FAST Blast: On worldviews, detecting truth and Messiah College soccer

06/01/2017

Related posts
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims, Messiah soccer
On worldviews, ‘reasonable disagreement’ and Messiah soccer

+++

This blog post completes a five-part series on Messiah College soccer and related life-and-faith motifs. If you’re just joining us, no worries — while this post caps the series, it can also stand alone.

ALLOW ME TO NOTE once more, in the interest of full disclosure: I’m a Messiah College soccer parent. My daughter Kayla completed her Messiah career this past fall and graduated this May.

Her class produced a four-year record of 86-6-7, back-to-back Final Fours, and a run to the 2016 national championship game after a rocky start to the season. Yet after that 2-2 start — yes, by Messiah’s standards, 2-2 is a rocky beginning — the Messiah women didn’t lose another match, until the championship game.

In the title game, they fell 5-4 on penalty kicks despite outplaying their opponent (in my view) throughout regulation and overtime. Of course, that’s how soccer works sometimes.

Speaking of Messiah’s standards: 12 Final Fours and five national championships (NCAA Division III) and an undefeated regular-season conference record in 17 seasons under coach Scott Frey.

Messiah’s overall record in that time frame — regular season and postseason — is 362-20-20. I’m no math whiz, so correct me if I’m wrong: That’s an average of barely more than one loss per season. Wow.

+++

Naturally, such success has resulted in media coverage, and that’s where I left off last post. We’ve examined a philosophical reference to reasonable disagreement by an ESPN.com/espnW reporter in his outstanding story on the Messiah women’s soccer program and what sets it apart on and off the field.

Essentially, the context is the ever-present disagreement about the meaning of life.

When human beings consider the meaning of life, it seems there are as many faiths, worldviews and philosophies to choose from as there are eateries in New York City. Clearly, consensus is elusive if not impossible. Given the numerous menu options in this surging sea of worldview rumination, how can we discern the truth?

Apparently, we need to search, investigate, discuss, mull, and hope and pray we arrive at the right conclusions about matters as weighty as life’s meaning — especially, the origin and identity and destiny of human beings. In other words: Where did we come from? Who are we? And where are we going?

Every worldview addresses these questions, and we all must answer the question of which worldview is truly on track.

Which brings us back to — how can we ascertain whether something is true? We consider evidence, we contemplate, we seek to verify … and ultimately, we must decide what to believe. And take steps based on that decision.

Another option: We can decide that the worldview question is impossible to answer, a la agnosticism, which maintains that big-picture truth can’t be known. But note the contradiction: The agnostic says we can know that truth can’t be known.

I confess, I don’t exactly like the elusiveness of the truth-seeking process.

I tend to prefer that these life-and-faith issues (especially the life-and-death ones) be crystal-clear and so self-evident that we all agree — like the basketball scouts who found and followed LeBron James. Given the uncertainty of the age, I see the appeal of agnosticism.

Yet besides its inherent contradiction, I sense that agnosticism misses out on the necessity of commitment, and when we’re commitment-shy, we miss out on … love.

+++

The Christian worldview proclaims that truth can be known — not fully because humans are finite, but known nonetheless. In fact, Truth and Love are embodied in a Person: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the Son of Man.

This worldview infuses the ethos of Messiah College and the Messiah soccer program.

In a speech my daughter gave at the 2016 Division III Final Four banquet, she spoke of her Messiah soccer experience: “I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God.”

Kayla’s teammate and classmate, Erin Sollenberger, likewise spoke about Messiah women’s soccer (or MWS) at the team banquet that closed the 2016 season: “I know my life wouldn’t be what it is now without the caring hearts of my best friends who … showed me what the unconditional grace and love of Christ looks like. MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all.”

Compare those quotes with a comment by Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson, who previously coached in the San Antonio Spurs organization. In an ESPN.com story, he discussed his coaching journey, including his interview with the Spurs — which took place in the immediate wake of his brother’s death.

Watson expressed gratitude to the Spurs for hiring him “at a time when I was very fragile in my life.”

“I went to [my brother’s] funeral on a Saturday, and [met] with the Spurs on Monday. Three days,” Watson says. “I guess you could say I got lucky because I ended up in a place that wasn’t about basketball — it was about family and love.”

Sound familiar? Sure does. That comment could readily be applied to … Messiah soccer.

Under coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs are known for their selfless, team-first, play-the-right-way culture — which has resulted in the most NBA titles of the past two decades (five, tied with the L.A. Lakers in that time span).

Let’s place Watson’s quote side by side with excerpts from the two Messiah teammates above.

• Suns coach Earl Watson
“I ended up in a place that wasn’t about basketball — it was about family and love.”

• Messiah wing Erin Sollenberger
“MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all. … My best friends … showed me … the unconditional grace and love of Christ.”

• Messiah defender Kayla Deckert
“I saw … a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways … [and] the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God.”

+++

To me, the symmetry of these sentiments is exquisite. One significant difference, though, is that the two soccer players credit God outright as the source of such love, while Watson doesn’t mention God (though he reportedly believes in God).

This brings us full circle … back to a comment, cited in a previous post, by Messiah forward Marisa Weaver: “It’s just kind of impossible to love someone else unless you have the love of Christ in you.” Which prompted this remark by the ESPN.com/espnW reporter: There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment…

So, yes, a skeptic might say: Look, a secular pro team like the Spurs has the same culture as a Christian college team like Messiah … that proves you don’t need God — in fact, it might even prove God doesn’t exist.

But that critique has a counterargument: What if the unseen God of the universe — unseen like oxygen, perhaps — is the lone source of the selfless love that causes people and teams to flourish … whether they believe in Him or not?

What if knowing Jesus Christ — connecting with Him and receiving his heart, like a transplant patient who would die otherwise — is the only way to secure the well-being offered by the Giver of love and life?

And what if growing in the Creator of the cosmos — like a grafted branch on an apple tree — is the sole means of bearing the fruit of love that we need to avoid withering away?

Can this counterargument be verified? In this life, I guess not. And in some ways that drives me crazy, because I’d prefer a here-and-now guarantee that erases all questions and avoids all discord. Instead, we’re left with plenty of disagreement and uncertainty in the worldview realm.

Yes, this can drive me crazy — but maybe I shouldn’t be surprised … because sometimes true love does that too.

So I suppose no worldview, faith or philosophy can be proved in a manner that removes all dispute. It appears that disagreements and doubts are an ongoing component of human experience — and healthy doubt can detect error, like a TSA airport scanner, in the pursuit of truth.

Perhaps no worldview can be proved beyond reasonable disagreement, but maybe the worldview that’s true can be known beyond reasonable doubt.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

FAST Blast: Reflecting on worldviews, ‘reasonable disagreement’ and Messiah soccer

04/29/2017

Related posts
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims, Messiah soccer

+++

MESSIAH COLLEGE SOCCER has garnered media attention galore, which isn’t exactly a surprise.

The men’s and women’s soccer programs at Messiah have combined for 24 Final Fours and 15 national titles, so you’d expect their on-field success to be reported by media outlets near and far.

One such outlet is ESPN.com/espnW, as noted in my previous post:
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims and Messiah College soccer

Yet coaches and players alike emphasize that off-field intangibles truly set the program apart.

In an excellent ESPN.com story on Messiah women’s soccer, forward Marisa Weaver (who is graduating this May) explained the program’s essential intangible:

“What makes our team so good and so together is that we love each other,” Weaver said. “But we wouldn’t be able to love each other just from ourselves. You get annoyed with people, you say things you shouldn’t have said and all that kind of thing. It’s just kind of impossible to love someone else unless you have the love of Christ in you. I think that’s what is different.”

There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment, but it bonds those who share it.

+++

In my previous post, I addressed one aspect of the reporter’s philosophical comment that followed Marisa’s quote — namely, exclusivity.

Now let’s examine the reporter’s reference to ample room for reasonable disagreement. He is referring, of course, to Marisa’s affirmation that it’s “impossible to love someone else unless you have the love of Christ in you.”

Her assertion stems from the belief that Jesus of Nazareth — i.e., Jesus Christ — was and is God incarnate, who in love created the universe and human beings, and who therefore is the source of true love. Presuming that reality, it is literally impossible to love others unless you have the love of Christ in you.

And here’s the irony: Supposing the Christian worldview is true, Christ is the source of love for all human beings — even those who don’t believe in Him. In other words, all the love we experience from family and friends ultimately comes from God, and this love from God enables us to love others. Whether we realize it or not, God’s love is the model for our love and the resource that makes all love possible.

Clearly, not everyone agrees with that assessment of love — since there are as many philosophies and faiths as there are booths at a flea market.

Perhaps an extended analogy will help shed light.

Let’s say an eccentric and wealthy uncle sets up a bank account with $100,000 for each of his nieces and nephews.

By the way, the nieces and nephews have never met this eccentric uncle. He resides on another continent for reasons that are mostly beyond his control, and he lives essentially off the grid — so no phone calls or FaceTime.

When necessary, he communicates with his siblings via snail mail and an occasional email sent from some out-of-the-way café, which prevents his precise whereabouts from being traced.

Upon turning 21, each niece and nephew is given access to the bank account. The wealthy uncle, for reasons only he fully knows, asks his siblings to keep his identity secret as long as they can — in fact, some of his nieces and nephews don’t know he exists until they turn 21 and receive the $100,000.

Now, let’s suppose this uncle is your uncle, and mine too. When we hit 21, we’re told we have this relative who we never knew existed who has bequeathed a sweet bank account to us.

You might wonder if the $100,000 actually came from this long-lost uncle you’ve never met.

I might question whether this uncle is fictitious. Maybe my parents fabricated an uncle. Perhaps, I muse, my parents are flush with cash (unbeknownst to me) and they don’t want me to think the money is from them because they’re concerned it might make them appear gratuitous.

But on family birthdays and holidays, all of these cousins withdraw funds from their bequeathed bank accounts, and give gifts and furnish meals — as a way of showing love.

Whether or not the nieces and nephews believe the uncle is real, he is the resource for their means of showing such love to their families and others, including strangers via food pantries and the like.

+++

Let’s return to the espnW reporter’s comment: In the phrase ample room for reasonable disagreement, I take him to mean that reasonable people disagree about the source of love and the meaning of life.

Yes, that sentiment resonates. Dissent and uncertainty seem to attend these big-picture issues. Yet in the face of this agree-to-disagree circumstance, it seems to me that one factor looms as the most essential: Which take on the meaning of life is accurate? In other words, which worldview is true?

An acquaintance once asked me where my son and daughter went to college, and I answered: “Messiah College.”

Apparently unfamiliar with this Christian college in Pennsylvania — a first-rate academic institution with two powerhouse soccer programs — his response was: “Are they trying to save the world?”

I sensed a quasi-mocking skepticism in the query. But a follow-up question begs to be asked: Does the world need to be saved?

I surmise that most reasonable people agree on the answer, though some might rephrase the question. For example, to some people the following might be more palatable: Is something wrong with the world? While there is plenty of good in this world, I submit that only the most deluded and out-of-touch people would say, “Nothing is wrong with the world as it is.”

Actually, a few belief systems assert just that, and claim the wrong we see in the world is merely an illusion. The devotees of such beliefs might say those who believe otherwise are deluded and out-of-touch. This brings us back to the quintessential query mentioned several paragraphs ago: Which worldview/philosophy/faith is true?

The answer to that question is the worldview worth buying into — no matter how mistaken or deluded it may seem.

If you could travel by time machine to 18th-century America and tell the colonists that someday a long oceangoing voyage wouldn’t be necessary to get to the New World because an apparatus called an airplane would be able to fly over the sea, they might have inquired about the amount of wine you had imbibed.

Of course, you would be right — your far-seeing worldview would be true.

What of traditional Christian claims such as the resurrection from the dead, the new creation and a heaven-or-hell endgame? Pie in the sky, or airplane in the sky?

Here’s another bedrock principle of the Christian paradigm: God gives people the freedom to love Him (or not) and to disagree with Him.

Which brings us back to … reasonable disagreement. Since human beings differ regarding these elemental questions and issues, consensus will be elusive. So how can we arrive at the truth?

More on that question (and potential answers) next time…

+++

P.S. Full disclosure: I’m a Messiah soccer parent — my daughter Kayla completed her Messiah career this past fall. And I was a copy editor at ESPN.com when the espnW feature appeared.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

FAST Blast: Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims and Messiah College soccer

03/30/2017

Related posts
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer

+++

THE MESSIAH COLLEGE SOCCER PROGRAM has been chronicled by a multitude of media outlets, including ESPN.com … and, yes, this blog!

(If only ESPN.com could boast the page views this blog enjoys — wait, maybe the reverse is the case. But I digress…)

Savvy sports fans and media mavens alike would agree that Messiah soccer has warranted the coverage. Messiah women’s soccer has been to 12 Final Fours and won five national championships, which is tied for the most titles in NCAA D-III women’s soccer history.

Messiah men’s soccer has also been to 12 Final Fours, winning 10 national championships — the most titles in NCAA men’s soccer history across Divisions I, II and III.

Messiah coaches and players will tell you that while they aim for on-field success, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of the program. They’re also aiming for something more intangible yet more enduring than their on-field achievements.

A first-rate ESPN.com/espnW feature on Messiah women’s soccer highlighted the distinctive signature of a program which endeavors to achieve success that’s defined by more than a win-loss record.

Full disclosure: I’m a Messiah soccer parent — my daughter Kayla completed her Messiah career this past fall. Plus, I was a copy editor at ESPN.com when this feature appeared.

The espnW feature quoted several players, including Marisa Weaver. Kayla and Marisa are part of a senior class that graduates from Messiah with a four-year record of 86-6-7, having reached back-to-back Final Fours and the 2016 national championship game.

By the way, the previous class was 88-4-8 — and when you have to go back only one year to find a record that surpasses 86-6-7, that tells you something about the quality of the program in the win-loss realm. But the wins and losses don’t tell the whole story … or perhaps the plentiful wins are the result of intangibles that aren’t evident to the casual observer.

Marisa outlined that reality for the ESPN.com reporter:

“What makes our team so good and so together is that we love each other,” Weaver said. “But we wouldn’t be able to love each other just from ourselves. You get annoyed with people, you say things you shouldn’t have said and all that kind of thing. It’s just kind of impossible to love someone else unless you have the love of Christ in you. I think that’s what is different.”

There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment, but it bonds those who share it.

+++

I appreciate the clarity of Marisa’s comment. And I can understand the reporter’s follow-up thought. Let’s take a closer look at the life-and-faith motifs that are interwoven with Messiah soccer and this media report.

The reporter offers a philosophical phrase that’s well-stated: There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment….

First, let’s examine exclusivity.

Exclusive claims are a hot topic in this postmodern world, which declares that no absolute truth exists — instead, truth is relative — and asserts that no science, philosophy or religion can explain life and existence for all human beings.

Yes, I realize the ESPN.com reporter didn’t refer to postmodernism directly. Yet since a distrust of exclusivity weaves like Kevlar thread through postmodern thought, the mention of this theme gets me musing.

I grew up in a distinctly postmodern world, and I grew up in the church — seemingly a paradoxical tension.

The church makes absolute truth claims and professes a traditional morality, while the culture at large embraces a more fluid take on reality and morality.

Perhaps differences between worldviews — Christian, postmodern and otherwise — are comparable to differences in scientific opinion.

For example, some scientists assert that one universe exists: i.e., a traditional cosmology. Other scientists maintain that multiple or parallel universes exist: i.e., the multiverse, a newer theory — or a quasi-theory, depending on your definition of the term theory.

These concepts of the cosmos are mutually exclusive. In other words, if there is one universe, that rules out the possibility of multiple universes (and vice versa). You know, Logic 101.

Which leads us to the contradiction of the postmodern protest against exclusive claims: When a postmodern thinker says, “There is no absolute truth because truth is relative,” we can see after minimal reflection that this statement is — you guessed it — exclusive. Such a statement is an exclusive claim because it excludes the possibility of absolute truth … while inconsistently affirming that something is absolutely true — namely, that there is no absolute truth!

Bottom line, the statements we human beings make tend to be exclusive by definition.

If you disagree, clearly you’re entitled to, and correct me if I’m wrong — you can post a comment below. Yet I can’t seem to escape the notion that exclusive/absolute claims are a nonnegotiable component of human experience. And it’s virtually impossible to avoid making them.

+++

So anyone is free to disagree with a Christian worldview which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the ultimate source of love and truth.

However, when people object to the claims of the Christian faith on the grounds of exclusivity, they apparently are overlooking the multiple ways they make exclusive claims.

A proponent of New Age philosophy once told me, “It doesn’t matter what you believe — as long as you’re comfortable with it.” Such an approach, it appears, is cut from the same cloth as the truth-is-relative camp.

On the one hand, that comment sounds welcoming, warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, do you detect a pitfall in this thinking? I do too — to wit: What if you’re comfortable with something that doesn’t line up with what’s real?

Let’s look at some examples of exclusivity in everyday life and society — we may not think of these as “exclusive claims” … but again, with minimal reflection, we can see that they are:

Directions — To travel by plane from New York City to London’s Heathrow Airport, a pilot utilizes specific latitude and longitude coordinates — exclusive to Heathrow — or the plane won’t end up in London.

Finances — Your bank account says you have $10,000 in savings … because, in fact, you deposited $10,000 when you opened your account yesterday. (No, this math question is not on the SAT.) However, you want to withdraw $20,000. You’re comfortable with it, but the bank balks. Why? Because banking truth isn’t relative.

Law — A prosecution witness says a murder suspect was in a shopping mall at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but a defense witness says the suspect was at a restaurant 10 miles away. These contrary reports are, safe to say, mutually exclusive.

Medicine — A patient undergoes heart bypass surgery but learns afterward that the doctor bypassed the wrong artery. Whether or not the doctor was comfortable with the relative truth of his surgical work, the patient’s heart problem remains.

Sports — The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI in February, defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime via a historic 25-point comeback. Falcons fans may still be in shock, and surely wish their team won … but the game featured an exclusive outcome.

The advocates of a truth-is-relative approach might object to the above examples.

Perhaps they would say that truth is relative, not in everyday concrete matters, but in more mysterious matters. Or that exclusive claims are unavoidable in our day-to-day lives but should be discarded when considering ultimate reality.

Yet, even as I continue to wrestle with this topic, I wonder — how could truth be relative in the realm of ultimate reality when it’s the absolute opposite of relative in the rest of our experience?

Stay tuned — in my next post, we’ll examine the ESPN.com reporter’s reference to reasonable disagreement … and more.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

Follow-up post
Reflecting on worldviews, ‘reasonable disagreement’ and Messiah soccer

All-Name Teams #20

02/28/2017

Featuring names from across the world of sports

And now we’re grown-up orphans … never knew their names.
We don’t belong to no one, that’s a shame.
… And I won’t tell ’em your name.
— “Name” by Goo Goo Dolls (the band)

All-Construction Team 2
Kristin Carpenter — volleyball
Na’il Diggs — football
Derrick Mason — football
Robin Soderling — tennis
Nail Yakupov — hockey

All-Farm Team 1
Gareth Bale — soccer
Kenjon Barner — football
Pat Tillman — football
Zacharias “Buck” Wheat — baseball
Rayfield Wright — football

All-Heart Team 2
Shasta Averyhardt — golf
Su’a Cravens — football
Matt Hartline — football
Tysyn Hartman — football
Michael Hartvigson — football

FAST Blast: Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer

01/25/2017

Related posts
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims, Messiah soccer

+++

FOR THE MOMENT, let’s view sports through the prism of the scientific method and examine the following statement: The Messiah College soccer program is successful.

Which multiple-choice option most accurately describes that statement:

A. Hypothesis
B. Theory
C. Accepted Fact

If your knowledge of Messiah College soccer is minimal or nil, you have no choice but to choose A — such is the scientific method. However, if you’re conversant with Messiah soccer and/or the Division III soccer landscape, you know the indisputable answer is C.

Indeed, Messiah is a small-college soccer powerhouse. To say the program is successful is clearly far more fact than theory — it’s akin to saying New Jersey is on the East Coast, or water is wet, or the grass is green on Messiah’s Shoemaker Field.

Here is the evidence, by the numbers, for the success of the Messiah women’s soccer program:

• 12 Final Fours
• 5 national championships
• 9 national championship games overall
• 17 straight NCAA tournaments
• 6 undefeated seasons
• Conference regular-season record, past 17 seasons: 113-0-3
• Record under coach Scott Frey: 362-20-20

Coach Frey has been at the helm for those 17 seasons, from 2000 to 2016. To my knowledge, his winning percentage at Messiah is the best in college soccer history among coaches with 10-plus years of experience — across NCAA Divisions I, II and III.

Those five national championships are tied (with UC San Diego) for the most in NCAA D-III women’s soccer history; the first championship game was played in 1986.

And here is the evidence, by the numbers, for the success of the Messiah men’s soccer program:

• 12 Final Fours
• 10 national championships
• 10 national championship games overall
• 19 NCAA tournaments in past 20 years

Those 10 national championships are the most in men’s college soccer history — across NCAA Divisions I, II and III — and the first D-III championship game was played in 1974.

Which program has the most national championships in college soccer history, across all divisions? The D-I North Carolina women, with 21.

By the way, you’ve likely noticed the 12-year delay between the first D-III men’s title game and the first women’s title game. Apparently, Title IX didn’t get an invite to that NCAA dance for a dozen years.

Note: The above info is based on statistics from the NCAA and Messiah websites — and since my daughter Kayla just completed her Messiah career, I naturally have more interest in the women’s program … so consider the additional women’s stats a minor coup for Title IX.

+++

Moreover, the Messiah men’s and women’s soccer programs share a singular distinction: The two teams have won national championships in the same year. No other college or university soccer program in the country can claim such synchronized titles — in NCAA Divisions I, II or III.

Accomplishing that unprecedented feat once, however, wasn’t enough for Messiah soccer. Twice wasn’t enough, either. Or thrice.

When you blaze a trail to the mountaintop and the view is magnificent, why not make the trek again … and again?

The Messiah men’s and women’s soccer programs have won national championships in the same year four times — in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012.

Widening the scope to all college sports reveals that only two other schools join Messiah in the Men’s-Women’s Same-Sport/Same-Year National Championship Club. The closest competition: Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball. Both programs captured Division I national titles in 2004 and 2014.

The other club member: In 1984 the University of Central Missouri, known then as Central Missouri State, won the men’s and women’s Division II basketball titles.

To review — and pay attention closely in case there’s a test — here’s the tally for dual national titles:

Messiah College, 4 — all other NCAA schools, 3

Note: If I’ve missed another college that has dual titles, please let me know — based on my knowledge and research, these three schools are the only members of this exceedingly exclusive club.

+++

Some of the terms employed in this post — singular, distinction, exclusive — dovetail with one of my earlier posts:
Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness

The gist of that post is this premise: Root words indicate that to be holy means to be set apart and distinct, and we can glean lessons about holiness from the world of sports.

That concept applies exquisitely to Messiah soccer and the statistics associated with the men’s and women’s programs. Their success sets them apart — makes them, in the root-word sense, holy.

While Messiah’s soccer numbers are staggering, both programs quantify big-picture success in ways that can be measured only outside the lines. Naturally, as a Christian college, Messiah’s goals for holiness go beyond scoring goals and winning games.

Yet some might question: Why would anyone want to be holy?

This view may perceive holiness as boring or needlessly rule-based. Some critics perceive a holier-than-thou attitude in the church and cite that as a reason to dismiss the Christian faith.

But Jesus of Nazareth had a distaste for that type of holiness, too.

Remember the root words mentioned above: Holiness means being set apart and distinct. Another root word: wholeness. Yes, to be holy is to be whole.

This begs a different question: Why would anyone not want to be holy?

In other words, who wouldn’t want to realize the distinction of a record-setting athletic program (or fill in the blank with your enterprise of choice)? And who wouldn’t want to experience the wholeness symbolized by a well-trained athlete on a field of play?

So … here’s a further question: How can we acquire the holiness we desire?

Perhaps there are as many answers to that query as there are philosophies, religions and worldviews.

Messiah women’s soccer (or MWS) has a tradition of closing the season with a celebration banquet. Each senior speaks and articulates the program’s core values — for one, investing in relationships — and notes the astonishing impact those friendships have on the team’s success. They also speak of the One they believe is the source of all true friendship, and all true holiness: Jesus of Nazareth.

One of my daughter’s teammates says: “I know my life wouldn’t be what it is now without the caring hearts of my best friends who taught me, guided me, listened to me, shared with me, and above all showed me what the unconditional grace and love of Christ looks like.”

She continues, “MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all.”

My daughter’s comments about MWS coincide with those sentiments (also quoted in my previous post, but worth repeating here):

“I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God…”

These teammates and friends attest that the Creator of the universe is the foundation for the excellence that infuses Messiah College soccer — they see God’s reality not as a hypothesis or theory, but as an established fact.

Of course, not every college, Christian or secular, enjoys the success of Messiah’s soccer programs. It’s safe to say that believing in God doesn’t guarantee on-field success, or any other kind of success as defined by society.

Yet when an individual or a team struggles — as the Messiah women did early this past season before making a run to the national title game — these players and coaches also see God as the source of the perseverance needed to continue pursuing excellence as He defines it … and to not give up.

Do you long for wholeness and excellence — for holiness? Where do you believe that longing comes from?

And what is your hypothesis for how such holiness can be attained?

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

FAST Blast: Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program

01/02/2017

’Tis the season.

Not for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. That holiday season is history — until next December, anyway.

In the American sports world, ’tis the season for … well, you know: basketball, hockey and football — though for football, ’tis the postseason.

But wait — ’tis the season for the other football. In the United States it’s called soccer, of course, but whichever term you prefer, it is undeniably the world’s most popular sport. Leagues across Europe and the world are in the thick of their campaigns, from the Premier League (England) to Ligue 1 (France) to the Bundesliga (Germany) to Serie A (Italy) to La Liga (Spain).

Meanwhile, American soccer is in its offseason after championships were decided in December both professionally (Major League Soccer) and collegiately (three NCAA divisions plus other associations).

My focus is on one of those college divisions, NCAA D-III women’s soccer, and I’ll spotlight one Division III team: the Messiah College Falcons.

+++

Early last month, the Messiah women reached the national championship game — which ended in a pulse-pounding 1-1 tie after two overtimes — and then fell 5-4 in penalty kicks to Washington-St. Louis.

The Falcons went on a steamrolling run through the regular season and the NCAA tournament. After starting the season with a 2-2 record, the Messiah women won 20 straight games — including the tournament — and advanced to the Final Four by going on the road to defeat defending champ Williams.

FYI: My daughter Kayla just completed her senior season at Messiah, in case you were wondering whether I chose this team at random.

She was a central defender as a junior and senior, and a wingback/fullback as a freshman and sophomore. I would list her career accomplishments, but then I suspect I’d be diagnosed with Proud-Obnoxious-Father Syndrome.

Besides, my focus is on the program and the ideals it aims for — and often fulfills, according to those who know the program best. And who knows it best? The players, naturally.

At the end-of-season team banquets I’ve attended, a consistent theme has been voiced by graduating seniors (each speaks at the banquet): Coaches care about the players as people first and soccer players second.

These seniors refer to the program’s core values — such as putting team before individual, investing in relationships, pursuing excellence — and thank coaches for living lives that are worth emulating on and off the field.

Seniors speak of friendships forged with teammates — through sharing day-to-day life and the crucible of offseason training and the pure joy of zany team events such as Halloween costume competitions. Speaking of training: 20 straight 200-yard sprints, anyone?

Here’s a sample of what my daughter said in her speech:

“I think about the teammates who went far beyond the surface level and saw who I really am — the way girls intentionally pursue relationships with one another. I see a group of people who love to be together, plain and simple. I couldn’t be more grateful for my four years in this program. It was a dream of mine for a while [to play at Messiah], but the reality of being a Messiah women’s soccer player surpasses anything I could have imagined.”

By the way, the emphasis on cultivating healthy and strong relationships hasn’t come at the expense of success in the win-loss department — far from it. In fact, you can make a case that such an emphasis has been a key reason for the program’s amazing achievements.

Sure, too much water will hurt a garden — just as out-of-kilter relationships can damage a team — but the right amount of free-flowing water is, safe to say, essential for a garden’s well-being.

How successful is Messiah women’s soccer in the record book?

Led by coach Scott Frey, the program has won five national championships, the first in 2005 and the next four coming in a five-year span from 2008 to 2012. To my knowledge, his winning percentage at Messiah (in the .930 range) is the best in college soccer history across all divisions among coaches with 10-plus years of experience.

My daughter’s class finished with a four-year record of 86-6-7 — with plenty of help, of course, from other classes. If you’re keeping score at home, here are the season-by-season marks:

2016 — 22-3
2015 — 22-0-3
2014 — 22-0-3
2013 — 20-3-1

The impressive distinction of such numbers goes hand in hand with players’ testimonies about their growth outside the lines, thanks to the impact of coaches and teammates. It’s no wonder that one of my daughter’s classmates said in her speech that Messiah is “the greatest place in the country to play soccer” — a sentiment expressed by many student-athletes who have appreciated the program’s fusion of deep friendships and extraordinary soccer.

This remarkable blend dovetails with the college’s athletic mission:

The Department of Athletics at Messiah College seeks to develop Christian character while pursuing athletic excellence. In doing so, the Department fulfills Messiah College’s mission to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith.

In addition to the team banquet, my daughter was among the players who spoke at the NCAA D-III Final Four banquet in December. While parents weren’t invited — the event was for the eight Final Four teams — I read her speech.

(If the phrase eight Final Four teams is jarring to your mathematical sensibilities, the solution is easier than you might imagine: The banquet was for the men’s and women’s Final Four. Now, back to your regularly scheduled post…)

Note how this excerpt of her speech is a real-life, real-time example of Messiah’s athletic department mission:

“I noticed a coaching staff who demanded our absolute best on the field, but who also invested in our character development. At practice, leading meant being the first person to get water, pick up cones and move goals…”

“I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God…”

Coach Frey has summed up Messiah women’s soccer this way: “We’re playing a sport we love, with teammates we love, for a God we love.”

+++

For those who believe in God — soccer fans or not — perhaps you’re ready to say “amen.”

For those who don’t believe in God — skeptics or otherwise — perhaps you’re prone to question or dismiss such talk.

I grew up in the church, and I’m aiming to persevere in the church, yet I have wrestled with faith questions for most of my life. Of course, the writers of Scripture express plenty of questions along with their affirmations of faith.

So while this blog post has arrived at a natural stopping place — and is lengthy enough already — I invite you to stay tuned for a follow-up post on some life-and-faith motifs that are interwoven with Messiah soccer.

P.S. To receive an email notice when there’s a new post, you can enter your email address on the top right of this blog. I average about one post per month; the max I’ll post is one per week.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

Follow-up posts
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims and Messiah College soccer

All-Name Teams #19

10/31/2016

Featuring names from across the world of sports

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” — Nelson Mandela

All-Holy Team 2
Jahvid Best — football
Vontaze Burfict — football
Eric LeGrand — football
Mike Singletary — football
Jayson Werth — baseball

All-Horror Team 2
Danny Gorrer — football
Igor Olshansky — football
Deaysean Rippy — football
James Skelton — baseball
Casper Ware — basketball

All-Saints Team 2
Isaiah Canaan — basketball
Ezequiel Lavezzi — soccer
Paulus Moses — boxing
Joakim Noah — basketball
Elijah Qualls — basketball

Procedural Note — If you’re wondering why there are five people per team, it’s simple … basketball was my favorite sport as I was growing up, and since the rules of basketball (last time I checked) allow five players per team on the court, I’m going with five-person teams.

Bruce William Deckert

All-Name Teams #18

09/30/2016

Featuring names from across the world of sports

All-Fire Team
Ricky Burns — boxing
Mike Fiers — baseball
Jakub Kindl — hockey
Justin Smoak — baseball
Shona Thorburn— basketball
“I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already
burning!”

All-Time Team
Austin Daye — basketball
Briann January — basketball
Brandon Morrow — baseball
Jeff Saturday — football
Kevin Weekes — hockey
“And remember that I am always with you, until the end of time.”

All-Way Team
Wayne Hedgpeth — boxing
Mollie Pathman — soccer
Tuffy Rhodes — baseball
Huston Street — baseball
Wayman Tisdale — basketball
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father
except through me.”

• Related quotes — Jesus of Nazareth

FAST Blast: Revisiting Derek Redmond’s extraordinary Olympic story (replay)

08/07/2016

Since the Rio Olympics are underway, it’s an appropriate time to replay the Olympic-themed post I wrote four years ago this month in conjunction with the London Games — in fact, it’s the post that launched this blog. (Full disclosure: I’ve revised the below version slightly.) The story is essentially timeless, and I hope you find it worthwhile.

Originally Posted: August 2012

PREGAME TALK — Welcome to A Slow Life in the FAST Lane. The stars of this blog, faith and sports, need no introduction. And for those who think, “I’m not a person of faith and I’m definitely not religious” — that’s an understandable sentiment, but think again!

Consider these dictionary definitions: Religion is “something of overwhelming importance to a person: football is his religion.” Further: Religion is “something a person believes in devotedly” — and aren’t we all devoted to someone and/or something? I think so. …

Once more, welcome — read, vote, comment as you wish … and
play ball!

Bruce Deckert

+++

TWO DECADES LATER, a riveting Olympic story still resonates.

This story echoes like a starter’s gun across the tracks and fields of time, signaling dreams deferred and shattered — and then, after the heartbreak, dreams somehow restored and reborn.

This story pulsates with an afflicted runner’s energy, reverberates with raw emotion, celebrates the never-give-up Olympic ethos.

This is the true-life tale of Derek Redmond.

The setting: the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The event: the 400-meter dash (semifinal).
The backstory: Redmond’s career was beset by Achilles tendon injuries and surgeries, and at the Beijing Games in ’88 a tendon injury forced him to withdraw moments before his first race. Four long years later, some considered the 26-year-old British sprinter a medal favorite…

The TV coverage leading up to Redmond’s semifinal reminds viewers how he missed the ’88 Games and documents how hard he trained to return to Olympic glory.

Redmond starts strong — but after about 150 meters injury strikes again, this time a torn right hamstring. Devastated, he kneels on the track. When medical staff come to him, he decides to keep going. Rising to his feet, he begins to hobble along — and I mean hobble.

“The thought that went through my mind — as crazy as it sounds now — was, ‘I can still catch them,'” Redmond says. “I just remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to stop. I’m going to finish this race.'”

What happens next is an indelible Olympic moment.

A man descends from the stands to the track and, getting past security, chases Redmond from behind. A crazed spectator, perhaps?

The man catches up with the limping sprinter … and puts his arm around Redmond’s shoulder.

The man is Derek’s Dad.

“The old man went to put his arms around me,” Derek says, “and I was just about to try and push him off because I thought it was someone else — I didn’t see him, he sort of jogged from behind. And he said, ‘Look, you don’t need to do this. You can stop now, you haven’t got nothing to prove.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I have — now get me back into Lane 5. I want to finish.’”

Jim Redmond wants his son to stop in case he’s able to recover and compete in the 4×400-meter relay for the British team that won gold at the ’91 World Championships.

But Derek is determined to complete the course, so his Dad says, “Well then, we’re going to finish this together.”

Derek continues his strange and moving race, with his Dad’s arm draped around him (and vice versa). As they walk around the track together, Derek is overcome by the emotion of the moment and his tears flow freely. He sobs at intervals, leaning on his Dad’s shoulder.

“You just knew how destroyed he was and just how much that race meant to him,” says Sally Gunnell, the British women’s team captain in ’92 who won gold in the 400-meter hurdles. “It’s … a picture that just stays in your mind forever.”

Meanwhile, 65,000 fans stand and applaud — and some weep along with Derek. When father and son reach the cusp of the finish line, Dad releases his hold and Derek crosses the line solo.

In a postrace interview, Jim Redmond says, “He had to finish, and I was there to help him finish. … We started his career together, and I think we should finish it together.”

+++

A standing ovation.

Why such rousing applause for an injured athlete who won neither a race nor a medal? The answer, I believe, is simple: This story reflects the deep yearning of the human heart.

Twenty years ago, I was awestruck at the glimpse Derek Redmond’s story gives into the message of the Christian faith.

Yes, I grew up in the Church, and I’m persevering in the Church. As someone who subscribes to the historic Christian faith, while aiming to avoid its caricatures and counterfeits, I believe there are solid reasons why a genuine biblical worldview makes all the sense in the world. Yet I also continue to wrestle with questions — by the way, I reckon I’d have questions whatever worldview I embraced — and one of them is the timeless query that’s older than Mount Olympus: What, really, is the meaning of life?

Naturally, the world’s various faiths, worldviews and philosophies all give an answer, and so do people who consider themselves nonreligious — and while everyone is at it, could someone also answer the mystifying question of how on earth the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS? No MLB team had ever surrendered a 3-0 series lead before. It still seems surreal — are we sure it actually happened?

But I digress … back to the standing O for Derek and his Dad: Do the messages of other worldviews elicit such a deep human response?

Let’s imagine a couple of parallel-universe versions of Derek Redmond’s story.

After his hamstring snapped, what if Derek had sat on the track and penned a poem about the meaninglessness of life, or cursed his fate, or smiled in the face of his misfortune — and then hobbled into the tunnel under the stadium, never to be seen again?

Spectators might have considered him stoic, perhaps quasi-heroic — but would they have been moved to stand and applaud with abandon? If each human being departs into nothingness, as atheism proclaims, is the human heart moved to high praise?

What if Derek had sat on the track, accepted his suffering bravely, and disappeared into the stadium tunnel … and then another sprinter emerged from the tunnel? But an announcement was made that this new sprinter was Derek in another form. And this occurred over and over, a la some types of pantheism.

Spectators might have been heartened about Derek’s ever-new opportunity to run the race. Still, do New Age philosophies and pantheistic religions such as Hinduism — replete with the professed hope of reincarnation, yet also the apparent loss of individuality — provide a personal narrative that moves people to weep openly at a father’s intervention?

What of Christian theism — does it furnish a framework for a resounding ovation as a father’s heart responds to his child’s pain?

The parable of the Prodigal Son gives us more than an inkling.

In the incarnation, God enters the arena of human history, coming alongside hurting human beings and offering to guide us home. In the crucifixion, Jesus of Nazareth experiences human suffering as the Son of Man and the Son of God, sharing all our wounds and heartache while enduring hamstring (and heart) replacement surgery for our sake, sans anesthesia. In the resurrection, Jesus achieves brand-new life — physically, athletically and otherwise — on the other side of the finish line called death.

British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once declared: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.”

That statement resonates with me. True, Derek Redmond’s Olympic moment doesn’t answer all my questions about the meaning of life, but it does offer a clue — some athletic forensic evidence in the case of a lifetime … a case about which we all will make a decision.

Do you think God speaks through Derek Redmond’s Olympic story? Or do you believe such occurrences are unlikely or impossible? Does a Creator exist, and if so, does He speak to people through the world of sports?

This blog aims to investigate such questions.

You are invited to join me on this journey to discover the answers that can be found at the intersection of sports and faith…

+++

P.S. A few observers have dismissed Derek Redmond’s actions in Barcelona as melodramatic and attention-seeking. I’ve watched the video, and I don’t see an act. For my money, his 400-meter race is the signature moment in the history of the Olympics.

The signature accomplishment in Olympic history, in my view, is the remarkable four-gold triumph of U.S. star Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

• Related post: Derek Redmond’s Olympic heartbreak and the problem of suffering

Information and quotes from various media outlets and YouTube were used in this article.

© Bruce William Deckert 2012

FAST Blast: Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness

06/05/2016

Do you want to be holy?

Does anyone want to be holy? After all, why would anyone want to be holy?

Perhaps many associate the idea of holiness with a religious context. And yes, the dictionary goes there too, using definitions such as sacred and consecrated. So anyone turned off by religion may likewise be turned off by the mention of holiness.

By the way, if you’re in that category, you’re in good company. Ironically, you’re in the company of someone who is considered a classic religious figure: Jesus of Nazareth was known to be turned off by religion — or at least the Pharisees’ expression of it. His followers, though, say He is far more than a religious figure.

But the dictionary also dives deeper in its examination of holiness. Analyzing root words in Middle English, to be holy is to be healthy and whole. Perusing root words in Greek and Hebrew, holiness means being set apart and distinct.

So how about a revision of the above questions, with a new take: Who wouldn’t want to be holy?

Those root word definitions resonate with me. Let’s take a look at the latter pair.

While I have a desire to be connected with family and friends, I also long to be distinct — for instance, via excellence in my work. To rephrase the line of questions once more: Who doesn’t want to be distinct?

The world of sports gives a compelling glimpse into holiness — what it means and why, apparently, we crave it.

In “The Natural,” the classic baseball movie, Robert Redford portrays Roy Hobbs, an extraordinary hitter whose budding career became tragically sidetracked until he embarked on one magical season many years later.

In a scene toward the end of the story, Hobbs is speaking with the woman who was his hometown sweetheart, Iris Gaines (portrayed by Glenn Close).

Hobbs tells Iris, “I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.”

Iris says, “And then?”

Hobbs replies, “And then? And then when I walked down the street, people would’ve looked and they would’ve said: There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.”

Holiness — that’s what Roy Hobbs wanted. To be set apart, to be distinct, and to be recognized as such.

For further examples, let’s stay in the baseball realm — ’tis the season, after all. Clayton Kershaw, a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has won three Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP Award. This season he has added another remarkable accolade to his resume: He is the first pitcher in baseball history to reach the 100-strikeout mark in a season with only five walks, according to MLB.com.

Through the month of May this season, Kershaw had 105 strikeouts and, yes, five walks. That’s holiness — distinctiveness of the Clayton Kershaw variety.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “When you put it into context … when 2-to-1 is a pretty good strikeout-to-walk ratio, and now you’re looking at 20-to-1, that’s something you don’t imagine.”

Said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis: “That’s a big unfathomable number right there, that ratio.”

Something you don’t imagine … unfathomable … holy.

On a major-league team level, the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series, setting the franchise apart — though their archrival, the Boston Red Sox, have a 3-1 edge this century in world championships.

If Yankees fans protest and say their team has two titles this century, I’m not counting their World Series win in 2000 because that actually came in the previous century. In other words, in each century we count to 100, starting at 1 and ending at 100, and 100 is part of that century, not the next century. Even an English major like me can handle that math!

But 27 championships? That’s distinctive — the most titles, by far, for a franchise in American professional sports. And it’s a prime example of being distinctive and set apart … of being holy.

Based on this evidence — and there is so much more evidence if only we had the time — it appears that a longing for holiness is in our DNA.

Most of us won’t experience the baseball distinction — the baseball holiness — of Roy Hobbs or Clayton Kershaw or the Yankees (or the Red Sox, if you prefer). But how can we find the distinctiveness we desire?

Let’s consider that question next time…

To be continued

© Bruce William Deckert 2016

P.S. Speaking of distinctions: While Roberts is the Dodgers’ manager now, he was a player for the Red Sox in 2004 when he made the biggest — and holiest — steal in Sox history. His ninth-inning stolen base in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series helped the Sox rally versus the Yankees, who were on the verge of a sweep.

After Roberts stole second against legendary closer Mariano Rivera and scored the tying run, Boston won Game 4 in extra innings and ultimately took the series — the only time in baseball history that a team has overcome a 3-0 series deficit. Yes, Red Sox fans, you’re right: On that count, the Sox are holier than the Yankees. Boston then won the World Series for the first time since 1918.

And yes, Dave Roberts is a popular guy among Boston sports fans. Surely, in that arena, he’s one holy dude.


%d bloggers like this: