Good On Paper

Carson Wentz after Seattle Loss
At the beginning of the 2019 season, Philly fans said that Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles looked good on paper.

 This blog was originally entitled, “Don’t Give Up On Your Team, Vol. II, a.k.a., ‘What’s With Wentz?’  Instead, “Good On Paper” says it all.

At the beginning of the 2019 season, the Philadelphia Eagles looked good on paper. They had speed at the wide receiver position in DeSean Jackson, they had depth on defense, and — ahem — presumably they had a healthy Carson Wentz, our franchise quarterback, ready to return to his vintage form. But that was then, And THAT was on paper.

Carson Wentz had arguably his worst game as a professional yesterday as the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Seattle Seahawks, 17-9.  Wentz committed five, count’ em, FIVE turnovers, and lost four, with two interceptions and two fumbles.  Two words immediately come to mind: unbelievable and unacceptable.

Dude.  Brother.  Homie. I mean really? Seriously? C’mon Man! Man up, settle down, bring her in and get the lead out.  Wentz, you are better than this. But you’re not showing it. And the Philly Faithful is holding out hope that you will return to the MVP form you had at the beginning of the 2017 Super Bowl Season. Did I mention the Super Bowl LII win? Surely I digress, Yes, Philly fans are still holding on and holding out for a repeat performance from our wonderful Wentz of a quarterback. But Man! Is this guy making it hard or what?

For the Philadelphia Eagles, to say that this season has not gone according to plan is putting it mildly.  The Eagles are a paltry and pitiful 5-6, and there are at least two games that we’ve, I mean THEY, have lost early on in the season that should have gone the other way.

But some say that there’s still hope. Some say that the Eagles still have a chance (a fat one?) at winning the Division, the NFC East. The Eagles have a light schedule against pancake teams the rest of the way, such as Miami, the Giants TWICE and the Redskins. But there is no guarantee that things will get better.  Based on Carson’s play yesterday, things could absolutely, utterly and totally go from bad to worse. There is no guarantee that these Eagles, or more specifically, Carson Wentz, will right the ship and earnestly and honestly content for a crown, this year or even next.

But we must not lose hope in our team, right? We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and we must not jump to conclusions, right? But we also must lift our faith from the pages of the Bible to the table or our hearts. Faith without works is dead. And thus far this season, this Eagles team has given us little faith and less to work with. 

ON PAPER, we should still hold out and hold on to hope: Here’s how heavy.com put the Eagles chances:

“The Eagles’ record stands at 5-6, while the Cowboys dropped to 6-5. It’s a one-game difference with five games to play. The way the Birds have played in recent weeks leaves room for doubt. Maybe their offense can’t score enough points to even win another game. Hold on. Look at their remaining schedule.

Philadelphia has the 12th-easiest schedule the rest of the way, according to Team Rankings. Their opponents’ records are a combined 18-41 while the Cowboys still face stiff tests against the Bills (8-3), Rams (6-4) and Bears (5-6).

(On paper,) the Eagles should reel off three straight wins starting this week in Miami, with a showdown at Lincoln Financial Field versus Dallas on the horizon in Week 16. That game would likely decide the NFC East. As bad as Philadelphia has played, (on paper), it’s all in front of them.”

In other words, the Eagles have a chance of making the playoffs, as their chances of winning the Division are good, but they’re only good on paper.

Good on paper. For more than a few folks, everything adds up, on paper.  It’s sad to say, but most of the majority of mankind (in the West, at least) may well have it all together, on paper. That’s what some people are like. They appear good and they show well. They have a good job, they drive a nice car and they live in a big house in a nice neighborhood. They may even go to church, but that’s all on paper.  

Truth be told, some Christians look good, but just on paper. They do the right things, use the right words, and give the right answers. They look nice and shiny on the outside. They go to church every week; they may even sing on the choir or play on the keyboard or even unlock and lock the church doors. They may serve as an usher or a deacon or a Sunday school teacher. They may even preach in the pulpit. But that’s all on paper.

Real people are more than the sum of their parts on paper. How do they actually live? What’s actually in their heart? And why do they do what they do? What is their motivation and inspiration for life?  Do these “good on paper” people actually believe that Jesus Christ is the center and focus of our life of faith?

Alright enough; enough about those “good on paper” patsies. How about you? Does Christ  dictate what you do and what you say? Are you authentically altruistic, genuinely genial and wholeheartedly wholesome?

This Christmas, let’s do better than be good on paper.

Let’s be true for real.  

Is Serena Williams The Best Women’s Tennis Player Ever?

serena-williams-wins-wimbledon

Who are the best athletes ever?

In some sports, there is an ongoing, if not raging debate about who is the G.O.A.T., a.k.a., the greatest of all time. But not in women’s tennis. In women’s tennis there isn’t even the slightest hint of discussion about the best to play the game, ever.

In Basketball, the debate rages on between LeBron and Michael. And for football quarterbacks, it’s Brady vs. Montana, with honorable mentions to Bradshaw, Marino and Favre, Steve Young and John Elway and Peyton Manning, and of course, Roger Staubach.

Hockey is easy: Gretzy the Great will forever hold that title. Baseball is a little harder to pin down, but certainly it’s got to be the Babe or some other Yankee. In other sports, such as women’s gymnastics, Nadia Comaneci’s name comes immediately to mind as she is certainly is at the top of the list. In men’s swimming, Michael Phelps has dominated of late.

Since it’s the season for Wimbledon, we focus on tennis. In men’s tennis, Federer just lost in the quarterfinals for the first time ever (that was a fluke, right?), but he’s still got to be at the top of the list along with Nadal and Sampras and my man Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl and McEnroe and Andre Agassi and even Jimmy Connors.

But when it comes to women’s tennis, there is absolutely no debate. None. We all loved watching Chrissy Everett, and respected Martina Navratilova, and Monica Seles and Steffi Graff. But when it comes to tennis, there is only one queen. Serena. Not even her sister Venus gets an honorable mention. Serena reigns supreme.

Serena is one win away from wining her eighth major championship, at Wimbledon alone. Here’s how ESPN put it:

“Even after more than a year away from the tour, even after a health scare while having a baby a little more than 10 months ago, Williams is still capable of dominance.

A relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over 13th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany on Thursday put Williams into her 10th final at the All England Club and moved her closer to a 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal Margaret Court’s record.

‘It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, you know, because literally, I didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,’ Williams said. ‘I just feel like when I don’t have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that’s kind of what I’m doing.’

After hitting five aces with a serve that reached 119 mph, delivering 16 winners to only seven unforced errors, and covering the court so well with speed and effort against Goerges, Williams will face another German, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber, on Saturday. http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/24076249/wimbledon-2018-serena-williams-angelique-kerber-reach-final

That was the play-by-play. Now here’s the commentary: the great ones in every sport inspire us to do our best, to be at our best, and to stay at our best. Because we love to watch the best, and only the best. We like excellence in everything, especially sports. And that’s what sports do for us. Great players give us excellence, and the best ones do that (mostly) all of the time.

Spiritually, God requires excellence as well. Since we can’t be at our best all of the time on our own, He now asks — not demands, but asks — that allow Him to help us be at our best, live at our best, and stay at our best, all of the time. Naturally, that’s what Serena is doing on the court. Naturally and spiritually, that’s God wants to help us do every day in every way.

Croatia Stuns England, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Is Theirs for the Taking

Coratia's mario-mandzukic 2018
Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring Croatia’s winning goal in their upset, comeback win against England

“Little” Croatia didn’t get the memo. Little Croatia didn’t read the script. And Little Croatia, the little country across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (see, sports and a geography lesson to boot!) that was carved out of former Yugoslavia (and a history lesson), is on its way to its first World Cup Final in only 27 years of existence. And along the way, Team Croatia defeated Argentina and host Russia. Unbelievable.

