.

What is the ultimate tragedy in this? What makes me sad is how so many human beings have such a poor view of God that they reject the real of experience of how we were really meant to live. Just as Charlie is denigrated for being such a poor role model to youth, the church is equally, at times, a poor role model of the gospel.

It would take too long to develop this thought completely- but my guess is that a guy like Charlie would see my life as 'boring boundary obedience' and 'cowardly conformity'. What is the reality?

God's boundaries are not boring- it is where freedom actually flourishes.
Submission to the Creator is not conformity- it is in direct rebellion to the world's monotonous mold.
And instead of addiction and cynicism- the gospel unleashes love, forgiveness, and hope.
Instead of being ground down in rebellion and regret- living for the true King raises one in honor.
Living under the care of Christ puts our lives on a pace to enjoy all the world has to offer with minimal side effects. It is a pace that allows us to take it all in with gratitude. It allows us to taste without being consumed, and enjoy without being enslaved.

I talked on the phone today to a man who was told by his doctors he has only 6 months to a year to live. The phone call was so uplifting. This man is a fighter, he is a competitor- but he fights for the right things and in the right way. He is not shaking his fist at God- He thanks God everyday for another chance to shine the light and love of Jesus in a dark world. He spoke to me truthfully of anxiousness- but he also demonstrated a peace and power that inspires.

This man is more of the hero and rebel I admire. I would rather stand beside a man who stares down cancer with love and hope than envy  a man who boasts of his prowess with porn stars.

At the same time- it is OK for me to pray for Charlie- the door of grace and mercy is only a humble cry for help away. But it will take a miracle for that to happen to a man who puts his face against the rock, shakes his fist, and proclaims himself a 'winner'.

The TRUTH is that there is only one true winner- the only One who took down Satan and death in one solitary life. He came not to be served but to serve. Let us not be afraid to lose our lives to Him. Let us not be afraid to live our lives for Him. Let the adventure begin today....

Waves of Wonder or Bah Humbug?

"Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?" Emily, Our Town- by Thornton Wilder

I have a test for you- it will take some time- maybe a little money- but the assessment will be revealing.

Find a way to watch the documentary "America's Heart and Soul" - you can rent it for $2.00 and watch it at by clinking on this link to your left- or it is showing from time to time on your TV.

The test is this- does this movie stir something in you? Now, if it doesn't, I'm not throwing stones...

This is a beautiful video - a collection of short vignettes displaying a cornucopia of extravagant characters. Life is indeed stranger than fiction and people come in all flavors.

In the end- the movie seems to prove that heart passions and freedom creates narratives that are as unique as human fingerprints and paints a portrait of America as diverse and colorful as you can imagine.

The neat thing for me is that I see the glory of God in all of it- just as I always have in everything from nature shows to biography. What a world God has made and what a wonder is His crown jewel of creation...mankind.

As you watch it- watch for the gospel of God's grace- it flows right through the heartland- but you have to have spiritual eyes to see it. Also see the hunger people have for their heavenly father- and the great need for love we all have- and the great need to serve and be served.

Now, after I watched it- I went online and read the reviews. Have you ever noticed how people can see the same thing in such different lights? Some loved the documentary and some loathed it.

My concern is that we sometimes reject things based purely on cynicism. We are too sophisticated to appreciate or we just mock things- both are the two sides of the same coin of pride.

But how can you stay hard-hearted when you see the story of Dick Hoyt?

85 times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in Marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a Wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.
Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back Mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike.

I had seen it before on you-tube- but wow- what an inspiration!

Each individual human story gives us a chance to judge, criticize, or appreciate. My strong belief is that Christ wants us to do the latter. Standing strong in the gospel does not mean we have to be dead right- we don't have to kill people with the truth.

So- why don't you watch it and give me some feedback..... should we love America or mock it? I still have great hope- both for the gospel and for our American way of life. I am a big fan of people- I love seeing and hearing what makes them tick!