Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Longest Night

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposd to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen everyday that God did not plan. I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

Liturgy for a worship service “For those that mourn at Christmas”

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The Best College Basketball Program Without a Championship

It really isn’t even much a debate.  I’ve decided what the best college basketball program is that never won a national championship. And the winner is…

Seriously, it’s not even really close.  In almost any way that you judge this, Illinois is the best overall basketball program to never win a national championship.  Not only do they have the best program, but might have had two of the best teams to not win chamionships.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this.  As a huge Illini fan, it’s not exactly something to be excited about.  The Illini are sort of the “Crash Davis” of college basketball.  Crash Davis, of course, is the fictional character in the movie “Bull Durham” that broke the record for most career home runs in the minor leagues.  On the one hand, it’s pretty cool to have hit more home runs than any one else.  On the other hand, he did it in the minors.  For Illinois, it is pretty cool to stack up the accolades, the Final Fours, the All-Americans, Big Ten Championships, and then realize that they were never the last team standing.  Ever.

Consider the following:

  • Illinois has 38 all-time NCAA tournament victories.  That is 18th all-time.  Every team in the top 20, other than the Illini, have a national championship.
  • Their 67 tournament games ranks 16th.  Again, all the teams in front of them have won a title.
  • 1,630 all-time victories is 13th all-time.  Penn, St. John’s, and Temple have more wins without a title.  Of those three, only St. John’s has a higher winning percentage.
  • 17 Big Ten Championships.  Purdue, Indiana and Ohio State have more.  Purdue has never won a national championship, and could be in this discussion, but their NCAA past isn’t strong enough.
  • 5 Final Four appearances.  That is tied for 14th all time.  Every team with more appearances has won a national championship.  The other teams with 5 Final Fours are Houston and Georgetown.  Georgetown won it in 1984.  Houston has never won a title.  But Houston had basically one great team in the early 80’s with Drexler and Olajuwon.  They went to three straight Final Fours from 1982-84, and all five were under the same coach.  Illinois’s Final Fours came in four different decades and were under three different coaches.  Plus, Houston hasn’t won an NCAA game since 1984.
  • 10 Sweet 16 appearances in four different decades – the 50s, 60s, 80s, and 2000s.
  • 6 consensu All-Americans
  • 1 title lost because of some of their best players, the original “Whiz Kids” enlisted to fight in World War II.
  • 47 Illini that played in the NBA, including guys with pretty good careers, like: Deron Williams, Kendal Gill, Nick Anderson, Nick Weatherspoon, Eddie Johnson, Johnny “Red” Kerr, and Hall of Famer Andy Phillip.
  • The website The Bleacher Report is the only other site I have seen that covered this topic.  They picked Memphis.  The author does not give a very good reason.  His reasoning: Memphis has three final fours and two national championship games, one dating back to 1973.  Nevermind the fact that one of those Final Fours has since been forfeited, but Illinois has more Final Fours, plus their three third place finishes date back to the post-war era.  We’re talking 60 years of being almost great.  Plus, he gives them extra credit for being in a non-power conference.  Not sure why that is a plus. I’ll take Illinois’s 17 Big Ten titles.
  • A year later the same website ranked the top 20 basketball programs of all time.  Guess who was the highest ranked program sans championship?  I’ll give you a clue, they wear orange and blue.  Illinois was ranked #17.  The only other team in the top twenty without a title was No. 20 Temple.
  • Sports Reference came out with a formula just a few weeks ago.  It is purely mathematical, using scores from all games.  Top Five: 1. Duke, 2. North Carolina, 3. Kansas, 4. Kentucky, 5. Illinois.  This is an objective figure.  No weight given to championships or NCAA tournaments or prestige.  It is purely about the scores of games, and Illinois came out 5th all-time.

I’m not sure what all of this proves.  That last figure actually depressed me a little.  What if those guys on the Whiz Kids stuck around and won a national championship and then enlisted?  What if Kentucky wasn’t allowed to play their regional finals at home in the 80s? What if Nick Anderson had boxed out and kept Michigan from putting back the game-winner in Seatle?  What if James Augustine hadn’t gotten into such ridiculous foul trouble?   How many championship banners could be hanging in the Assembly Hall?

There are some other good programs that have never won titles.  Memphis, Houston, Missouri, Purdue, Iowa, Temple, Kansas State could all make an argument.  None of them have the same resume – especially the prolonged “excellence.”  I guess I can take comfort in the fact that Phil Mickelson held the title, “Best Golfer without a Major” for years before finally breaking through with multiple championships.  Maybe the Illini can follow Lefty’s footsteps.  I fear, however, they’ll need a better plan against zone defenses and a stronger inside presence first.


Filed under Sports

The Great Disconnect, Part II

President Obama announced yesterday that he has struck a deal with Republicans.  On the surface, this sounds great.  I’m all for getting a little governing done – compromise; make deals; cross the aisle.  It sounds good.  But then I read a little bit more about what the general facts of this compromise, and I’m so let down.  Again.  To me, this compromise epitomizes what is wrong with our political system – no one is willing to do anything that might be unpopular.

I don’t know all the details of what is going on.  I am only a casual oberver of politics.  I’ve made it clear before that I voted for Obama, and would consider myself more of a Democrat than a Republican, but I’ve never been a strict party-line follower.  I’ve voted several times in important elections for third-party candidates just because I don’t think either party gets it.  And this compromise is a perfect example.

Everyone seems to recognize the problem with a huge national debt.  It reached an alarming level generations ago, and it has only gotten worse (with a brief respit in the 90s when the federal government actually had a budget surplus).  Today, the national debt is beyond what a person can even fathom.

To paint with an extremely wide brush, I can sum things up by saying that Republicans want to lower taxes and lower spending to get the budget under control.  This would allow the free market and capitalism to “do its thing,” so that people can work and buy and own and sell without impediment.  Without government interference, investors can do more investing, which then creates jobs, which creates income for all people – including the working poor.  In short, lower taxes and lower spending benefits all and balances the budget.

On the other hand, Democrats are generally okay with higher taxes and more government programs to create a safety net for people.  They believe that the free market, left unimpeded, simply creates a wider disparity between rich and poor.  They are in favor of a progressive tax, meaning that higher incomes are taxed at higher rates because people with higher incomes have presumably reaped the benefits of society, and should therefore pay for it. In short, higher taxes and social programs benefit all and balances the budget.

I do not believe that either stance is inherently more moral, or even more correct.  I think there are problems with both.  I think there is room for both as well.  I think the values of either side have merit, and either side expressed without checks would be dangerous.  The problem is, in our political system, neither side has the courage to do the unpopular part of their system.

In other words, Democrats want to spend on important programs, but they do not have the courage to push for higher taxes.  Republicans want to lower taxes, but do not have the courage to actually cut any programs.  The recent compromise was a perfect example of this.

The Democratic President wanted to raise taxes and extend unemployment benefits.  The Republicans in Congress wanted to keep taxes at the lower level, and end unemployment benefits.  This is perfectly in line with the basic values of each party.  But when they came to a compromise, they picked the two popular, more expensive, and thus defecit-inducing solutions.  The compromise was to extend the unemployment benefits, which will raise government spending; and keep taxes lower, which will keep revenue lower.   So what do we get: More spending and less revenue.  In other words: defecit.

Instead of two parties that hold onto their values, and come to tough compromises, we have two parties that are concerned only with holding onto their jobs.  The Democrats keep spending on programs, but don’t have the will to actually raise taxes to pay for them.  The Republicans keep lowering taxes, but don’t have the will to actually cut programs.  I realize that this is an oversimplification, but the end result is clear.  What we have is a great disconnect – a cycle of creating programs we don’t have money for and cutting taxes because its popular.

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