England was on its way to not just the World Cup Final, but to a victory in the World Cup Final. It was a fait accompli, or so they thought. Until Croatia got in the way with a come from behind, goal in extra time-turnaround win. It was an upset for the ages. England wasn’t supposed to lose. And Croatia wasn’t supposed to win. And that’s how the ball bounces in this summer of surprises.

And here’s the theological twist: what have people, or even you yourself, said that you couldn’t do? What seemingly insurmountable, unachievable, or impossible feat have you been told just can’t happen in your life? Write it down. The Biblical examples are endless. Abraham and Sarah had their promised baby boy late in their retirement years. So did Zacharias and Elizabeth. The woman with the issue of blood was cleansed after being sick for so long, and the widow from Nain had her son raised to life again. It can happen!

So write it down. Write what you are believing God for down. Put a magnet on it and stick it on the refrigerator. Write it in on a post it and stick it on your mirror. This way, every day, you can remind yourself of what you are believing God for. And then remember Croatia in the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Because if Croatia can pull off the improbable, you can too.

And if “little” Croatia defeats France in the final on Sunday, they will forever be the upstart that pulled off the upset that we will be talking about for ages to come. And, when your miracle comes to pass, we’ll be talking about you too.

JR Smith: How To Lose Game 1 of the NBA Finals

JR-Smith

What can you say? What IS there to say?  After a mistake or a mental lapse or a complete meltdown, what should be said? Sometimes, saying nothing is the right thing to say. Because there is nothing that JR Smith can say to excuse his behavior. The more he tried to explain, the worse it got. I saw the game. I saw Smith’s mouth form the words, “I thought we were ahead” to LeBron. And so did millions of other people. So no matter how you slice it, it was a mistake beyond words.

Smith dribbled the ball out to half-court, clearly thinking that the Cavs had the lead. By the time he realized that the game was tied it was too late. LeBron James was furious with his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate for dribbling out the clock and clearly not knowing the score at the end of regulation.

The game went into overtime and instead of LeBron James finishing an all-time great NBA Finals performance by stealing a win on the road, the Warriors dominated the extra period to hold home court.

Yes, we’ve all made fun of JR Smith dribbling out the game with 4.7 still left on the clock in regulation. Yes LeBron was furious, and for good reason. And yes the Cavaliers could have stolen Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals from the Golden State Warriors. But noooooo — JR Smith didn’t have the awareness needed at a critical juncture and now he’ll have find a way to atone for his sin.  And this is where theology comes in. Only God can truly atone, because atonement is a job for God. We just have to trust Him to do it His way.

Yes we’ve been hard on Smith. Yes it was a boneheaded play. And yes the Cavs blew a golden opportunity. Ever been there? We all have.  That’s the lesson that sports teaches. Our failures don’t have to be final. Our foolhardiness does not have to define us. It only does if we let it.

Divine Madness: Sports For People Who Don’t Like Sports

Sports_Illustrated March Madness 2048

There is a connection between God and sports, especially during the maddening month of March. Some call it Divine Madness. The month of March is a time when everyone can be a sports fan. And that’s why I write for any and as many that will read. While I’m not a sports writer, per se, I am a sports fan. And I’m a blogger that writes about the nexus and the node and the link and the liaison between God and sports.

I get it that some are not “in” to sports. Many women don’t like sports. Some men don’t like sports, but we won’t go into that, at least not now. Anyway, for those who say they don’t like sports, I can see football being too fluctuated and baseball being too boring and hockey being too horrid. But basketball, and specifically college basketball, and college basketball in MARCH, indeed is rated “E” for everyone.

And that brings us to the subject of our session (wait, is this therapy? Yes, it is, but more on that later). Anyway, the subject of our session is The Big Dance. The Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments are sports for people who do and DON’T like sports.

The obsession termed March Madness is a microcosm of life itself. It’s a single elimination tournament with entirely all sorts of every type, from the cream to the crap, and everything else in between. You have the haves and the have nots; you have the big dogs and the little dudes. You have the powerhouse teams and the rag tag, just happy to make it to the Dance dames who didn’t even dare to dream of dancing with the prince of the prom. There are middle of the roadies who aren’t that bad but they’re not that good either. All are on equal footing and have an equal opportunity to win at least one game, and stand an outside chance at winning the whole dag gum thing.

And that’s just like life. We all have hopes and dreams and ambitions and aspirations and we all collide with each other on the way to dance with the prince at the Ball. Unfortunately and invariably, some dreams will die hard. When a favorite loses to an also ran, and when an unlikely-to-succeed beats the belle of the ball, we all can identify and personify the notions and the emotions and the feelings and foundations that form and frame the structure of our core.
At our very core, we long to be successful and to succeed. We long to be acknowledged and to be accepted. In essence, everyone wants to win and we all yearn to be celebrated. And each and every team in the tournament wants to win, and they have to believe that they have a chance to win it all. And that’s why we love the upsets and the comebacks and the turnarounds that the tournament will give us almost every night for the next three weeks.

And that’s why everyone can be a sports fan, especially during the maddening month of March. God will accept us and receive us; yes all of us – red and yellow and black and white – just as we are and just where we are.

Because we’ve all been dinged and damaged by life in some way; we all need therapy, in some form or another. And so we end this needed and necessary session with this: sports is therapy. Yes it can be misused and abused, but sports in general and March Madness in particular is a window and a glimpse of how we all have a chance and a shot to be elevated to Heaven and to be celebrated by Heaven.

And so the bottom line is this: the God of Heaven is the only hope we have for health and healing in this life. March madness, it its wired, wacky way, teaches us this truth. That’s why everyone can be a sports fan.

To some it’s not rational and it doesn’t make sense, and that’s why some others call it Divine Madness.

Moonlighting In La La Land: A Blunder of Oscar Proportions

faye-dunaway-et-warren-beatty

This one takes the cake. I mean, REALLY?  How does a firm like PricewaterhouseCoopers manage to muff this one? And then how do you not READ what the dag gum card says? I mean the entire card, since you weren’t sure everything was kosher? And THEN, how do you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not take responsibility for the mishap and come on stage immediately and publicly apologize to the winners and — sorry La La Land – the losers – and to your audience? How do you not make an overt effort to clean up the mess? 

It’s called responsibility. It’s called accountability. It’s called taking ownership and showing leadership and bearing the burden of righting a wrong, regardless of how embarrassing it is. We’ve all been there, and we all know that a wrong un-righted will sink the ship. 

There’s plenty of blame to go around on this one. Let’s just hope that when we find ourselves in such a pickle, we don’t point fingers and pin blame, but we readily admit our participation in the predicament, and graciously, but not boorishly, acknowledge our part of the poop and apologize. In theological terms is called asking for forgiveness. Isn’t that what we as believers are supposed to do? 

Here is one spot on spin from a reporter at AZcentral.com: 

“The wildest screw-up in Oscar’s history couldn’t have been more metaphorically momentous for African-Americans who last year shamed the Academy’s lack of diversity. 

The crazy finale turned the entertainment world upside down when “La La Land,” which had mostly white leading actors, mistakenly received Best Picture. It turned out that “Moonlight,” with mostly black actors, had won. 

It wasn’t just the screw-up that stunned (us all). The moment embodied the #OscarSoWhite shaming campaign last year against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The uncomfortable faces of white entertainers handing over the figurine to African-Africans was simply surreal.” Well said, even though everyone seemed to give the La La Land cast kudos for handing over the Oscar, and handling the awkward moment, graciously. 

Anyway, here’s what happened at the Oscars last night when the envelope for Best Picture was opened (as reported by thedailybeast.com and the inquisitor.com) in case you missed the play by play and the blow by blow: 

“Everybody is talking about that awkward moment at Oscar 2017 now. It’s being discussed above all the glory associated with winning the prestigious trophy. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, two Hollywood legends by their own merit, became the center of attraction for being responsible for the mix-up.”

To be sure, while Beatty opened and held the card, it was Faye Dunaway who actually announced that it was La La Land that won the Best Picture award.

“When the entire team went to the stage to celebrate the occasion at the Oscars, it was producer Adele Romanski who realized there was a mistake. He declared it was the Moonlight team that should come to the stage.” (http/:/www.inquisitr.com)

 “Beatty lost no opportunity to hammer home his case, telling DailyMail.com’s long time showbiz reporter Baz Bamigboye: “People thought I was being dramatic but I wasn’t. There was something wrong. I showed it to Faye and she said La La Land.” 

Hours after the blunder, accounting firm PwC, which collates votes and administers the awards, issued a statement saying: “We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. 

The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. 

“We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.” According to reports, Beatty’s wife Annette Bening phoned him as he was entering the ball and suggested he head home but the iconic actor refused, saying once again that he had done nothing wrong. 

According to USA Today, one of the accountants from PwC realized Beatty had been given the wrong envelope within seconds. The accountant jumped up, saying: “He took the wrong envelope!”  Oopps. Too Late? Or was it?

Backwards and Forwards

XII FINA World Championships - Diving

At the end of the year, as we prepare to dive into 2020, we are in the midst of what is, and what was, and what is to come.  The photo shows an Inward dive which begins with the diver at the end of the springboard with her back to the water. The diver is facing backwards, but the end result is that she will be moving forwards. This is the position we find ourselves in: at the end of our springboards, facing backwards, reflecting on 2019 as we prepare to dive forwards into 2020, a new year and a new decade.

At the end of the year, most everyone, and athletes more than most, look backwards and forwards.  We look back over the past year’s accomplishments and achievements, and forward to the coming year’s promises and potentials.  Sports teams and athletes look back at what could have been, and look forward to what may well be.  As believers, we should do the same. We should be well versed in the already and the not yet; what has happened and what is yet to occur. 

To know something backwards and forwards is an idiom which means “to be extremely well-informed about something.”  As people of faith, we should be extremely well-informed about what God has done, what He is doing, and what He is about to do.  Looking at past victories helps us to long for future triumphs. We must be well versed and “well informed” about something. And that something is our faith in God.  We are to be “rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith” (Colossians 2:7), so that we can take root downward and bear fruit upward.

Backwards and forwards covers where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  It includes going from strength to strength, from victory to victory and from glory to glory.  Thus the “Theology of Sports” covers and includes both the theology and the philosophy of sports.  Theology and philosophy include life and love; passion and pathos; winning and wanting to win; losing and hating to lose.  “Correctly understood, theology and philosophy are inextricably intertwined.”

Jesus is our “backwards and forwards.”  He is our alpha and omega, our first and our last, our beginning and our ending, and everything in between. Jesus is our theology and our philosophy. “Traditionally, theology is defined as “faith seeking understanding.”  Philosophy is indispensable to theology because it articulates the questions that theology answers. And, from a Christian perspective, philosophy needs theology, for the final source and substance of wisdom is the God who has reveled himself to us in Christ.”

Jesus is our faith and our reason.  Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and the cause and effect of our reason.  “Faith and reason are thus the two ‘wings’ on which the human spirit rises to contemplate truth. God has placed a desire to know him in our hearts so that we can also come to know the fullness of truth about ourselves. It is marvelous to learn by firsthand experience that ‘all truth is God’ s truth’ and that one cannot pursue truth sincerely in any field of endeavor without coming eventually to fall – backwards and forwards – into His arms.” (Excerpts from Professor H.S. Horton-Parker, Regent University).

As we look back on 2019 and look forward to 2020, let’s thank God for the maintains and let’s thank Him  for the valleys too.  Faith says to reason, the trials had to happen. Because if we never had a problem, we’d never know that God could solve them.

And let’s rejoice in advance, for the best is yet to come.

Happy New Year