Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Reading Happens Between Empty and Full

“I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.” -Stephen King, On Writing

My Passenger’s Seat…

When I go to fields, I drive an F-150 with a twenty gallon tank (like every good farm business, Blue River Hybrids has a hand-me-down pickup). It takes roughly two-and-a-minutes to fill that tank and on my recent trips, I found that I could read four to five pages of Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. It was an ideal book for waiting-in-line reading, as it was divided into three or four sections on each page. I can’t get that kind of reading time in when I’m filling my own Pontiac Sunfire eight gallons at a time.

Throughout my life, I’ve been obsessed with filling the time that I wait. My chemistry teacher in high school suggested flipping through flash cards of the periodic table while we were in line at the cafeteria. This lead to me spending my college career doing my Hebrew and Greek flashcards whenever I was waiting on something, or on break from work. Post-college, books came to replace flashcards, and I would often read when I eat or when I was waiting in the drive through. Oh, how modern American literature is so suited to be consumed two paragraphs at a time.

It is really a mark of impatience. We get so much so fast, even e-mail has become antiquated form of communication (recently, I met an older man who chose Facebook communication over e-mail). Now, we get e-mail on our phones, and we download our favorite radio voices on-demand. Why not read a book five pages at a time, while the doctor pours over his chart?

Even though I’m a slow read, I can’t leave the house without taking at least two books, one of which I’m not even reading. If it’s a long trip, good luck getting me to take less than five. I leave books in my car, by my bed, even by the toilet (yes, there). It is as if I can’t stand the fact I will get stranded someplace without reading material and fear I won’t make progress on the gigantic bookshelf filed with books I haven’t read.

The aforementioned book case

But more often than not, what I do is take books along for the sake of taking books along. It as if I want to fancy myself as smart and sophisticated by reading the latest Grisham or Crichton novel (may the later rest in peace) but I really just want to think while I’m there. I’m a slow reader. Even when I devote an entire afternoon and evening to a book, I seldom get through more than a hundred pages a day. TV has rotted out my brain.

Thus, I’ve developed a new strategy toward reading. Read five to ten pages of important or heavier books at a time until my head starts to freeze up (or until I feel inspired to write about something). Then indulge in some cheap novel like a Shreve or a Nick Hornby or Ben Mezrich that I read faster. At least that way I get some reading done every day, or when I’m on the road.

Concordia: The Open Road Back

After I finished my tour of our Wisconsin Test Plots, I took a swing by my alma mater, Concordia University Wisconsin. I attended there from 2003 to 2005 and never quite felt that I grafted in. Since my graduation, I had returned the campus twice before, both times in the spring; once in 2007, while I was on a pleasure trip with my friend Tom, and again in 2008, when I was on a business trip, I walked campus one night among the students. I don’t really get sentimental about my school or consider it my personal height, but college is a time that enters my dreams frequently, and I relish the chance to kindle old memories

They now make you get a permit at a guard booth at the turnoff into campus, if you just want to go down and look at the bluff. The campus itself requires an access card to get inside, but after my walk on the lakeshore and around campus, I found a propped door and walked the hallways I once did as a student. In contrast to the new buildings, the halls are still lined with grossly obvious mosaic tile. The whole building is really just a contrast between shiny new buildings and un-updated doors, floors, and what have you. When I unwittingly ascended the fire-well of my old dorm, I saw the doors of the Augusburgh rooms remained the same pale shells with privacy glass they’d always been.

The dorm I lived four semesters in.

After I’d strolled my old stomping grounds, I took a seat by the bluff and wrote the following:

I’m sitting here overlooking the bluff at CUW. Beautiful summer day. This is like San Francisco in that there’s a huge structure next to a body of water.
Nine years ago in the fall, I came here to study to be a pastor. I’m not that guy any more, but a part of me never left here. The boy that was here was praying by a thread that he’d make it through seminary, that he could hold his mind together that long. (In retrospect, that boy never died). In the spring of 2005, I declared the enterprise a failure. Everyone around me had friends, and I would leave here with no social life to speak of. The embarrassment was unbearable; in the years that followed, I realized a lot of that was because I didn’t have the support structure a lot of people here had in terms of family. (Upon further reflection, there are two ways I didn’t have support. One, from my family, and two, I acted like a snob when I got on campus, not recognizing how getting to know people was important to personal development.)
I wish I would have taken more time here to get to know people and impact their lives. I do hope over the years I can reconnect with some of the people from that time, just to see how things have changed with them, and may be remember a good part of myself I lost.
It’s odd how much has changed here at CUW. When I went to school here, there were two buildings that looked semi-modern, Regents Hall and the athletic center. Now there’s the pharmacy school and the Center for Environmental Stewardship that has replaced the Peace Center dorm, the last rustic CUW building. New Coburg dominate the skyline. (The new buildings make the campus feel likes it’s a campus for a digital world, leaping off a crystal clear screen.)  I was shocked by the money they put into the baseball stadium, plus the soccer field (although I really shouldn’t be). But the only thing I wish I could have enjoyed in my day is the restored bluff leading down to Lake Michigan. Things are moving fast here, as well they should.
But the one place where the majority of my memories reside are in the Rogate Chapel. Today, I went in there and prayed for strength of faith until death. If that the only thing I learned here, it was worth it.

Rogate

The hard part for me now, as I alluded to above, was the fact that I was studying to be a pastor and decided February of my senior year, that it wasn’t worth it. The decision not to go to seminary was a hard one: I was a very successful student in Greek and Hebrew, and everyone expected that I would go on to a doctoral program. But a lack of social support combined with a personal breakdown lead me off the course I was on.

It was over five years until I really felt like I had accomplished something outside of CUW. When my Dad gave me a lot of responsibility with testing seeds and I pulled through on it, I knew I really could do something right. That was a point in my life I found a self outside of my college self and began to realize that my life now was about what I had become.

Going back to my alma mater is hard, but making something out of that history into what I am is daunting. Because that place is part of what I am.

Omaha & MLB: If Not Now

Home of the Omaha Rays?

This past week, I drove through downtown Omaha as the College World Series was being played and I couldn’t help but wonder as drove past the scene: shouldn’t Omaha get a Major League Baseball team? With all the money that was pumped into getting a new stadium to keep the CWS in Omaha, why not go the whole nine yards?

I know the arguments against this action: Omaha-Council Bluffs ranks 58th on the list of US Metropolitan Areas. Omaha doesn’t have the corporate support, a major concern given that 70% of baseball season tickets are held by corporation.  All those things are fair, and it’s not like Omaha hasn’t failed when it shared the Kings basketball franchise with Kansas City. Plus, if Omaha gets a major league team, good luck getting anyone to show up in Papillion for minor league ball. But it’s not because of Omaha that Omaha should get pro baseball; it is because of the rest of baseball.

Darren Rovell poked MLB ribs when he asked people to tweet photos of major league stadiums at him so he could point out the discrepancies between announced attendance and actual attendance. Tampa Bay has one of most consistent teams over the last five years and can’t draw a crowd or get a stadium built. The Oakland A’s tarp off the upper deck and had plans to build a stadium in Fremont, California fall through. If Bud Selig isn’t interesting in contracting teams, there should be a major league franchise playing at the Trade.

And it’s not like Omaha hasn’t grown in the last few years. In fact, local unemployment is low and Omaha made a Forbes list of top cities for young professionals, so it has some chops. But still, Omaha didn’t get there by being lavish and extravagant.

How can Omaha win a major league team? Simple: have the best plan. Show MLB a plan to market yourself to individuals and families, tailored around packages of tickets that include parking and food. ($40 for Dad and a kid, $15 for each additional person). Of course, this may have to involve dreaded  PSL (which, incidentally, were the instrument that got the Cleveland Browns back in the NFL), and Omahans won’t line up to buy those. But Omaha should try to take advantage of baseball’s poor marketing tactics by showing them a better plan.

But consider if it was the Rays that relocated to Omaha. It would mean a competitive team right away, with 18 games a year with the Red Sox and Yankees to help keep the people coming out to the ball park. Of course, the regional rivals (Twins, Royals) would only come to town for one homestand a year, but the AL East could make up for it. The A’s would be the more natural geographic fit.

What this really goes back to is Omaha’s typical Midwest desperation to keep the College World Series on an annual basis. Personally, I think Omaha should have built a less extravagant park (or renovated Rosenblatt) and tried to get an agreement to be in a rotation for the CWS every three year and a regular rotation for the women’s volleyball final four. Not that I think the city spent foolishly on TD Ameritrade Park; they actually spent perfectly on it, and I’d like a chance to go to it and see a baseball game more than just two weeks a year.

Road Notes: Wisconsin Test Plot Tour

The trip before me..

Friday morning, I get up early and leave Dubuque by seven, determined not to waste time today. I get coffee at one of those drive-through huts by the mall and receive the third punch on a card that needs ten. I cross the Mississippi on the Wisconsin bridge and head for Fennimore, a semi-straight shot north. Fennimore has a Casey’s gas station plopped down right across from the town square; only other small town that I know has that is David City, Nebraska. I use the bathroom and buy vitamin water.There is a cornfield at the GPS coordinates I’ve been given, but there are no stakes to indicate the division of hybrids. I take some photos, check with my dad, and head out.

The next plot is in Spring Green, Wisconsin, to the east and a bit north. On the way there, I stop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Center to use the bathroom, darting past the retired tourist. It is overcast, but not raining. After checking my GPS and getting back on the road, my truck fails to get up past 45 MPH. I panic at first, but after I turn off to go the field, I see that I put the truck in second gear instead of overdrive. The plot is three miles from the Wisconsin River and is properly marked. I dally around Spring Green and almost go into a book store before I realize I have too many book already.

The Wisconsin River

Wheat field next to Spring Green plot

On the way up to my next plot in Tomah, I stop in downtown Mauston to get lunch at a local cafe, but when I see they don’t accept credit card, I walk out. (Michaelangelo’s didn’t take my card yesterday either.) I head up to the interstate and eat lunch at Subway in a travel plaza that has Brewer, Packer, and Badgers logos painted on the walls. Wisconsin love its sports and shows it. The plaza crowd: parents with kids, twenty-something guys heading to the wilds, a group of people dressed up for something (maybe a funeral), kids in some group, and a fifty-something guy alone wearing an Aaron Rodgers shirt.

I-94/I-90 to Tomah is laden with rock formation that I’d love to photograph. I get off on the north side of town and head to the field that I passed six miles from yesterday. I have to drive past a No Trespassing sign on a crude access road to get to the field, but no one comes by.

Back in Tomah, I check my online communications in the Culver’s parking lot and find an Amish guy selling baking goods and jam on the side of the road. I buy some monster cookies and a rhubarb crumb pie from him, and we chat for a minute about farming. I get back on I-94 and fly toward Madison.

Border of our Tomah plot

Wisconsin Dells looks like its packed up for the summer with kids and families. I get off at the exit right before I-90/I-94 merge with I-39 as the traffic begins to back up. I get gas at BP, where they are advertising free Brewers tickets, although you have to have seven purchases of eight gallons to get the tickets. I get two of the seven from my truck. I debate taking an alternate route, but don’t. Turns out to be the right decision as the traffic on I-90/I-94 has cleared.

It takes a while to get to the fourth field, by Arlington, because I have to take a bunch of county roads. It’s next to a farmhouse, so I don’t stay for long. It’s four o’clock, but I decide to head to one more field, this one by Watertown, before calling it a day.

I try to find a quicker way to Watertown that will involve using county roads. This leads to driving in the wrong direction for four miles, and I’m spent by the end of it. So I give in and drive through Watertown, and find the field, which is behind a dairy barn. I introduce myself to the owners and make my observations.

I decide to head up to Beaver Dam, which has hotels and is within ten miles of my next field. It’s just a half hour drive back through Watertown, who hasn’t yet finished a by-pass highway that will allow travelers like me to skip their quaint downtown. I spend the night and the Super 8 in Beaver Dam and eat dinner at the classy upscale sports bar in front of it (which serves breakfast for some reason). They don’t seat me when I come in the door, so I don’t tip as well I normally do, even though the Friday night walleye is really good.

Saturday morning, there’s an anxious woman behind the desk who asks if she can check me out while I’m eating breakfast. (There were at most four other parties staying at the hotel besides me.) After breakfast, I go to Wallgreens to get some meds and work on some blog articles, delaying my leave until nine. I stop by a river front market in downtown Beaver Dam and buy some honey, but it’s mostly a disappointment. I head back out of town and up Fox Lake where my plot is. The plot is on the side of County Road A. I have to walk a little bit from the turnoff where I park my truck.

Fox Lake test plot marker

Head into Fox Lake and put the GPS coordinates of the next field into my map, which turn out to be the wrong coordinates. The right coordinates are in an e-mail attachment that I can’t open on my iPod, and I need to have a WiFi connection to access. I find the little town library (which looks like a run down gas station, which chipped white paint and cement blocks) but it doesn’t open for another hour.

The public library in Waupun (15 miles up the road) has this zanny blue carpet with stars on it. The place is dead, and I have a seat on a couch in the teen section. After ten minutes of fiddling, I decide its not worth any more trouble to try and get on and leave. On the way out of town, I pull into a McDonald’s parking lot and find out that I can use my iPod to access the e-mail attachment I need.

Pass a number of dairy farms, noting how close the farms in Wisconsin are to each other, and how much more traffic there is. I stop at a park by the Fox River in Omro to use the restroom. The plot is five miles north of Omro, and I take my time there since it’s the last one. Upon finishing up there, I head back to Omro and get my lunch at the Colonial Cheese House, which is more like a specialty cheese store that happens to have a grill. I get a meal along with a huge pack of cheese curds, half of which I will certainly through away. I go back to the park and listen to Issues, Etc. while I enjoy lunch.

My Lunch View of the Fox River in Omro

Roads Notes from my First Production Trip: Wisconsin

Tuesday-Left home ten until nine. Dropped off recyclables in north Lincoln. Get off at 84th street to go to Crane Coffee, but stop at Husker Hounds first; score a mesh shirt on sale. Then get a green tea smoothie and write on my IPod at Crane.

Lunch at the Corn Crib. Usually, I order off the menu, but to save time, I get a pre-made pork tenderloin out of the warmer. The flavor is authentic as it always is. Watch the weather channel and read Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. (Why am I even starting that book? I’m reading another five already.)

The Corn Crib in the Shelby, Iowa (I-80 exit 34)

Took a detour from I-80 MM 60 through 67 to shot some barns. Found several, and only had one mile of road to drive on. Took 1/2 an hour somehow, & when I got back on the road, found a text that said my meeting was at 3 instead of 3:30 Arrived 15 minutes late.

Wednesday-Got up at 5:38 and left at 6:55. It’s partly cloudy with scattered rains off and on, threatening to blind me with the rising if a sudden hard rain comes. But after I-35 MM 165, the clouds burn off.

At 8:39, stop & use restroom at MN welcome center. Grab hotel coupons. While most of the work is done, Owatonna is still working on their construction project from last summer.

As I dart through the MSP suburbs, stop in Woodbury for gas and a Quizno’s breakfast sub in a strip mall built for wealthy wives with stated parking time limits on parking individual spaces. There’s a non-chain coffee shop I’m intrigued by but don’t stop in. Cross into Wisconsin to be greeted by rain showers and sunshine. Not blinded, but a few never-racking miles.

Get off where I’m supposed to, but take a wrong turn and end up in the middle of Hoffman Hills State Park. Arrived at our growers, field tour lasts an hour. Plants hand high. Forget my camera and have to take photos on my way out.

Hopefully, this will be a field of gold in September.

Take a wrong turn and end up taking WI-HWY 29 into Eau Claire instead of I-94. Minus a Wisconsin map, I have to rely on my GPS, and find my way down to the interstate. Detour leads past Starbucks and I grab an iced caramel macchiato and a blueberry muffin while I check e-mail and social media Eat ravenously as my lunch was inadequate.

Around I-94 MM 111, there’s grafatti on a rock quarry. See a lot of roadside signs supporting Governor Walker, only two calling for him to be recalled.

Stop at rest stop about MM 137 to see if they have a Wisconsin road map. They don’t, but after observing the framed map in the lobby, I decide to get off at Warrens and see if there’s a cool cranberry-themed shop. There is, but it’s closed when I get there. I take backroads to Tomah, where I stop by a Humrid Cheese, a store I’ve observed several times. But fudge and summer sausage and cheese pack.

Photograph both the Wisconsin River and Ship Rocks on my way to the field. I really like the Ship Rocks photos and might frame one for myself. The field takes me too long to find, due to it being 5 o’clock and curved Wisconsin roads. Afterward, I get on I-39 and head down to Portage. I check the Super 8 first, but it’s full. The woman behind the counter tells me to check the Best Western behind Wall-Mart. It looks like a midlevel conference center, and I worry it’ll be over $100, but the corporate rate is $80 with tax.

Ship Rocks

I check the steak and seafood house across the street, but it’s got nothing I want. I go to Culver’s and order cheese curds, fries, and chili: three sides that cost as much as a value meal. I go back to my room and eat in front of baseball and the Western Conference Finals, but I got to sleep at 9:30.

Thursday-Zip Down to Madison on I-39. Some construction, but the sun is shining. Get off on US 151 to head downtown, find that it offers a few of the Camp Randall press box in the distance, like the one you get of Memorial Stadium’s when you’re driving west on Vine Street. Madison has college town feel akin to Eat Lansing and Berkeley: dingy houses with obvious snow wear, lots of trees, people wear odd clothing combinations. Before I get to downtown, I get stuck waiting for a train, so I check my GPS and write this.

Walk around the Lake Mendota and the river flowing into it. Pass a group of kids who must be in some summer day camp, three older African American guys fishing, and two girls who look be going kayaking. Admire the Lilly pads, then get in the truck and continue heading downtown. Like Milwaukee, the houses in Madison suddenly get nicer the closer you get to the lake.

Summer Lake

When I approach the Capitol, I realize what I thought must be the Camp Randall press box is really a building with a lot of glass windows. I circle the Capitol, and park on street, only to find my thirty-five cents net me 14 minutes of parking time. I make a quick run inside the Capitol, observe a protest against governor Walker, see where I want to eat on State Street, and move my truck into a parking facility I passed up on my way to park on the street.

Madtown

I have lunch at Michalengo’s Coffee on State Street: turkey and asparagus on focaccia, with baklava for dessert. Unfortunately, they don’t take my company credit card. I lunch while staring at their bright, homey abstracts which seem strangely accessible.

Post lunch, I stroll down State to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which I technically don’t have time to go to. It requests donation, but I don’t have the right bills. (Actually, I do, but they’re stuffed down in my wallet.) I check out one of the floors sheepishly as the docent watches everyone like a hawk. The show is of abstract animals; I bail after a quick glance through, wishing I had the time.

Drive in circles looking for Camp Randall Stadium, and then drive around Camp Randall once before deciding to park there. Sneak and get a view of the field through a supply hall were some chair backs are stored. Field turf shimmers like a lake in the Wisconsin summer sun.

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

After threading my way through Madison’s quaint, 1950’s box home neighborhoods, I get on Highway 14 to go to Dakota, Illinois where our next grower is. Most of the highways I have to use are county roads, and I am forced to use my GPS often. Lots of little towns and dairy farms, but I finally get there after another wrong turn. The farms here are closely clustered together, more so than in Nebraska and Iowa.

While I’m at the field, my Dad calls me to say he’s received the locations of our test plots in Wisconsin. Previously, I understood there would just be one or two, but now he tells me that there’s eight, some of which are east of Madison. He suggests that I go back up to Madison to start in the morning, but I decide to go to Freeport (which is only six miles away) and check the e-mail. This is the first time it would have been helpful for me to have 3G.

Freeport, Illinois is so much more run down than it’s neighbor to the west, Dubuque, Iowa. What a difference a state government can make. While Dubuque is defined by its shipping yards on the Mississippi and its agrarian fields to the west, Freeport is a run down factory town. Initially, I target McDonald’s for WiFi, but then I find the public library, which happens to be in a municipal building. I sit in the building’s main hall and check the e-mail: the first field is by Fennimore, Wisconsin, which is directly north of Dubuque, so I go there as I planned and spend the night with my friend Tom.

The Starbucks List, Part 1

About two years ago, I had a double-Starbucks day, the first that I could remember. It began in Ames, Iowa where I left that day to go to Hastings, Nebraska with an emergency load of seed for our grower. I got up at six, and I first hit the Starbucks in Des Moines for my morning coffee. Off Exit 129, this particular Starbucks, is crammed into the end of a strip mall and really need about another 10-20 square feet. The second Starbucks of the day came after 320 miles, stops at the farmer’s market in Omaha and a rest and recharge at home in Seward, and after dropping the seed off in Hastings. Like the one in Des Moines, this Starbucks is at the end of a strip mall, but there’s enough room in it. As I sipped my green tea latte and pondered my double Starbucks day, I decided that I should make a list of every Starbucks I had ever been to. Embarrassingly, it took up most of an entire page in my journal.

It’s an odd thing for me. While I do try to patronize the local coffeehouses when I see them, I have thing for Starbucks. There are many Starbucks locations that have been logged into my mind, and I always search for Starbucks on my GPS and even check for them online before I go to certain cities. It’s an indulgence, I know, but Starbucks keeps me going mile marker to mile marker. Each one is it’s own little home, and I’m grateful for it.

So, from that journal, here is the first installment in the list of Starbucks I’ve patronized over the years:

Rosecrans Street, San Diego, California.

My Dad and I were staying at a local hotel near Point Loma for the Holiday Bowl in 2009. This Starbucks was right down the street from us, and, even though the neighborhood was obviously safe in retrospect, I was still worried about leaving my room. But the morning of the game, just after it became light, I ventured down the street to this Starbucks to have my morning coffee and devotions. There was an older black man reading the paper there, and while there, I made some calls to sell our extra tickets to the game, as the sun began to enliven San Diego’s obvious yellows and dull greens.

Shelbyville, Indiana

It was an off-and-on rainy Sunday afternoon in September of 2009, and I was driving from my sister’s house in northwest Indiana to some  fields of ours east of Cincinnati. Having just passed Indianapolis, I saw this Starbucks off the interstate, next to an eatery named Half Pints Bistro (which looked more like a family restaurant. It was also the reason I remembered where this Starbucks was to begin with.) and figured, hey, last chance for a latte for ninety minutes. I pulled off and hit the line inside. This Starbucks got the low-lighting perfect and had some nice local photographs. I ordered my fall seasonal latte, and got back on the road.

Peru, Illinois

I’ve made multiple stops at this Starbucks, including the return from the aforementioned trip (pounded another pumpkin latte that day). It’s conveniently located in a strip mall, and is almost identical to the one in Grand Island. although the rest of the exit metropolis is falling apart, including an abandoned hotel and restaurant. Wish Starbucks could have taken an abandoned building but no luck.

SEC’s New Scheduling Model: Dragging its Feet to Change, Par for the Course in the CFB Universe

Last week, the SEC did what the SEC does: put winning ahead of everything else. Ignoring the trend in college football, the SEC kept its eight-game conference schedule, even though it means there will only be one rotating opponent on each team’s schedule every year. So much for being a “conference”, the SEC is now two small conference with a scheduling alliance and a championship, basically what the Mountain West and Conference USA are.
While I won’t consider myself an expert on SEC politics, I understand that of the seven permanent cross-division rivalries, two are historically important: Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia . The newly christened MissouriArkansas border rivalry is also an important game to play every year, even though the two schools don’t have much history. While the four other rivalries are all well matched (Florida-LSU, Texas A&M-South Carolina, Mississippi State-Kentucky, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss), but aren’t as essential to the respective program’s history. Each of these schools could just as well play a two rotating non-division games a year.

New found rivals

I’m not saying that the Third Saturday in October and the Deep South’s Oldest rivalry shouldn’t be played every year.  I’m not saying that Arkansas and Missouri can’t start up a good border war. The team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, had their top rivalry ripped away by Big 12-Texas politics, so I’m sympathetic to their plight. What I am saying is let’s not have Mississippi State and Kentucky play every year just because four other schools have to have cross-division rivals (When I googled “mississippi state kentucky” I got one football image in the first two pages).

Vital that these two teams play every year?

Not as vital as keeping these rivals together

To be a real conference, the SEC needs to play a nine game conference schedule, like the ACC will when they go to fourteen. The Big 12 and the Pac 12 already play twelve, and the Big 10 and Big East will likely both go to nine soon. (Of course, part of the motivation for the ACC, Big 10, and Big East to play nine conference games is to get Notre Dame to join a conference.) If you are only going to have one rotating opponent every year on the schedule, you are no longer a conference. The possibility now exists for a massive imbalance between the divisions of the SEC.

The SEC gave the typical reasons for not wanting more than eight conference games: Florida and Georgia, who play at a neutral site, would be disadvantaged because they would only have three home games every other year (which already happens). Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina want to keep their in-state rivalries together. But I hear the bragging by SEC fans: our conference is so tough, we only need eight conference games a year. To that I say, if your conference is so tough, why are you always teasing Texas for being too soft to play in it?

But I get it in this regard: the SEC is about winning championships, not just conference but national. While I’m not a fan of this decision as a whole, I do respect the drive to win, which is hard enough to do in college football as it is. The SEC is so great as a conference, they can only play eight conference games a year, and yet, it still gives fans quality games at home. Hopefully, the SEC will get so add two more teams and establish four four team divisions, so scheduling can be a little easier.

Venture into Vidcasts: Husker Schedule

Okay, it’s official…I’m doing video blogs.

Here’s the link to the pieces I’ve written for Husker Locker so far: http://www.huskerlocker.com/articles/author/derekjohnson

Jesus and His Brothers

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:31-35 ESV)

This was the text for the Sunday morning Bible study I attend, and its one that cuts to me personally because of what it says about the family. In conservative, religious-based political circles, there is a lot of talk about fighting for the family, family first, etc. Given the track record of the lifestyle left, I’m actually surprised that they haven’t used this passage to say, “See, Jesus didn’t confine himself to the traditional definition of family.”

Jesus’ family must have been an interesting dynamic. Jesus is the talent sibling who goes out into the world to pursue his teaching and ministry, which leads to “Jesus mania”, aka Bieber fever without social media. Jesus is out teaching the people. Back home, Jesus’ brothers and sister are running the carpentry business, taking care of Mom, and feeling that Jesus is ignoring them.

Yes, Jesus does still care for His family. From the cross, he told John to look after his mother (John 19:26-27). But his vocation was/is God’s Son, Savior of the World. In short,  head of God’s family. What God gave, first to Adam and Eve (the first family), he fulfills in Christ, who unites us to him.

 

 

The Hunger Games Upon Further Reflection

Upon further reflection of The Hunger Games (part 1 and part 2), I have realized what could have taken the books’ great potential to great heights. Getting the great premise was the easy part, but pushing that premise to its limits would have required some bolder choices.

Suzanne Collins claims that the tributes from the lower districts don’t have as much success as the “career” tributes, better off-districts. One would think this analogy is pretty straight forward, but I would say: look at high school and college football. For thirty years, the lion’s share of the top college football stars come from poor backgrounds, where football becomes their ticket to education and hopefully, to support their famialy. While the career’s training may help to set them apart, the lesser districts would fight harder to support their own families (again, Collins seems to be writing in a culture that has disowned the value of the family as a natural unit of provision). Once every eight or ten years, you’d get physically imposing tributes from Districts 9, 10, 11, and 12 who’d win. Katniss, in her pessimistic narrative, rarely looks at the winners of the games and hopes against hope she’ll provide for her mother and Prim, like she always does.

That leads me to one of my specific criticism of the book, mainly, the lack of payoff for two of the big accomplishments in the book. One, Katniss’ sabotage of the careers food supply isn’t directly paid off, and two, Katniss doesn’t seem to suffer from not killing Foxface, who dies in unceremonious fashion from eating the poisoned berries. My solution: have Cato die from eating the berries instead, and set up a finale between Thresh, Foxface, and Peeta and Katniss.

Consider it: Cato isn’t prone to hunting, and without a food supply, he’d probably be more apt to take someone else’s food rather than hunt for himself. And Foxface likely would have known which berries where poisonous and which ones weren’t

So much wasted potential….

The point of putting a bunch of teenagers in an arena in a fight to the death doesn’t just have to be about muscle. It can also be about choice, and what young people would do if they were pushed to the breaking point. When Katniss and Peeta face Cato, it’s not hard for them to kill him because he’s an obviously villian. But what if Katniss had to face Thresh, who spared her life? If Foxface was the one holding Peeta up at the top of the horn, threatening to drop, wouldn’t all the moments where Katniss had spared her flashed before her eyes?  When push comes to shove, would Katniss have even killed Rue if it meant providing for her family? The Hunger Games doesn’t give us that answer.

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