Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: December 2011

How I Seek to Decorate: Open my Mind and Heart

There are three photos and one poster in my room that face my bed. The three photos are all of suns low in the sky. The first is of a moss-covered, gangly tree in Florida; the sun is positioned perfectly in between where two branches met at the top. The tree looks like a looming monster. The second sunset is in Wyoming, and is set against a tall, slanting hill covered with pine trees. The third, and most recent, I took on the California coast just north of San Francisco. The sun is balanced against a hill that slants to the opposite way than the hill in the other photos. And beside them is noir-ish, 1930’s poster from Yosemite, featuring two yodelers dancing on the edge of a cliff. I have to have at least one fun picture,

Most days, I barely notice these pictures. They are the ghosts of those moments when I linger between sleeping and rising. But whenever I recognize them, I remember the places I’ve been and think about where I’m going, and what I want my life to be. I travel a lot for work and pleasure, and every time I see those pictures, I thank God for the beauty of His creation.

I house-sit for my parents in a two-story duplex. It’s a great house, with more space than you would think from looking at from the outside. Since I started living there five years ago when they moved to Iowa to start a business, I have sought to fill the empty walls with my pictures from all over the Midwest, and the country as well. Landscapes from Death Valley, the waters around the Golden Gate Bridge, and cliffs by the Mississippi have decked our walls at one time or another. Birds, barns, cattle, and flowers all fill-in space, mostly behind corners or in the bathroom.

My main goal with my photo art is to create space and evoke emotion. It is what I love the most about landscapes and rural scenery-finding the right photo can  make a room feel real in a way that you never expected. You don’t need to find something obvious and loud to fill your walls (not that you couldn’t love a bold painting); likely if it’s your house, you won’t spend hours staring at what’s on your walls. The right picture or painting, you’ll walk by it everyday, and it will change the way you look at the world.

Take, for example the photograph that I have in my foray: an early morning clouded sky at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, facing a cliff where the Juan Cabrillo Statue stands. I walk by it a lot, when I come down the stairs, or when I come out of the bathroom. Every time I see it, the meldings of blue, light pink, and gray in the sky draw me into it. I always look for the statue, muted and small on the crest of the cliff. I took that photo on the day when my father and I had come to San Diego to attend the Nebraska bowl game, right after a huge snow storm had hit Nebraska on Christmas eve. I was very thankful to be there.

That is exactly the spirit the take when it comes to hanging things on my own walls: find works that inspire good thoughts. It’s more than just filling space, it’s about creating a culture of beauty and consideration, where even the smallest places can be transformed into a place of meaning that make you go Wow.

Penn State vs. Nebraska: the Game After

Before I get to today’s post, I want to say thank you again to everyone who has been reading and supporting my blog. A couple of days ago, I had one of my most views on my piece on the Penn State coaching search. Thank you.

For today’s post, I want to again return to Penn State, and reflect on the Penn State-Nebraska game that followed the week of the grand jury report and Paterno’s firing. As Nebraska fan, I took a special interest in the game, and could not have been more proud  of the sportsmanship that my team showed before and after the game. I was also pleased that Nebraska won the game although part of me wanted Nebraska to win because a week of hearing about how Penn State rose up in the face of all odds to win a game, it would have been unbearable for me to say the very least.

But as I watched the game, there was something that struck me as odd. The mood at Penn State was somber, for obvious reason: the program had exposed a have for an abuser of children, forcing the sacking the program’s icon, Joe Paterno. But I wonder as I watched the game, what does the average Joe at home think? When he watches Jay Paterno crying during a post-game interview, did they think that his whole scene at Penn State was because Paterno had lost his job, or because of the crimes that had been committed there?

Let me be clear about this: both the situations are sad and are intertwined. But the one thing I didn’t see enough of during this telecast was the ESPN-ABC announcers making that distinction and saying, the Penn State and Nebraska players came together in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse. Penn State going with a blue-out for the victims of sexual abuse. Given the regard that Joe Paterno had, I really thought that broadcast media dropped the ball in this regard; they needed to make it crystal clear that these were about the victims, not just Paterno.

Frankly, if I were a broadcast executive, I would not have shown any of the signs that said This One’s for Joe or anything that expressed support for Joe Paterno but not because I feel no sympathy for Joe Paterno. The reason I wouldn’t show the sign is, Joe Paterno, no matter how accomplished or how much he’d done for college football, had been caught in a sexual abuse scandal. If one of those victims, or really any victim of sexual abuse had been watching that game, what would they think if they saw those signs? I don’t blame the fans themselves for bringing the sign because they are fans; but if I’m the media boss, I’m not showing them on national TV.

But I understand why Jay Paterno is crying, and why Penn State fans in general are sad over his firing. Paterno’s moral image was forever ruined, and it left Nittany Lion nation and college football fans questioning his leadership. Beyond Sandusky’s crimes and his victims, it was a terrible day for college football. But at least for a few moments on the field, we could all see a new start coming.

Penn State and the NCAA: Hunting for the Truth

As I alluded to before, the question of sanctions now loom over Penn State. Both the NCAA and the Big 10 have said that they will investigate the Penn State administration for their “lack of institutional control” in the Sandusky matter. While no specific by-laws appear to have been violated, the both governing bodies likely feel the need to look into the matter, given how heinous a crime sexual abuse is.

This isn’t a time to mock the NCAA for being a toothless organization, even if they look the part. Beyond Sandusky’s crimes, there was a culture of looking the other way, and iconic Joe Paterno was at its center. What the NCAA needs to do is come into Penn State, and ask the question, why didn’t people look further into the incidents that were reported?  Why didn’t the administration report incidents to the police and follow to make sure the investigation was complete? And why wasn’t Sandusky kicked out after multiple incidents were reported? To surmise, what the NCAA needs to find out is why Penn State consistently was looking the other way.

The purpose of this report may not be to sanction Penn State, although they may deserve it. What is the concern here is an organization was used to mask criminal activity. The NCAA is in the territory where the FBI was with Al Capone; they have to get all the information on the case (or as much of it as they are able), and decide if and how Penn State should be punished, although unlike Capone, the NCAA shouldn’t go in with the direct objective to punish Penn State, but only do it if it is deemed that the school didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky or investigate him more throughly.

Here’s my take: Penn State probably does deserve some punishment, but not the harshest. Joe Paterno and most the administration has been fired, and one thing we know about how the NCAA punishes people: if you fire the culprits (Ohio State), your punishment is lessened. If you don’t (USC), you’re going to get slapped pretty good. Going back to my post yesterday, this is why Penn State shouldn’t promote Tom Bradley and should clean house on all of its assistants. Not saying they knew or were at fault for what happened, but with the NCAA, it’s best not to take chances.

One wild card in this is that, even though Paterno has been fired, there really isn’t any way to punish him. Unlike Jim Tressell, no one will hire him at his age, so there’s no point in attaching sanctions to another program. Although to be fair, he is 84, and Richard Nixon-pardon situation could be in order.

Many liberal educators will likely come out and say that Penn State deserves the death penalty, and this was an opinion I considered briefly when the scandal broke. While this incident may show the worst consequences of lack of institutional control, the death penalty is the NCAA’s harshest penalty and should only be reserved for the harshest, multiple offenders, as was witnessed in the SMU scandal. Maybe it needs to be put on the table in this instances, but it is unlikely that it would need using.

The real concern here is how a major university, and specifically, an athletic department, was used to mask criminal activity.  Before Penn State, many probably didn’t think that an athletic department could hide a pedophile, but that certainly is the case here. Could they use to be launder drug money or smuggle terrorists into the country? Those things are likely the stuff of John Grisham novels, but athletic success can blind people, and major college football has a culture of looking the other way as players and booster share $100 handshakes. If the NCAA wants to be prepared, they should make a through investigation, find out how Sandusky’s behavior was kept secret, and create a policy, perhaps similar to the personal conduct policy for NFL players, stating that universities will be subject to discipline if they engage in behavior that is criminal or damaging to the reputation of the NCAA.

Penn State: a Coaching Search that Drags on as if it were 1955

It has been nearly a month since the college football season ended, and all the open jobs have been filled except one: Penn State. This is simultaneous surprising and not surprising. On the one hand, Penn State fired Joe Paterno with three weeks left in the season, giving them plenty of time to contact a search firm. Pitt, in the same state with the same recruiting base, lost their head coach unexpectedly in mid-December, and a new coach in nine days, and a very good hire at that. With its tradition and revenue, the appeal seems natural, but of course the circumstances are quite complicated, which is why the job remains glaringly open.

Most fans thought no one would want to be the guy who followed Joe Paterno, and now with the scandal, it certainly doesn’t help matters. Sports by Brooks reported a few weeks ago that there was in fighting in the Penn State administration over whether to hire an external candidate or keep Tom Bradley, “because he know where the bodies are buried” according to a source. Colin Cowherd said on ESPN Radio shortly after Paterno was fired that Penn State job only looked better than it was because of Paterno, and that a Randy Edsall-type was the best Nittany Lion Nation could hope for. Given that Penn Live reported in mid-December that Penn State had talked recently to Duke’s David Cutcliffe and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo after originally targeting Urban Meyer-trained Dan Mullens and Kyle Whittingham, it would seem Cowherd was accurate. And the instability in Penn State’s administration, with an acting athletic director and no permanent president, probably isn’t helping matters.

I would like to offer an apology to Penn State on behalf of my program-the turbulent stint at Nebraska by Bill Callahan probably is hurting Penn State’s ability to hire a top coach. And Michigan’s ugly three years with Rich Rodriguez probably didn’t help either.

Michigan and Nebraska are both examples of why potential coaches would think twice about taking the Penn State job. Callahan and Rodriguez were outside hires to tradition-rich, successful programs who made dramatic changes to the offense. When they met resistance, the crusty, northern fan bases where quick to turn on their coaches, and the fact that Callahan and Rodriguez were seen as outsiders only hastened their departures. Penn State, similarly, is a tradition-rich school whose expectations have been inflated by past results. Also similar to Nebraska and Michigan, Penn State has tradition been financially conservative when spending for football; the coming civil lawsuits for the university’s failure to report Sandusky to the police won’t help.

Not that there still aren’t a lot of positives about Penn State: the 100,000 seat stadium yields roughly $50 million in ticket revenue (assuming seven home games), plus the money from the Big 10 network and the newly created Big 10 championship game probably puts Penn State’s total football revenue around $75-$80 million, as high as any top football program in the nation (although a lot of that goes into non-revenue sports). There are traditions and expectation, which over the long run are good. Penn State can also sell itself as the football school, in a football conference, to the recruits in the northeast, from Boston down through D.C.

I would postulate there is another parallel with Nebraska, and Penn State’s other rivalry via similar culture, Iowa, share that will ultimately help Penn State get at least a good coach: willingness to keep a coach that maybe doesn’t win huge but wins consistently. Iowa often gripes about what they have to pay Kirk Ferentz because of his NFL overtures, but they don’t mind keeping around, even with more losses to Northwestern than ten-plus win seasons. Similarly, Nebraska has kept its criticism of Bo Pelini on the lighter side, after the Steve Pedersen made the Cornhuskers look like a win at all costs program. My prediction is, while Penn State maybe a rough-and-tumble job if you go about it the wrong way (Rodriguez didn’t anticipate how much bigger the spotlight got, West Virginia to a more visible program), but it is a job where you can survive a couple of six or seven win seasons in a row, as Ferentz does at Iowa. Of course, if you are a bad coach, or a career assistant in the head coach’s chair (ala Callahan), you’ll get found out quickly, and the road out of town will be unpleasant to say the least.

That leads to the question of Tom Bradley, and specifically whether or not Penn State should give him the job. It is been my mind all along, with allegations against Sandusky being what they are, and given that it seemed to be an open secret among the Penn State administration, that there’s no way anyone with a Penn State connection should get the head coaching job (including Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano). While there is no precedent for the NCAA acting in this incident, the governing body will investigate, and Penn State should learn from USC: make sure you fire everyone who was involved in the cover-up, or the institution will be screwed. Ohio State followed that model, fired Jim Tressell, and got a penalty that was less severe than USC. Yes, Penn State did fire Paterno and the university president, but I wouldn’t take any chances, especially given how close Bradley and Sandusky were.

Given the lack of precedent in the case, it is hard to say how the NCAA would punish Penn State, if they indeed deem it necessary to do so (another subject for another post). What I am saying is that, given Penn State’s keep-in-the-family approach, the best thing to do would be to start over, even they have to a has-been like Tommy Bowden. Get someone respectable, and show everyone you’re moving on. Again, civil suits are likely around the corner

And if Bradley unearths more dirt on the university? Penn State already looks like a mess, they should just let Bradley go and say whatever he has to say, and issue public apologies when he does. Giving Bradley, a yes-man career assistant, the head coaching job could sink the program even worse in the long run. Don’t think that Paterno made Bradley his defensive coordinator for a reason: Paterno was turning seventy-four when he promoted Bradley, and he must have known, that, to continue to hold on to his position for many more years, he would have to surround himself with people who would do his bidding without question. Don’t let him blackmail you into the head coaching job, Penn State.

Although, there would be some merit in keeping Bradley. If the best Penn State can do is David Cutcliffe, fired from one job and now not winning at Duke, Bradley at best could be Bill Guthridge at North Carolina, who gave the Tar Heels three pretty good years before heading off into the sunset. With the uncertainty in the administration, Bradley might be the best man, at least until the Big 10 and the NCAA have finished their investigation, and a new president and athletic director are firmly in place. At least he wouldn’t embarrass the program…unless he knew about Sandusky.

But ultimately, what Penn State needs to do is get ride of all of the current staff, and move on to a new coach, showing that the keep-it-in-the-family culture is gone. They already look pretty backward, in the most drawn-out coaching search since Steve Pedersen’s Nebraska debacle in 2003.

How My Journey of Photographing Barns Began

As God told Eve after the fall, births are never painful. How I became a photographer was a rough journey. It took place in two parts. One was a trip to Wyoming in August of 2008. The other was a day in 2009 when I went to visit a field by central Iowa and had a panic attack.

The trip to Wyoming was to visit our alfalfa grower by Otto. Otto is small town about50 miles east Cody and the gates of Yellowstone . Calling it a town is an exaggeration; it is more like a collection houses and old buildings. There are roughly four households there, and a post office that is run out of a small room in our grower’s home. Mail is delivered to the town twice a week, and you pick it up.

The drive from my home in Seward to Otto is over 750 miles, roughly twelve and a half hours. The problem with that is, it is just over the amount of time that you can make it in one day. Add in the time I spend visiting with the grower, it was a three days. The trip is more rural than any of the trips that I go on, and I travel to rural areas all the time. Sure there are great places along the way: Hokes Cafe in Hastings, Cabela’s in Sidney, Sierra Trading Post in Cheyenne. But it’s empty land, and I have never passed more farmyards littered with old trucks, tractors, and other broken down machinery from the last four decades. It’s like they expect another depression to hit any day now. (Given the greedy morons who run our economy and our gutless politicians, they may be on to something.)

But while I was passing also rotting barns, breaking down sheds, and combines that were older than I was, I got to thinking about how cool it would be to drive through that country and just take photographs of everything. It could make a good coffee table book or home art; I could remember the painting my grandparents kept in their farmhouses. I stowed those ideas in the back of my mind and while I mostly photographed the landscapes and roads around me.

The day in August of 2009, I was headed out to rural Iowa to look at a field of soybeans. It was a bad day in a really bad time in my life, and for a variety of reasons a bunch of problems had come to a head that day. After I left the field distraught, I drove down the road back to the highway, and right by the turn-on to the road, there were these two barns, with a windmill sitting between them, its blades facing one of the barns. Here, I thought I would take some of the frustration out of my experience of going to fields, and photograph some barns. So I took my camera, and photographed the barns and the windmills. I often photographed a lot of the little towns I went through, but this was the first time I can remember shooting barn.

An 8’x”10 of those barns and windmill now hangs on the wall by the staircase in our basement. There is something eerie and haunting about it to me, because at the time, I was feeling like a failure. In many ways, that’s what photographing a barn is like for me: seeing ghosts. But now, I taking steps to show my photos around, and I realize that that day, I was starting a new chapter in my life.

Star Trek, Star Wars, and Scriptures: a Subtle, Subvervise Conflict

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. -1 Timothy 4:3-5
Christmas night, I watched the movie Super 8 with my sister, J.J. Abrams’ homage to E.T., Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and bunch of other space movies Abrams grew up on. Don’t get me wrong; I loved E.T. as a kid, and I have no doubts as to the quality of Close Encounters. I do find the scif-fi/space genre a limiting in some respects. It worked better in the 70’s and 80’s, and somewhat in the 90’s, when technology kept improving and seemed like it would open up so many new doors. But as a Christian person, I do find it somewhat subtle and concerning when I keep seeing science fiction, and particularly, the space genre, used as a substitute for belief in any type of God and traditional religion.
Now, there are aspects of it that can be entertaining and tell good stories. They can serve as political allegories (Battlestar Galactica for modern America) or as reflections of a merging society (Star Trek and the tearing down of racial barriers in the 1960’s and 1970’s). Space comedies Spaced Invaders and Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs poke good fun.
But I find increasingly, whether it be the force in Star Wars, or the long cannon of Star Trek, that space movies seem to be offering themselves up as religions in and of themselves, providing a skeptical cultural with a more “relevant” and “practical” view of God. The upcoming Alien prequel Prometheus (co-written by Abrams cohort Damon Lindelof) features a lead character whose faith will be challenged when she finds herself battling other-worldly monsters, and that film itself will offer up some alternate explanations for humanities origins. Such men would probably call the Bible’s account the “mere myth that survived the longest.”
Science fiction as religion is the natural progression of both Darwinian evolution and enlightenment thinking. As the enlightenment championed the reason of man, it stood to reason that he could conquer worlds far outside his own realm. Alexander would not have cried when he saw there were no more realms to conquer; he’d simply chart a new course to a new solar system, and find new cultures and realities. It caters to the most important principal of enlightenment: all these worlds outside of ours center around man, and we can find them if we just look inward.
In terms of evolution, when one looks at the new worlds, the possibility of shared technology, coupled with the world we live in that is filling up better technology faster than we can imagine, it enforces the belief that man truly is evolving and getting better. Of course, Captain Kirk is no better at offering an answer as what is wrong with the world than did Buddha. On a more subtle level, it plays out the what-ifs of evolution, in films like Planet of the Apes, to blur the line between people and the monkeys evolutionists believe we descended from.

But what’s most scary about sci-fi religion is that it is the type of faith our deistic fathers in this country would have loved: a religion of civil unity and peace, which emphasized everyone getting along while keeping their traditions. Say things that are socially honorable, and you can lead whatever kind of life you want to.
But what the sci-fi/space genre inevitably points to is man’s need for God. In a world that has been divorced from transcendent God for many years, have been discredited, the generations of low self-esteem computer nerds would rather put their faith in the progressive-technology world that looks more like their own. The churches who spends time on financial programs and how to live a better life fail to show these people that there is a real God who is known to us, as Paul proclaimed to the Athenians in Acts 17. And as Paul said, he isn’t contained in any of the works or the things known to man.
So, how then should Christians respond to sci-fi/space movies? I don’t think we need to be throwing them into burn piles, and indeed, there are times when they do provide quality entertainment. Even Super 8 has a very good story about broken families coming back together, and the simplicity of the way kids see the world. But whenever you watch one of them, know the themes that are lying underneath them. And when there is a popular space movie out there, take the time to discuss it with your friends. Know that, for the people who make these movies, they have to find a greater meaning in them, and the characters in them. Be grateful for how Jesus has come to you: you didn’t have to go find him in the sky, but he came to you instead, and still does. Rejoice and be glad, and as Peter says, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Rushing to Judgment: Why the Grand Jury Report is Enough to Sink Sandusky

This post as a result of a twitter exchange I had with @EndofanError12, a user who I assume is a Penn State fan. This individual read my blog posts about Joe Paterno and state his/her strong disagreement with what I said. This user said that we needed to “wait for the facts” and informed that grand jury testimony was without cross examination or defense statements. While this is likely a minority opinion that pertains mostly to fans of the Penn State program, it did get me thinking, and I want to address this.

To acknowledge the point, yes, grand jury testimony is mere statements, without the defense’s perspective. It is entirely possible that Jerry Sandusky will be able to present evidence at his trial that the information in the grand jury report is inconsistent and not conclusive enough to convict him on any counts. For example, the defense will likely point out that Mike McQueary has made conflicting statements about the incident he witnessed in the shower (the e-mails that McQueary sent out which said he broke up the incident in the shower, information he previously did not reveal). That’s how defense lawyer work in a case like this-they try to shed doubt on an event by showing how it has been recounted differently by a witness.

But to main concern of the person who tweeted at me: that people have rushed to judgment on this case based on a grand jury report, not on a trial and/or conviction. My answer to that is this: while a grand jury report is not conclusive, I can show how strong a prosecutor’s case is. I have read most of it, and, while trying to skim some of the more graphic parts, the very minimum objective conclusion that one can come to is that Jerry Sandusky was in several suggestive situations with young boys. It is very disturbing to say the least. Twice Sandusky was witnessed in the showers with a boy (the McQueary incident and the one a janitor witnessed), he was caught in another questionable incident “wrestling” incident, and there was another incident that was reported second hand to university police. If that doesn’t at least Sandusky has some sort of problem, I don’t know what does. In addition to the report, Sandusky admitted in his interview with Bob Costas that he did shower with children, which, in and of itself, was a compromising position for him to be in, irregardless of what he did or did not do.

Also, there are a total of eight victims in the report. Eight victims is pretty conclusive, and more victims are coming forward. ESPN didn’t want to run the sexual abuse story about Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine when there was only one known victim; once there were two victims, they ran it. Again, we have eight here, so that doesn’t look good.

To demonstrate how we can accurately draw conclusion from this grand jury, let me make a comparison to case in the non-fiction book A Civil Action, and the movie that followed it. In both the book and film, the lawyer for the defendant, Jerome Thatcher (played by Robert Duvall in the film), knew immediately when he heard the plaintiff’s testimony in their pre-trial discovery that they had a very strong case and that he might have to settle the case. Discovery in a law suit is very much like a grand jury: witness have answer all questions asked, there is no cross, and objections are noted in the record until they can be ruled on by the judge. The testimony can be one-sided, but just because it is one-sided doesn’t mean that it isn’t valued or meaningful. Again consider: the facts are, there are eight victims, three indepent witnesses, and one other second hand report to police. That is grave evidence.

Now, Sandusky, like O.J. Simpson before him, can hire an excellent defense attorney, and that may get him off. But even if he were to be acquitted, it would be because there was a lope hole in the prosecution’s case. Remember, the prosecutor has the burden proof; if the defense can cause the tiniest shadow of doubt on that, Sandusky could go free. Of course, he’ll likely still have to pay off his victims in civil suits.

Also, if you think the prosecutor is just gunning for publicity, consider this: in the Duke lacrosse case, a prosecutor got disbarred because he ran to file charges against in what would undoubtedly be a high profile case. Sexual assault or abuse charges ruin a persons life, whether the accused is found guilty or not. I think we can be pretty sure that the prosecutor who filed this case were dead sure that it was solid if it was going to involve a popular university like Penn State and stain the legacy of Joe Paterno.

Pujols Leaving the Cardinals: Why they Should Thank Tom Hicks

Full disclosure: I’m not a Cardinals fan, or even an avid baseball, although I do end up watching a lot of baseball because it’s on why I’m traveling in the summer. I appreciate the Cardinals as a sports organization. Like the team I root for, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Cardinals are a smart organization, with smart, knowledgeable fans who are quite level headed. That’s why I was very intrigued by their response to Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals for the Angels: measured, reserved frustration, with a grasp of that this was probably what was best for the organization as a whole.

St. Louis Cardinals, thank Tom Hicks and the Minnesota Twins for setting you up to let Pujols go.

It wasn’t by design. But when Tom Hicks broke the bank to bring Alex Rodriguez to the Texas Rangers, he showed that spending the farm on a star brought you interest in the short term, but now success in the long term. Similarly, the Minnesota Twins were pressured into handing hometown hero Joe Mauer a huge contract and will be handicapped for the next sixth year. The Cardinals, while not a poor franchise, are in a smaller market, and St. Louis as a community is frugal. Pujols’ contract would have been a $20-million-per-year-payment for the next 10 years, assuming perfect health. Quite the gamble.

But in the minds of Cardinal fans, that might not have been enough. Pujol’s wife said in a radio interview that the Cardinals’ initially offered her husband a five year deal, about half of what he said he wanted and what he ended up signing for. Should the Cardinals have been embarrassed by such low-balling? Again, no, they were not going to offer an aging player too many years. The Yankees, who have an embarrassment of riches, took the same tact with Derek Jeter last winter, and eventually, Jeter had to come back to them.

Really Cardinal fans, your management gets it: you don’t win by over paying superstars. You win by finding good players and locking them up when they’re twenty-four, like the Cardinals did with Pujols initially. The Yankees spent lavishly on C.C. Sabitha and Mark Texeira three winters ago, and have a mere World Series to show for it. Their competing brethern, the Red Sox, poured money into Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and their clubhouse was dysfunctional by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers have had a huge couple of years, mainly because they had a bunch of players who came through the system together and peaked at the right time. In a sport with guaranteed contracts, an organization is better off paying stars until they reach their early thirties, and then letting them go.

The Cardinals’ letting Pujols go also symbolizes the Midwestern frugality that helped the region weather the economic crisis better than the coasts. Buy a three-or-four year-old car instead of a new one, buy some of your clothes from a thrift store or dollar general, and eating out less. When you see Wall Street taking a beating, you don’t blame anyone, even your sports teams, for doing with less.

While it stings to loose Pujols now, remember Cardinals fans, how the deal looks now isn’t as important as to how it will look seven to ten years from now. If seven years from, Pujols is averaging twenty games on the DL a year and nothing more than a DH, all of you will say that the Cardinals did the right thing. And if a great young first baseman breaks into your lineup in the next few years, all the more power to the organization.

A Christmas Meditation on John 1:14

Today, on Christmas, I wanted to reflect on a verse we talked on often in Greek class, John 1:14a, a text that is often used at Christmas. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (ESV).” Our professors called our attention to this verse very often. The second half of that verse featured a verb that is that is translated “dwelt”, which could also be translated as “made his tabernacle among us.” As the rest of this verse says, “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Exactly what the tabernacle

Advent and Christmas are about the incarnation: Christ leaving His high position at the side of the father to come to earth to take on our sins and die for them (verse 5, Dear Christians One and All Rejoice.) He set aside all that He had in heaven, and took upon our nature and lived as a poor man. It would be like Bill Gates living among homeless people, but even that analogy doesn’t do Christ’s sacrifice any justice.

Too often, I think that devil tempts us in subtle ways that we miss. We always think the big sins are murder and adultery, and these are great sins. But too often he tells us to rely on our own works: our dutiful service to our employers, our volunteer work at church, our time at the homeless shelter working with the people who have nothing. Certainly, these are all good works, which we should do with our whole hearts. But they all pale in comparison to Christ’s good work, which he came to this world to do for us. It is the only good work that has any merit before God.

So, as we go about this Christmas, let us remember why the angels are singing “Joy to the World”, and what the real “Wonder of His Love” is. It is the simple love of us, which Christ gave us through His death on the cross. As we go to the stable to see the Christ child, let us remember that Christ’s glory is that He did give himself, out of His own volition, for our salvation, a work that He does without any merit on our part. Let us come to him, not with our outward works, for all our works, no matter how righteous seeming, will all eventually fall short. Let us come to him with our failings, constant as they may be. Let us stand before Him, as the tax collector did in the temple and say, “Have mercy on me, oh Lord, for I am a sinner.”

When we look at baby Jesus, we should see him similarly to how we receive him in the Lord’s Supper: we see him without His glory, only in part. Even though He is still the one who saves, He is that in a state that is to our benefit, whether it is a baby in the manager, or as He is distributed to us in the bread and wine. That, along with baptism and the preaching of the Word, is how He makes his dwelling among us now. Let us rejoice!

So now, as we go about our shopping and other things this Christmas, let’s remember the reason we gather together with our families and give gift: Jesus Christ first humbled himself to be born in a manger and die, so we may live with him in heaven. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, and may He keep us faithful until the day of his coming! Amen.

Bowl Games and BCS: Stop the Complaining-Madness

Since it is bowl season, it is time for me to weigh in on two of the most mentioned criticisms of my favorite sport, college football: there are too many bowl games, and that the BCS sucks. I hear this to the point where it tires me out. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the number of bowl games is excessive, and that the BCS has no credibility. But I don’t think that the people who engage in vigorous hatred of the number of bowl games and the BCS (most notably, PTI’s Michael Wilbon), are doing their cause many favors.

First, thirty-five bowl games for seventy teams, more than half of the FBS, is excessive. I don’t think that teams that schedule four auto-wins and win two conference games, even in the SEC, should really be thought of as bowl-worthy. UCLA should not be in a bowl game this year with a 6-7 record, even if the lost was technically post-season. The first day of bowl games this season (two weeks after the end of the season) featured six teams from lesser conference playing in Albuquerque, Boise, and New Orleans. In the first seven bowl games played before Christmas, one involved a major conference team, 6-6 Arizona State, who had just fired their coach. Yes, crappy teams from the middle of non-AQ conferences don’t have to be given showcases outside of their annual beat-downs at Ohio State and Florida.

But bowl games are not just about about fairness; they are about generating support for the most expensive sport for a college, football. Yes, boosters and fans know how good their 6-6 team really is, but wouldn’t they rather spend December looking forward to a bad bowl game, than thinking about all the little moments during the season that kept them from that bowl. And even though it may sound cheesy, the extra practices do really help teams improve from year to year. Among other things, the increase in bowl games has helped many of the mid-level schools close the gaps between the haves and have-nots in college football. In many ways, bowl game help the 99%.

And keep in mind, even with all the bowl games there are, there are bowl-eligible teams left over. Last year, Temple beat Big East Champ Uconn, went 8-4, and did not get invited to a bowl game. This year, Ball State didn’t get an invite (thanks, UCLA), and in 2009, there were four teams left over when the sixty-eight bowl teams had been selected.

Let me say clearly: I’m not defending every bowl. Let’s get rid of all the bowls in cold climates (DC, New York, Boise), except for maybe the bowl in Detroit since they have a dome. I wouldn’t have a problem getting rid of the New Mexico Bowl, since it is hard to get to Albuquerque. And we don’t need two bowls in New Orleans, so now we’re down to thirty, which seems like more than enough. What I am saying about bowls is this: it is necessary for their to be a lot of bowls because college football needs the money and the publicity since, financially speaking, they either carry their athletic departments or burden them. And the extra practice is a good thing, so let’s put bowl games in the fruit-cake-category and stop making toilet bowl jokes.

Now, the BCS, the most universally reviled in thing in sports. Every year, someone belly-aches about either being left out of the BCS title game, or left out of a BCS game. I understand the complaining to a degree, at least by the coaches. They want to play games. They fight tooth and nail just to be in position for a BCS game, and at the end of the year, if they get left out, they have a right to complain. There’s money and long-term contracts at stake for them.

But fans, stop the death-to-the-BCS chants of the title of the popular book. Yes, the BCS has had too many screw-ups to be considered credible. There does need to be a playoff in college football, although the size of which is debatable. Some people want eight or sixteen teams in a playoff, but I reflect the position of Phil Steele: while I do think there should be a “plus-one” playoff, I am adamantly against anything more than four teams in a playoff. To me, this has nothing to do with the traditions of the bowls and such. I’m completely neutral toward the Rose Bowl parade. I think that a “plus-one” would be the easiest way to integrate a playoff into the current system, and that it would include every team worthy of playing for a national title. Also, if we do eventually get four “super conferences”, the plus-one would make a lot of sense.

Having said that, let me say this: the vehemence that you’re expressing, mega-fan, isn’t helping matter. All your red face is doing is making your cause less credibility. Even this year, one might say that there is every reason for a playoff, given that the championship game is yielding a rematch between LSU and Alabama. But truth be told, those are the two best teams: in the eleven games they’ve played against other teams, only four times have an opponent come within twenty points of either the Tide or the Tigers, all of which were on the road. And no one else is in that picture; the BCS gave us the two best teams, like it was supposed to.

Being a Nebraska fan, I’m sure many would ask me, what about 2001, when Nebraska sneaked into the game against Miami? Yes, Nebraska probably did not deserve to be in that game, but there probably wasn’t a team in the nation who did. It was Miami, and then no one else. Yes, Colorado bull-dozed Nebraska, but they lost two games. Oregon, with a month to prepare, stopped there offense soundly in the Fiesta Bowl (in my mind, they were the number two team in college football that year); imagine what Miami would have done to Colorado with their NFL-caliber defense. There are many years like this, were there was one definitively great team (USC in 2004, for example) and the BCS simply picked the lesser of the four or five great teams out there.

What changed my thinking about the BCS was 2006. When Ohio State walked through the mediocre Big 10 undefeated, then flopped against Florida in the title game, that was the last straw. Florida was the one loss team with the best case to get in the title game, and they dominated. At that point, the need for a playoff was beyond evident.

There are countless other examples I could dissect, but that would take me days to do so. Let me surmise: yes, the BCS is flawed, but the reason it has to replaced is as much because of public opinion as it does because of its flaws. Just remember fans: with the NCAA basketball tournament, while it does settle things on the floor, it gets less and less credible the more teams are added to it. I’m not saying that having a four-team playoff would kill the credibility of college football; just the opposite is true. What I am saying is that adding more teams to a potential college football playoff (the eight or sixteen playoff model) would lessen its credibility and perhaps erode it over time. Let’s just hope we get a plus-one at some point and reserve our hate for child molesters and the perpetrators of mass genocide in the third world.

Two Devotional Thoughts Leading into Christmas

Since it is two days before Christmas, I decided to surf the web for some Christian devotional material. Googling “Martin Luther Christmas” I was lead, first to the website of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lexington, Kentucky, then to a sermon Luther preached on Christmas day in 1521 or 1522, with the traditional Christmas text of Luke 2:1-14. Here’s the first couple of paragraphs:

“It is written in Haggai 2,6-7, that God says, ‘I will shake the heavens; and the precious things of all nations shall come.’ This is fulfilled today, for the heavens were shaken, that is, the angels in the heavens sang praises to God. And the earth was shaken, that is, the people on the earth were agitated; one journeying to this city, another to that throughout the whole land, as the Gospel tells us. It was not a violent, bloody uprising, but rather a peaceable one awakened by God who is the God of peace.

“It is not to be understood that all countries upon earth were so agitated; but only those under Roman rule, which did not comprise half of the whole earth. However, no land was agitated as was the land of Judea, which had been divided among the tribes of Israel, although at this time the land was inhabited mostly by the race of Judah, as the ten tribes led captive into Assyria never returned.”

Luther goes on to expound the state of Christ’s humiliation, saying how He submitted himself to his earthly authorities, as He came into our world to save us. I don’t how significant this sermon is to Lutheran scholars, but it’s worth your time. You can check it out here, and thanks again to Our Redeemer Lutheran in Lexington.

My second devotion for you this day is from God Grant It, the devotional book CPH put out with the writings of C.F.W. Walther. This comes from the writings from December 25, also based on Luke 2:1-14.

“What happened in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of that eternal decree of the heavenly father. As soon as His Son became man, the unbearable burden of all humanity’s sin was laid upon Him. And so, as Christ, God’s sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the whole world, lay in a hard crib in the dark stable, the eyes of God looked into the future to see His Son already dying on the cross. Therefore, this atonement for sins, by which God’s offended holiness and righteousness were satisfied and men were reconciled to Him, was already as good as accomplished. For this reason, God immediately opened the gates of heaven as a sign of this glorious event. The heavenly host announced the wonder of His eternal love (which He wants each person to receive) to the humblest of people, the poor shepherds, and when the heavenly choir had concluded its festival hymn of reconciliation with the world, He filled them with joy.”

Behold, God’s forgiveness comes and dwells among us. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, and be trouble by our sins no more! Amen.

Husker Insight: Will Nebraska’s Population in the West Dictate Future Trips to Phoenix?

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting twitter exchange with Sean Callahan, the insider for Initially, Callahan tweeted that the cost of airfare from Omaha to Orlando (between $600-$700) was likely what was keeping Nebraska’s ticket allotment for the Capitol One Bowl unsold. I replied to him that the high air costs to Orlando would likely get the Huskers dropped to Insight Bowl in Phoenix several times in the coming years, to which Callahan tweeted his agreement.

The possibility of Nebraska playing in the Inisght Bowl over the next few years is one I had considered even before that twitter exchange. A similar thing happened to Iowa last year, the first year of the Big 10’s new bowl arrangements. Both the Gator Bowl and the Outback Bowl could have picked Iowa, but the both opted for Michigan and Penn State, teams with similar records who Iowa had beaten. Iowa, meanwhile, got relegated to the Insight Bowl. Should this be a situation that Nebraska fans should be concerned about?

My response is, while it is a bit slighting to picked further down in the bowl order, Nebraska fans shouldn’t be taking this personally.Bowl selection, as I’ve said in my articles about Missouri’s move to the SEC, is about which team can bring more fans, and most of the Big 10 schools other than Nebraska and Iowa have more retirees in Florida.

Besides, Husker fans should also consider the oppositions. The three bowls that the Big 10 has ties to in Florida are all match-ups with SEC schools, while the Insights are with the Big 12. Last year, Iowa may have been home on January 1, but they got to which Michigan and Penn State get worked by mid-level SEC teams. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes got to play Missouri, a team that had piled up beat one good team and worked nine others in the perpetual 7-on-7 Big 12. And of course, Nebraska fans would always get more excited about playing a former Big 8/Big 12 opponent in the stadium where they won the national title resoundingly over Florida. There would be so much demand for tickets they’d have to un-tarp the top of the stadium.

Recruiting is another reason that Nebraska should want to play in the Insight Bowl. While the Big 10 mainly goes after Florida players, Nebraska is, and will remain, most appealing in the western part of the country, where they have more alumni and fans. With the Big 10 schedule adding an extra conference game, the Huskers will play fewer road games, and with Big 10’s insistence of playing games at 9 in the morning when the west coast is still having brunch, a game in Phoenix every couple years would help the Huskers tremendously.

But it comes back the issue of being slighted: should Husker fans be upset when bowl officials, year after year, send their team to Phoenix instead of Orlando, Tampa, or Jacksonville? My response, is yes: there will be times that Nebraska fans should be upset with the Florida bowls if they pass on a good Nebraska team, even if the opponent in the Insight Bowl would be Oklahoma. You always want to measure your team against the best, and the best is the SEC, even though the fifth best team in the SEC can crush the second best team in the Big 10 (witness: Alabama crushing Michigan State last year).  If Nebraska were to have a BCS-caliber team that got passed down from the BCS bowls through the Florida bowls to the Insight, they should be upset about it.

But getting passed to the Insight Bowl doesn’t always have to be the worst thing in the world. Even Iowa fans set a record attendance mark  in the Insight Bowl last year after they’d been slighted and had to play Missouri when they would have rather played Nebraska. This just speaks to how great the Big 10 bowl allegiances really are: winner gets the Rose, a second BCS bowl is almost guaranteed, and the next three teams get to play SEC teams in Florida. And the team after that gets to play a top Big 12 in Phoenix. Even Penn State got passed on by every major bowl, and they still got to play in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, against an 11-1 Houston team.

So, in the future Husker fans, when your team gets dropped to Phoenix, it is fair to complain to guys in ugly yellow blazers. But remember, they are just trying to keep their jobs like you are. Go to Sun Devil Stadium, remember the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, and celebrating beating an old rival. Isn’t that what college football is all about?


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