Posts Tagged ‘Christian faith’

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

Advertisements

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

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

FAST Fiction: Fall Classic Dream State #10

10/31/2015

To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream — ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come…
— Hamlet (via Shakespeare)

• Fall Classic Dream State: Part 123456789

Once upon a couch, I fell asleep watching the pregame show before the final game of the 2000 World Series (the Mets-Yankees Subway Series). Soon I descended into dreamland and learned of the soon-to-be events of September 11, 2001. Now, some dream friends and I hope to help Flight 93 above western Pennsylvania…

… Iron Man soars beside us, coming from the other side of the zooming plane. He nods to our right, toward the cabin: “It’s clearly a hijack situation, Max. Your intel was correct. I could see four hijackers in the cockpit, and they’re in control of the flight. I believe the pilots are dead — there were bodies on the cockpit floor.”

Ashen-faced, Miracle Max says, “It’s just as we feared. What can we do to help?”

Iron Man looks at Max and says, “Like I said, I could—”

“I know, I know,” Max interrupts, presumably referring to a previous discussion I wasn’t privy to. “But Iron Man, if you break into the cockpit and puncture the exterior of that plane at this altitude and speed, you’ll risk the lives of everyone on board. Yes, there’s that true story about an explosion that tore a hole in a big jet plane, and the plane was able to fly for miles and land safely — but those were different circumstances. It’s like I said before: If you break into the cockpit and kill the hijackers, you’d surely doom the passengers and crew too.”

“Hold on,” Iron Man says.

“We’re already holding on,” Max replies, exasperated. “Not everyone can fly as fast as you, pal.” Max and I are tightly grasping the airliner’s left wing or else we’d be left behind. His flowing white hair is shining in the sun like a crown.

“No, I mean wait a minute — I’m picking up phone transmissions from the plane,” Iron Man says, his computer in high gear. “It’s a passenger speaking with his wife on the ground. She’s telling him about the terrorists who crashed the other jets into the Twin Towers — listen to this.”

We hear a man’s voice emanating from the speakers in Iron Man’s high-tech metallic suit:

“We’re going to rush the hijackers,” the voice says. “We’re going to attack. I’m going to put the phone down. I love you. I’ll be right back.”

A different man’s voice comes from a different phone conversation as he talks with his wife many miles away: “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”

A moment ago, the sun was radiant, brighter than a million lit-up Christmas trees. But now it has ducked behind some clouds, and glancing far below I see shadows from high billows that darken the patchwork farms-and-fields quilt like stains on a comforter.

Then we hear another man’s voice on another phone line — can’t tell who he’s speaking with, but soon he pauses and apparently turns to some fellow passengers: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

Next we hear a woman’s voice on yet another phone call. She’s talking with a man who must be a loved one somewhere on terra firma. She says she’s filling pitchers with boiling water — it sounds as if she’s a flight attendant. She concludes abruptly: “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”

“I’ve got to go too,” Iron Man says. “Got to take some action. Wait — I’m picking up some transmissions from inside the cockpit. It’s the hijackers. They’re speaking Arabic, so I won’t put on speaker but will translate for you.”

So Iron Man translates what the terrorists are saying to each other: “They’re trying to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold.”

“Some men are there.”

“Trust in Allah.”

“Is that it? Shall we finish it off?”

“No. Not yet.”

“When they all come, we finish it off.”

As Iron Man translates, the airliner rolls violently from side to side, then up and down. Max and I barely maintain our grasp of the left wing as we ride this insane, fiendish roller coaster.

Iron Man continues translating: “Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest.”

“Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?”

“Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.”

Iron Man shouts, “I can’t stay here with you — time for Plan B, Max. Farewell, my friend, and I’ll see you on the flip side.”

Max and I let go of the wing as Iron Man rushes to the front of the plane. Suddenly, Flight 93 nosedives toward earth at an unimaginable speed, and Iron Man holds on to the jet’s nose, trying to prevent the descent.

“He ain’t the captain, kid,” Miracle Max says softly, “but he’ll go down with this ship if he can’t save it.”

Max reflexively reaches into his pocket, perhaps searching for a magic pill or elixir to save the day. His hand comes out empty — and United Flight 93 plummets, and plummets, and plummets … and crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside. Blood stains the comforter.

We had begun our aerial journey like three kings, beckoned from afar, apprehensive yet hopeful that we would somehow assist the safe advent of this fragile flight. Now we are like deposed monarchs — powerless, empty, brokenhearted.

In front of me, in midair, flashes a blue sign (with a gold border) that I’d never seen before. These words stand out to me:

Welcome to SHANKSVILLE
‘A Friendly Little Town’
Shanksville Honors the Heroes of Flight 93

(I’m not sure whether I’m seeing the actual sign — perhaps an image of the sign is being broadcast to my eyes.)

Later, I learn that a field in the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, became a makeshift graveyard for the people of Flight 93. A shank to the heart and soul, indeed. But the heroic actions of the passengers prevented the plane from being used as a missile in the manner of the planes that hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Their bravery saved many lives that day.

The blue Shanksville sign fades and blends into another blue sign — namely, the bold blue sky that Miracle Max and Iron Man and I have been soaring through. Now, though, Iron Man has perished trying to rescue Flight 93. And Max and I are slowly losing altitude.

Then a rush of rage — at the terrorists — surges through my heart and mind. In my next breath, the rage is followed by familiar questions and sentiments that, often enough, attend such a tragedy, like fans at a brutal mixed-martial arts spectacle: How could God allow another horrific event like this? Why didn’t He do something to help these people? And actually, is God even there?

Typhoon waves of despair engulf my soul. An abject sense of meaninglessness mangles my vision. Doubt wraps around me like a python and begins to squeeze.

Miracle Max and I are descending, yet for some reason the descent is slow — but Miracle Max? An acid steam of bitterness rises in me … what a joke of a name! Max had no miracles for these people. He should be stripped of that moniker. But I don’t voice this. For one, Iron Man was also unable to stem the terrorist tide. And after all, it was Max who enabled me to glide through the air (along with himself) and get to Flight 93, to give us at least a chance to help.

“Max,” I say, before pausing hesitantly: “Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do,” he replies, though now I notice a nuanced change in Miracle Max — he still looks and sounds like Max, but it seems that perhaps someone else is talking to me. “It’s tough not to when you look at the design of everything from the stars to the human body and psyche. You really think the universe happened by random chance?”

“But even after senseless tragedies like this?” I counter — I, who have grown up in the church and believed in God since childhood. “How do you explain that and make it fit the paradigm of a loving God?” I quickly add: “I mean, I have some thoughts, but I’m wondering what you think.”

Paradigm — look who’s using the fancy words,” Max says. “Well, kid, presuming God does exist, He gives people choice, right? And the key to choice is love — God wants people to love Him. For that to really happen, they gotta have the power to choose. You know, that free will thing. Love from a puppet or a robot — obviously, that’s not true love. By the way, my friend Westley — my buddy from ‘The Princess Bride’ — he knows something about true love: ‘As you wish.’ I think that’s exactly what God says to people. And God wants people to say to Him: ‘As you wish.’ That’s true love. But it means people are able to choose harmful wishes and actions.”

I protest, “But why does free will automatically mean some choices will be harmful? Why can’t everybody just make good choices with their choice?”

“I don’t know for 100 percent sure, kid,” Max admits. “But I think it’s ’cause human beings can choose what they wanna choose. Being able to choose only good wouldn’t really be a choice, now would it?”

I start to say something, but Max looks up and continues: “Plus, there’s this: God gets harmed too. He hurts too. Yes, we human beings know a thing or two about suffering, but God? We can’t pretend to know what His suffering is like. Whether you’re talking Jewish theism or Christian theism, God grieves, hurts, suffers like no other. And why? It comes back to true love. God wants our love, kid. Look, here’s a scene from the best movie of all time — yeah, of course, ‘The Princess Bride’ — and it sums up what I’m trying to say about how God hurts as it pertains to the humans he loves.”

A large, dark screen appears in the sky — looks like a movie screen — and from it emanates a piercing, anguished cry. Now we see Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, and Inigo says, “Do you hear that, Fezzik? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when Rugen slaughtered my father. The Man in Black makes it now.”

Fezzik says quizzically, “The Man in Black?”

Inigo replies, “His true love is marrying another tonight, so who else has the cause for ultimate suffering?” Then the screen vanishes.

“True love,” Max says. “It’s the best, and it’s the worst.”

The golden-and-green fields and farms below get closer as we drift downward.

“The other thing I wonder about,” I observe, “is that they say God is omnipresent, everywhere at the same time. But maybe we misunderstand what that means. Maybe it means He’s everywhere by His Spirit, but He also has a — a locational presence. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, God sometimes speaks to people in a certain place, and then He leaves that place. So maybe God is everywhere by His Spirit, but His distinct presence isn’t everywhere simultaneously—”

“I hear you, kid,” Max interjects.

“—and maybe that’s why He doesn’t intervene more often. Because He isn’t everywhere locationally. Of course, that’s a lot of maybes.”

“I got one more for you: Maybe all these maybes are all we got, when you boil it down,” Max says wistfully. “But some maybes are better than others: Give me the maybes that are true, kid.”

Suddenly, a specter floats toward us, appearing out of the sky. It resembles Max, actually — ancient face, wild white hair, frail frame.

“It’s my alter ego,” Max says matter-of-factly. Turning toward the phantom, Max shouts like a New York cabbie, “Hey, whaddaya doin’ here?”

The specter of Miracle Max points into the sky and an image appears. A family opening presents around a Christmas tree. A Mom, a Dad and three children. Laughs, smiles, an occasional hug.

Smoke obscures and dissipates, and we see another image: the same family around a Christmas tree. The Mom and the three children — but the Dad is missing. Faint smiles followed by quivering, heartbroken faces.

Max — the real one, not the specter of Christmas future — says quietly, “If those heroes on Flight 93 hadn’t taken action, this family would have lost a husband and Dad. Maybe, my friend, that’s the best answer to these questions.”

I object reflexively, “But why did it have to happen at all? Why couldn’t everyone survive?”

“Can’t really answer that — I just don’t know.”

“And anyway,” I resume, “maybe this family would still be together regardless. How do you know this guy is still alive because the passengers on Flight 93 fought back against those terrorists?”

Miracle Max replies, “Trust me, kid — I got a good source.”

To be continued …

© Bruce William Deckert 2015

FAST Blast: Fantasy sports and the art of trust (redux)

06/08/2015

The major league baseball season has heated up like the spring weather here in New England after a frigid winter. The Yankees and Mets — the two teams I rooted for as I grew up in Jersey — are in first place in the AL East and NL East, which means order has been restored to the baseball universe … in the New York metropolitan area, anyway.

Yet for some baseball fans, their concern is not with actual teams and standings, but rather with fantasy teams and standings — yes, the world of fantasy baseball.

In a previous FAST Blast, at the beginning of the NFL season, I explored the relationship between fantasy sports and trust — and the connection of trust to everyday life, whether you consider yourself religious or irreligious. Let’s explore further.

Following are five excerpts from Internet media coverage of fantasy sports (in bold), along with some musings about how the realm of fantasy sports dovetails with the realm of faith, worldviews and real life.

(If you’re unfamiliar with fantasy sports, see below for a capsule explanation.)

#1
Fantasy Focus: Working The Wire
Eric Karabell discusses the waiver wire and whether to trust the recent hot streak of Oakland A’s outfielder Josh Reddick.

#2
Fantasy: Bengals vs. Eagles Preview
Christopher Harris discusses who to trust in Bengals vs. Eagles.

There it is: trust. Trust and faith are, of course, essentially synonymous. And it seems that some consider trust and faith to be the domain (mainly) of organized religion.

After attending a forum at which a Christian minister and a leading atheist debated the reliability of the Bible, I spoke with the atheist and noted that while he didn’t believe the Bible, he still had faith.

When he disagreed, I asked him: How can we know who won the first World Series in 1903? We weren’t there, so we must take someone’s word for it. Given that example, the atheist agreed that he’d have to take someone’s word for it. Apparently, based on his atheism, he disagreed that he had faith, but he agreed that he would need to take someone’s word about the first World Series.

As far as I can see, “taking someone’s word” for something is the same as putting faith in what that person has said. This observation, it seems to me, is on the level of 10+10=20.

Since we all must trust, the key questions become: Who will we trust? And who is worth trusting?

Most faiths and worldviews have appealing aspects, and I believe there are elements of truth in each one. As we investigate their various claims, whose “hot streak” — to use the fantasy phrase from above — will we trust?

In the second excerpt above, the analyst identifies which players in the Bengals-Eagles game to trust in a fantasy lineup.

Safe to say, a more essential question is: Who will we trust in the proverbial game of real life?

#3
Fantasy Now: Reds’ offense
Eric Karabell analyzes who is worth the risk in the Reds’ lineup this season.

#4
Fantasy Football Now: Week 14
Cary Chow, Christopher Harris and Stephania Bell discuss high-risk, high-reward players for Week 14.

High-risk, high-reward players — that’s us, isn’t it?

That’s the high-stakes reality of the human conundrum. According to the Christian worldview, when God created human beings He engaged in an undeniably high-risk, high-reward enterprise.

The risk: If humans chose to stiff-arm God’s love and split the unauthorized atom, they would become radioactive, poisoning themselves and creation with the blight of death.

The reward: When humans, made in God’s image, choose to give themselves to Him in love and use their power for good, God experiences the warmth and joy and exuberant pleasure that human relationships exhibit at their absolute best.

A Christian worldview sees people as eternal beings, which only ups both the risk and the reward. And while some theists profess universal salvation, orthodox Christian belief ups the ante further — not only considering people eternal but also concluding that an ultimate either/or confronts us all: either choose to be with God and forever enjoy the stunning goodness that comes from Him alone, or choose to be apart from God and forever suffer the drastic deprivations His absence entails.

Talk about a high-risk, high-reward circumstance.

Some question or dismiss the idea of hell, seeing it as unfair or inhumane, counter to God’s love.

Others grant that it’s an apt punishment for certain horrors — such as the premeditated murder of a loved one, the Nazi abomination or a remorseless serial killer. Here’s one sentiment in response to such heinous crimes: A death sentence isn’t an adequate punishment — and neither is hell. Some simply say: I hope you rot in hell. And others would counter that forgiveness is the only way to find freedom in the face of such monstrosity. Nelson Mandela comes to mind as someone who lived such a philosophy.

A “Law & Order” episode depicts the execution by lethal injection of a convicted felon who committed a brutal rape and murder. “Today the state of New York got its revenge,” says Lt. Anita Van Buren at the end of the episode. “It’s not enough, and it’s too much.”

At face value, perhaps this sounds nonsensical: “It’s not enough, and it’s too much.” Huh?

Yet at a gut and heart level, this simple sentence resonates. There seems to be no appropriate answer to the problem of evil and man’s inhumanity to man. If God pardons a repentant Nazi war criminal and gives him access to paradise, some will vehemently object. If God punishes a cold-blooded murderer and denies him access to paradise, some will decry God’s lack of compassion.

It seems God can’t win.

One take on the “hell is fitting for murderers” mindset is that, hey, most of us aren’t murderers, so we’re good to go vis a vis the afterlife. In the Christian worldview, however, all humans share in the crime against humanity and divinity that is known as the unjust execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man and the Son of God. Thus, we all are guilty of murder — though at first glance we may not believe we fit the profile.

Still, I tend to struggle with this. I identify with the side of the equation that wrestles with how a loving God could see hell as a solution.

Of course, if the atheist is right and there is no God, the risk/reward factor for each person is limited to this life and then is swallowed up by nothingness.

If the pantheist is right, the risk/reward factor is limited to this life — and the next, and the next, and the next — since we get multiple chances via reincarnation.

If the polytheist is right, the risk/reward factor is determined by which god is ultimately calling the shots.

But the philosophy with the most extreme risk/reward reality is a theistic worldview with the either/or of heaven and hell. Islam and Christianity are two such worldviews — and, of course, they offer drastically different solutions to the human predicament.

#5
In Cam We Trust
Even with his limited NFL experience, Cam Newton is quickly gaining loyalty from fantasy players everywhere.

So we’re back to trust.

And the above discussion begs some further questions: Whatever our knee-jerk feelings are about the Christian faith’s stance on eternity, the more vital issue is this: Is that stance accurate? To boil it down — which worldview is true?

Naturally, that’s the worldview worth trusting and buying into.

To rephrase: Fantasy owners have trusted quarterback Cam Newton. Which real-life QB will you and I trust?

Fantasy Sports in a Nutshell
Fantasy sports give fans the opportunity to be the owner and general manager of a team.

Fantasy team owners draft actual professional players to form their teams in fantasy leagues, and the actual stats of those players from each game count toward the fantasy team’s score in head-to-head matchups with other fantasy owners. During the season, owners can make trades with each other, release players who underperform or become injured, and pick up players who are available.

Fantasy sports writers aim to give fantasy owners advice about which players to release or keep on the bench, and which ones to acquire or start for a given game.

© Bruce William Deckert 2015

FAST Sonnets in Cyberspace #4

04/30/2014

Hear: “All I’ve wanted is to feel wanted.”
Thus spoke NBA player, L.A. left.
So speaks every human heart — undaunted?
Why does life lie and leave us death-bereft,
Abandoned, desolate and forsaken,
Like child at dad-discarded first day’s light?
Like spouse, guilty innocent — awakened
To find acid spilled, mind blinded, heart blight
Of clay — lay pleasure poisoned, emission
Searing soul sans nocturnal permission?
Like corrupt(ed) construction: hope and homes,
Then site unseen, Love Canal — who atones?
   Oh, You who cried on Dad-deserted day
   Called good rescue us please from toxic play.

© Bruce William Deckert 2014

+++

NOTES — POETRY 411

Yes, the sentiment of this sonnet focuses on the desolation of Good Friday — as in the gospel accounts, Easter must wait — and thus on the desolation humans feel in certain painful circumstances.

The closing couplet observes that Jesus of Nazareth shares our desolation — and makes a desperate request for Him to bring Easter to our broken hearts and lives.

Except for the final stanza, the rhyme scheme follows the structure of a Shakespearean (or English) sonnet, a 14-line poem with 10 syllables per line, comprised of three stanzas (of four lines each) plus a closing couplet.

Given its brevity and power-packed structure, the sonnet is perhaps the best poem for the fast-moving 21st century.

FAST Blast: Reflections on Kirk Gibson’s homer and the peerless Pinch-Hitter (PART 3)

11/08/2013

The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, with no need for ninth-inning homer heroics. But 25 years ago, Game 1 of the A’s-Dodgers World Series ended with a home run that many consider the most dramatic in baseball history…

Part 1 | Part 2

Since Kirk Gibson’s home run is the signature pinch-hit in baseball lore, it is a classic case study for examining the significance of the cross of Christ, the peerless Pinch-Hitter.

Following continues (and concludes) a blow-by-blow account of Gibson’s Game 1 experience:

As the injured Gibson limped to the batter’s box to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, he says, “My knees were still cold [from the ice pack] … I had programmed myself to say, ‘50,000 people are gonna go nuts and you won’t hurt.’ And it doesn’t matter if you hurt because the game’s on. [A’s reliever Dennis] Eckersley wasn’t gonna send me any get-well card.”

In the NBC broadcast booth, Vin Scully said, “And with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it — so the Dodgers trying to catch lightning right now.”

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda made a figurative gamble by sending an aching, injury-plagued Gibson to the plate. When Jesus was crucified, soldiers literally gambled for His clothing: “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots.” (Matthew 27:35/NIV)

And while there is no record of lightning upon Jesus’ death, there is the record of an earthquake: “At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. … When the centurion and those who were with him saw the earthquake…” (Matthew 27:51,54/NIV

The Baseball Almanac website says this about Lasorda’s pinch-hitting choice: “Lasorda sent in a crippled Kirk Gibson to bat. … At first, the decision appeared completely irrational.”

In a song called “Winter Babies” that reflects on Jesus’ birth, songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard says this: “You’d have to be a savior or just crazy to have His kind of kingdom come.”

As for God’s logic regarding His brutal yet ultimately beautiful redemptive choice: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9/NIV)

Plus: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25/NIV)

So with a runner at first and the Dodgers down 4-3 — and down to their last out in this first game of the 1988 World Series — the lefty-hitting Gibson steps in against Eckersley, the right-hander with the nasty sidearm delivery.

Gibson fouls off the first two pitches on weak swings. On the next pitch he takes another ugly cut and bounces a slow roller up the first-base side — just foul. After Eckersley misses outside with a slider, Gibson fouls back the next delivery. A fastball sails wide and runs the count to 2-and-2. On the next pitch, Eckersley misses outside again with his slider as the baserunner, Mike Davis, steals second.

Lasorda says he knew L.A. could steal against Eckersley because of his big leg kick. So why didn’t the skipper send Davis right away? Because, Lasorda explains, he thought the A’s would walk Gibson intentionally with first base open: “So I waited till he had two strikes. [I figured] I’m gonna give him two strikes to let him hit the ball out of the ballpark, and if he doesn’t I’m gonna steal the base.”

“Mike’s stolen base was huge,” Gibson would say later, “because all I had to think about was shortening my swing and trying to get a hit to score him.”

In the other dugout, A’s manager Tony La Russa was thinking along the same lines. He notes that when Gibson began his career, his approach to hitting was less refined, but “by 1988 he was a really tough two-strike hitter.” With Davis at second and the count at 3-and-2, La Russa says, “I’m thinking ground ball in the hole, line-drive blooper — I had no thought of a home run.”

The scouting report on Eckersley, prepared by Dodgers scout Mel Didier before the Series, read like this: On a 3-and-2 count, look for the backdoor slider.

We’ll let Gibson take it from here: “Before the 3-2 pitch, I stepped out of the box. Well, I looked at Dennis and [thought], ‘Partner, sure as I’m standing here breathing, you’re gonna throw me that 3-and-2 backdoor slider, aren’t you?’ And I stepped in, took an ugly swing and it went out.”

On CBS Radio, legendary broadcaster Jack Buck made this famous call: “Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field — this is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson, and the Dodgers have won the game, 5 to 4. I don’t believe what I just saw — I don’t BELIEVE what I just saw!”

As Gibson limped around the bases, Vin Scully told the TV audience, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

“I don’t believe what I just saw” … “the impossible has happened.” Sound familiar? To address Mr. Buck’s call: When Jesus appeared to His disciples post-resurrection, He said, “Why do doubts rise in your minds. Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see …” And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement… (Luke 24:38-39,41/NIV) And to address Mr. Scully’s statement: “For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37/NIV)

Gibson’s triumphant trot around the bases was part-Hollywood, part-storybook and all-encompassing in its snatch-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat finality. He hobbled all the way home, raising his arms near first base and pumping his fist twice as he approached second base with a right-handed jab that knocked the A’s out cold.

“To this day,” Gibson says, “I can remember seeing the brake lights in the Dodger parking lot come on as the ball went out, as they all said, ‘Oh my God, I should have never left.’”

Lasorda called it the most dramatic home run he had ever seen. Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax echoed his manager: “The most dramatic ever — the guy was hobbling around all day … and he hits it out with basically one hand.”

ESPN.com reader Sam Partridge e-mailed this comment that was published on ESPN.com’s Page 2:

“In terms of a moment, it has to be Kirk Gibson’s home run, simply because it couldn’t happen.
The Dodgers couldn’t beat the A’s.
No one could hit Eckersley.
Gibson couldn’t swing.
Heck, Gibson could barely walk.
… The ninth inning of Game 1 was the classic moment when the impossible became possible and baseball took on a storybook feel that none of us who saw it will ever forget.”

Gibson’s heroics represented the first time in World Series history that a team which trailed in the ninth inning won with a walk-off home run.

Naturally, Jesus’ heroics also represented a first in human history: the first time God became man and triumphed over death after trailing in the tomb for two days.

+++

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Jesus’ pinch-hitting heroics is that He didn’t do the actual hitting — Roman soldiers did that for Him, in effect, as they hit nail-spikes with some type of mallet or hammer, driving them through His hands and feet and into a wooden cross.

Roman soldiers. A Roman cross in Rome-occupied Palestine. A soothsayer warning a Roman emperor (see Part 1). Given the Roman themes, it’s fitting to close the book (for now) on Kirk Gibson’s ides-of-October homer with some Roman numeral serendipity, in the form of a trivia question: What year in the 20th century contains the most Roman numerals?

The answer: MCMLXXXVIII. Yes, you guessed it — 1988, the very year Gibson recorded his historic World Series at-bat.

The apostle Paul penned the following words in the same Roman Empire: “You were dead … but God let Christ make you alive, when he forgave all our sins. God wiped out the charges that were against us … He took them away and nailed them to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14/CEV)

Information and quotes from various media outlets were used in this three-part article.

© Bruce Deckert 2013

FAST Blast: Reflections on Kirk Gibson’s homer and the peerless Pinch-Hitter (PART 2)

10/31/2013

The Boston Red Sox have won the 2013 World Series, without needing any ninth-inning home run heroics. But 25 years ago, Game 1 of the A’s-Dodgers World Series ended with a homer that many consider the most dramatic in baseball history…

Kirk Gibson: Part 1

Since Kirk Gibson’s home run is the signature pinch-hit in baseball lore, it is a classic case study for examining the significance of the cross of Christ.

Following is a blow-by-blow account of Gibson’s Game 1 experience:

At various junctures of the Gibson account, we’ll pause to consider how a facet of his story serves, in a small way, to illustrate Jesus’ pinch-hit appearance nearly 2,000 years earlier — those paragraphs will be set apart by italics. Also, along with references to Christ’s crucifixion, you will notice some references to His resurrection, since the two events are inextricably bound together, and Gibson’s story provides some apt analogy overlaps.

When October 15, 1988, dawned for Kirk Gibson, Game 1 of the World Series might as well have been the moon. He suffered from a strained hamstring in his left leg and a badly sprained ligament in his right knee. The day before Game 1, the knee was so bad that Gibson couldn’t jog or swing a bat, according to The Sporting News’ online ranking of the Top 25 moments in baseball history (Gibson’s homer is No. 6).

When the day of Jesus’ death dawned, any talk of His being the Messiah sent to save Israel was reaching well beyond the moon. Remember, while the Jewish conception of the Messiah included conquering the Romans, it definitely did not include being arrested by the Romans and then crucified in disgrace.

An ESPN.com report said of Gibson: “He could barely walk. Actually, he could barely stand without his leg wobbling and shaking.” This report was part of ESPN’s 2004 ranking of the 100 Most Memorable Moments of the Past 25 Years (as part of ESPN’s 25th anniversary celebration). Gibson’s homer was No. 3, behind only U.S. hockey’s Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics (No. 1) and Bill Buckner’s infamous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (No. 2).

The ESPN.com report continues: “When [Gibson] was in the batting cage outside the Los Angeles Dodgers’ locker room during Game 1 … he actually used a bat a few times as a walking cane, to balance himself.”

Jesus was beaten badly — i.e., injured — before he was crucified and apparently was unable to carry his own cross: “They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. … As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” Matthew 27:30,32/NIV

Did anyone expect Gibson to be available for Game 1? Not NBC pregame host Bob Costas. Pop diva Debbie Gibson (no relation to Kirk) sang the national anthem before Game 1, which prompted Costas to say, “So the Dodgers brought in Debbie Gibson — now if only they had Kirk Gibson!”

More from Costas: “I remember coming on the air and saying, ‘First item of business: Kirk Gibson will not play tonight.’ We had been told he was out. That was how we set the stage for Game 1.”

Naturally, since Jesus was injured and then fatally wounded, no one expected Him to be in the lineup anytime soon thereafter — not even His disciples …“While everyone was marveling at what Jesus did, he said to His disciples, ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand what this meant.” (Luke 9:43-45/NIV) Further: “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27/NIV)

When Game 1 began, Kirk Gibson was in the L.A. trainer’s room. “Gibson didn’t even come out for the [pregame] introductions,” says then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. “He was [on] the rubbing table the whole time.” Moreover, Gibson didn’t have his uniform on.

L.A. drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning on a two-run homer by Mickey Hatcher, Gibson’s replacement in the lineup. But the A’s came roaring back in the top of the second on Jose Canseco’s two-out grand slam off starter Tim Belcher (it turned out to be his only hit of the Series). Ironically, it was the 15th grand slam in World Series history … yes, on the ides (15th) of October.

Lasorda went with the rookie Belcher because ace Orel Hershiser wasn’t available for Game 1 after pitching a complete-game shutout in NLCS Game 7 to eliminate the Mets.

In Jesus’ case, his opponents drew first blood, of course, when they flogged him, and shortly thereafter the nail-spikes pierced the flesh of his hands and feet, causing more blood to flow. “And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified him … Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:33-34/NIV)

The Dodgers scored a run in the sixth inning to cut the deficit to 4-3. Throughout the game, Lasorda had been checking in with his injured slugger: “Every inning I would run into the training room and I’d stand at the door and say, ‘How do you feel, big boy?’” Each time, Lasorda says, Gibson gave a wordless reply: two thumbs down.

Despite those thumbs-down signs, Gibson says, “I sat in the trainer’s room the whole game and just kind of dreamed about maybe … exactly how the moment happened, I dreamed about.”

As the Dodgers took the field in the top of the ninth, NBC broadcaster Vin Scully told television viewers worldwide, “The man who’s been there for the Dodgers all season, Kirk Gibson, is not in the dugout and will not be here for them tonight.”

This angered Gibson, who was watching the broadcast on a TV in the trainer’s room. “I’ll be there,” he shouted.

Scully said more recently, “Years later, I told him, looking over my career, my greatest single contribution to the Dodgers was getting you off that training table.”

Compare Gibson’s “I’ll be there” proclamation with what Jesus told His disciples: “Jesus began to explain … that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:22/NIV) “After I have risen I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mark 14:27-28/NIV) So the One called Immanuel — God with us — said He would conquer death in extra innings and be there for His disciples once again.

With the pitcher scheduled to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth, Gibson told the bat boy to set up the hitting tee there in the bowels of Dodger Stadium so he could take some swings and test his right knee. Meanwhile, he strapped an ice bag to the knee. “The bat boy … came and told me,” Lasorda says, “that Gibson wanted to see me in the tunnel.” When Lasorda met Gibson in the tunnel (or runway), the hurting star was in uniform — and he gave his manager this message: “Skip, I think I can hit for you.”

The Apostle’s Creed declares that Jesus “descended into hell.” While we can ascertain that an injured Kirk Gibson hit off a tee underneath the stands at Dodger Stadium, Scripture is largely silent about what Jesus did after he died while He waited in the bowels of death.

Perhaps He took some figurative practice swings to warm up for when He was called back into the contest … and even if He didn’t, it’s safe to say He was ready to hit for His Abba-Manager on that third day.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers still trailed 4-3, and Eckersley came in to close the game for Oakland. Gibson was still not in the Dodgers dugout. He explains that Lasorda told the 31-year-old to stay “in the runway because he didn’t … want [A’s manager] Tony La Russa and Oakland to know that maybe I was gonna hit.”

Eckersley retired L.A.’s first two batters. By then, Gibson apparently couldn’t bear watching from the tunnel and had taken a seat in the dugout. Lasorda had Mike Davis pinch hit for shortstop Alfredo Griffin in the No. 8 spot. At that point, Lasorda says, “Gibson wanted to go to the on-deck circle. I said, ‘I don’t want them to know you can hit.’” Instead, the manager shrewdly sent Dave Anderson out. Vin Scully noted, “By the way, Gibson is not on deck, Dave Anderson is.”

When Davis drew a walk from Eckersley — who had issued just nine unintentional walks that season — the stage was set for the Pontiac, Michigan native named Kirk Gibson. Anderson headed back to the dugout and Gibson hobbled to the batter’s box while 56,000-plus fans went wild.

“The fans really pumped me up,” he would tell the media afterward. “I didn’t even think about the pain. I was just trying to visualize hitting.” Years later, Gibson would explain further: “I’m a real believer in positive visualization, and some people think I’m crazy, but … I dreamed it up and it happened.”

Apparently, Jesus did some visualization of His own during His darkest hours on earth: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2/NIV)

To be continued…
(and concluded in Part 3)

Kirk Gibson: Part 3

© Bruce Deckert 2013


%d bloggers like this: