Monthly Archives: March 2012

Journey to Hope: Work

Ray Kinsella introducing his Dad (a ghost playing baseball) to his wife and daughter in “A Field of Dreams”

This is Part 4 of the series Journey to Hope, a Rethink Church study.


Week One: Relationships

Week Two: Self-Esteem

“A Field of Dreams” has long been my favorite movie, but probably not for the reason you think.  I’ve seen it so many times, I can practically recite it for you, word for word.   Most people think of it as a baseball movie about a man’s relationship with his father.  Much of the main character’s motivation is to “prove he’s not like his father.”  The two suffered an emotional detachment, manifested in Ray’s refusal to play catch with his father.  The emotional climax of the movie for Ray Kinsella is when he sees that among those that have come back from “the corn” to play baseball is his Dad.  Ray then introduces his Dad to his wife and daughter, and the tears begin to flow freely when he says, “Dad, Wanna have a catch?”  I still get choked up whenever I see this part of the movie.

While reconciliation and healing is one of the primary themes of the movie, another is vocation.  Ray’s pursuit of the mystical inner voice telling him “if you build it, he will come” drives the story.  His ability to pursue his own dream over the demands of society, bills, and culture provide the primary conflict.  Vocation is also the primary theme for two other characters: Moonlight Graham and Terrance Mann.

Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was a ballplayer that got into one major league baseball game as a late-inning defensive replacement.  He never got to bat.  Through the movie’s strange turn of events Ray finds Moonlight Graham as an old man.  Moonlight Graham is now “Doc” Graham, the doctor in a small Minnesota town.  Ray tries to convince Doc Graham to come with him to Iowa, but Graham refuses.  He knows his place is in Chisholm, Minnesota.  Exasperated, Ray says, ” Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within… y-you came this close. It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy”

“Son,” Doc says, “If I had only been a doctor for five minutes, that would have been a tragedy.”  Later in the movie Graham appears as a wide-eyed youth, getting to play baseball with his heroes on Ray’s magical field in the corn.  Once again, he chooses to be a doctor over a ballplayer and saves Ray’s daughter.

The Terrance Mann character is loosely based on JD Salinger.  During the movie he is described as “the voice of his generation… He coined the phrase ‘make love, not war.'”  As an adult, Mann becomes a modern-day hermit.  After being on the cover of Time, and hanging out with the Beatles, Mann withdraws from the public eye.  He grew weary of everyone looking to him for answers.  He became burned out by “leading the cause.”  Kinsella pursues him, and takes him to Iowa.  It is Mann that recites the famous “People will come Ray” monologue.  It is a beautiful ode to baseball, and the character’s deep love of baseball is clear.  All through the movie though, Mann’s role is unclear.

Finally, after one of the games between the All-Heaven’s All-Stars, Joe Jackson invites Mann to come with them “out there.”

In the heated exchange between Ray, Joe, and Terrance, the three come to realize why Terrance was there.  Terrance, who hadn’t written a book in twenty years says that he will write a story about it.  “You’re going to right about it?” Ray says, with not a small hint of hope in his voice.  “It’s what I do,” Terrance replies.

“It’s what I do.”   Mann was a writer.  Moonlight Graham was a doctor.  These were not just the things they did, these things are their vocation.  It is who they are.  The entire movie is about a search.  It is about a man with a mid-life crisis, trying to discover who he is.  He discovers that he is a husband and a father and that is enough.  A doctor relives his boyhood dream, but knows that in the end he is defined by being a healer, not as an outfielder.  A burned-out activist remembers what is deeply inside him, and he promises to write again.

This week’s study on Journey to Hope is about work.  Do you find hope in your work?  I think there is an important distinction between work and vocation.  I have had a lot of jobs.  I’ve been a painter, a gas station clerk, a coach, a sportswriter, a bag boy, and many more things.  All of those jobs paid me, but only some of them fed me.

My hope is not in my work.  Though this is easy to say as one that is gainfully employed.  I understand that to some, finding work would be a great source of hope, but I’m talking about something deeper than a paycheck.  My hope is in my vocation.  It is in knowing that God has created me with a mission.  God has gifted me with talents, but more than this, I have been given a reason for living.  My vocation is writing, preaching, and teaching.  These are the things that feed my soul.  These are the things that feed my fire and passion for God.  They are more than the things I do.  They are a part of who I am.

I am lucky because my job aligns closely with my vocation.  I am able to be compensated for doing those things that I would be doing otherwise.  I think it was the football player Ray Lewis that said, “They (the team that pays me) get Sundays for free.  They pay me for the rest of the week.”  That is similar to how I feel.  I worship, preach, and teach for free.  It is the other stuff that the church has to pay me for.

When you think about your job and your vocation, how are they related?  Spending time and energy in pursuit of things that are not your vocation will lead to tiredness, exhaustion, and burnout.  If your job and your vocation are closely aligned, then you can count yourself blessed.  If they are not, then you need to be extra vigilant.  I would suggest to search deeply for what feeds you, and pursue that in addition to your job.  Sabbath rest becomes crucial when you are spending energy in places that do not feed you.  Sabbath provides a time and space for you to be refilled by the Spirit.  It gives you a chance to discover your vocation through prayer and quiet time.

Hope is eternal.  A job isn’t, so if your hope rests in your job I pray that you will find something else more eternal in which to place your hope.  Seek out your vocation.  Remember that it is “not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” (Parker Palmer, “Let Your Life Speak”, p. 10)

Listen to your inner voice.  It might be telling you to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield.  The neighbors, the bank, and the rest of society might think you’re crazy.  Pursue your vocation anyway.  Be who you were called to be.

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“Welcome to beautiful West Point”

John Kofi Asmah School

These pictures of are of the John Kofi Asmah School in the West Point community of Monrovia, Liberia. On the left was the project as my group left it in February 2011. The picture on the right was taken by Michael Whitaker. He was a part of the IGRC group that went in March 2012 and saw the dedication of the completed school.

I went to Liberia last year as a part of newly ordained clergy from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Illinois Great Rivers and Liberia have had  a flourishing partnership since 2006.  Hundreds of clergy and laity have made the journey between the war-torn West African nation that is struggling with a fledgling democracy and the heart of Illinois.

During the last six years much has been built through this partnership.  Along with schools, wells, clinics, and churches, things like trust, friendship and community have been built.  The partnership between Illinois and Liberia is a strong one, and it has helped bring hope to the people of Liberia and Illinois.  There is hope that churches can rise up out of years of decline with the power that comes with reaching beyond the walls of the building.  There is hope that a nation can rise up from the ashes of civil war with the power that comes with education, clean water, and friendship.

I was forever touched by the people of Liberia.  One place that especially touched me was West Point.  I cannot properly describe West Point.  It is a small peninsula that juts off of Monrovia, and has two roads that enter it.  Once inside, the roads are so narrow that a car can barely pass, and only when the vast amounts of people get out of the way.  At its widest, it is less than a kilometer, and it is about a kilometer in length.  In this tiny land area, there are approximately 75,000 people.

Towering over most of the community of West Point is John Kofi Asmah School.  This school is one fruit of the partnership between the Illinois Great Rivers and Liberian Conferences of the United Methodist Church.  It is the only middle and senior high school in West Point.

When I was in Monrovia in February 2011, I spent two brief days on the third floor of the school, mixing mortar for the walls of the school.  During my brief time there, we build a couple of interior walls of the third floor.  The work I did there was almost insignificant.  It was but one thread to the larger fabric of this partnership.  We were told it could take another $50,000 to buy the materials and pay the labor to finish the project.  Most of us came back to Illinois with a very clear mission – complete that school.

In February 2012, another group of ordinands from Illinois traveled to Liberia (about 3-4 work groups a year make the journey.  Each group consists of laity and clergy.  They can work on a variety of projects, and there is one trip each year that is especially geared for teachers to go to train other teachers at the schools that have been built).  They came back with wonderful news.  In the year since my group left, the project has been completed.  They were a part of the dedication service.  I was told that at the dedication, some of the students thanked the people of Illinois for their help.  I wish I could return that thanks.

I am thankful for the partnership between Illinois Great Rivers and Liberia.  I know I am better for having been to Liberia.  I am better for working in the heat of the Liberian sun.  I am better for singing songs of praise with Liberian people.  I am better for knowing Sam.

“Welcome to beautiful West Point.”  That is how Sam Quarshie  welcomes people to his church and his school.  Sam is the associate pastor, but is known to the people of West Point as “Uncle Sam.”  Below, Sam is standing next to the cornerstone plaque on the school.  Sam is an inspirational man.  As amazing as that school is, my hope for Liberia does not rest in buildings.  Even though my own sweat is in the mortar, my hope is stronger than any concrete mixture.  My hope for Liberia and my hope for Illinois lies in people like Sam Quarshie.  My hope rests in the power of Jesus Christ to make all things new.

Associate Pastor Sam Quarshie in front of the cornerstone of the John Kofi Asmah United Methodist School in West Point, Monrovia. Photo taken by Michael Whitaker.

Click here to read more about Liberia and to watch a video about the 2011 trip.

Click here to learn more about the partnership between IGRC and Liberia and get information about how you can help or go.

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Napoleon, meet Katniss

Napoleon, meet Katniss


March 18, 2012 · 10:34 am

The Breastplate of Saint Patrick

The Breastplate of Saint Patrick

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March 17, 2012 · 1:23 pm

Looking for a team to cheer for in March Madness?

Are you looking for a team to cheer for in March Madness this weekend?  It’s still early, so most people’s brackets are still in tact.  Maybe you don’t need extra incentive to cheer for anyone in the Big Dance, but let me suggest to you a team from the “Little Dance.”  The Division III NCAA Final Four is being held this weekend.

The women are playing in Holland, Michigan while the men are playing in Salem, Virginia.  While the big schools of Illinois went ‘ofer’ the tourney, sorry Wildcats, Illini, Salukies, Blue Demons and the like, two teams from Illinois have kept their championship dreams alive.

The Titans of Illinois Wesleyan have a team in both Final Fours (and I should add that the Titans would mop up either Final Four in a mascot bracket).  Division III athletics might not have the flash or the talent of their DI counterparts, but they mostly don’t have the agents, egos, shoe deals or point-shaving scandals either.  They also still live up the moniker student-athlete.

The Illinois Wesleyan Women have had an especially tumultuous season.  In today’s Chicago Tribune is a fabulous piece by David Haugh.  Titan head coach Mia Smith has coached the majority of this basketball season while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

According to Haugh, she started chemotherapy in December.  On December 10, the Titans record was an uncharacteristic 3-4.  In 2011, the Titans fourth loss came in late January on their way to the school’s first-ever trip to the Final Four.   In 2010, the Titans lost only two games all year.  It is hard to say why they had the difficult start, but the four teams they lost to all finished in the top 20 according to  According to some figures, the Titans faced the second toughest schedule in the nation.  When you factor in breast cancer into their list of opponents, I think it’s safe to say it was tougher than that.

Mia Smith is the all-time winningest coach at Illinois Wesleyan.  In her 14th season, Smith is at the helm of one of the dominant programs in the country (since the 06-07 season her Titans are 159-23) .  Her teams play a frenetic full-court press that she likes to call “Run and Jump.”  They shoot well, run fast, dive for loose balls, and scrap for every rebound.  They are a fun team to watch and have developed a strong fan base that well surely support them well in Holland this weekend.

Smith has had  a lot of support this season.  Chemotherapy is one of the worst things a person can endure.  I don’t know all the details, but it is basically poison that kills everything it can.  To say that it leaves people with less energy is like saying a marathon is a light stroll.  Coaching basketball is a high-energy profession.  Clearly the Titans have fed off of her strength, but according to her she has fed off of her player’s strength as well.

She told David Haugh “People have thanked me for being a good role model for these young ladies as I endured hardship, but I’m telling you, it’s the other way around.  All I had to do was think of how hard those girls work at practice, and that was all the inspiration I needed to get up.”

So tonight as you’re following the madness on four different national cable networks plus highlights on the ESPN family, can I suggest one more team to support?  They aren’t on any of the brackets you filled out, but they’re worth a moment or two.  Drop by this site to watch the games.  There won’t be any agents or NBA scouts.  There will be eight teams playing their hearts out and a few thousand loyal fans hoping to witness their own one shining moment.

There will be one coach that has stared down cancer, and a team that has carried her through it.  I’ve said it before, but tonight with my computer on my lap as a I agonize over every basket while switching between games, it will never be more true.  I’m proud to be a Titan.

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Journey to Hope: Self Esteem

“Believe it or not, I’m walking on air.  I never thought I could be so free. Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be?  Believe it or not, it’s just me.” These are the words to one of my favorite songs.  When I was a kid I loved “The Greatest American Hero,” and this was the show’s theme song.  I don’t remember a lot of details about the show, but it was about a guy that was given a suit with superpowers.  He promptly loses the instruction book, and hilarity ensues.  A psychologist (or just anyone that knows me) could have a field day explaining why this show was important to me.

If I’m in the right mindset, I still get goosebumpy and teary-eyed when I hear this song.  Sometimes when someone shares with me who much they enjoyed a sermon, or when a blog post gets popular, or when I get a letter from someone who’s life I shaped, I find myself wondering, who could it be?  Believe it or not, it’s just me.  I mean really?  I’m the one that did that good thing?  There are so many times in ministry that I’m simply flying away on a wing and a prayer.  Is it possible to be at the same time supremely confident and terribly insecure?

At any given moment, I could be either of those things or both, but overall I find hope in self-esteem, because my self-esteem is paradoxically not all about me.

This week’s Journey to Hope about self-esteem asks a few very good questions.  The first is, “Is your self-esteem formed from the outside in or the inside out?”

My answer is, “Yes.”  Let me explain: It was when I discovered the true power of the love of God that I realized that I could love myself. Once I started to love myself, I could truly experience the love of God.  I don’t think I can separate these two events, because it was a process of self-discovery that cannot be drawn out in a linear explanation.

During my middle school years I discovered two things.  At about the same time I discovered that I was good at something, and I discovered that I didn’t need to be good at anything to be loved by God.  The result was a confidence in self that was at the same time selfless. I cannot point to a day or time that I “met Jesus,” or was “born again.”  I can point to a few people (Steve A, Heather H, Mrs. Schmidt, Mrs. Martin, Mr. Graba, and above all, my family) that loved me, appreciated my input, and encouraged me to be and do more than I ever thought possible.

My self-esteem comes from outside-in.  It comes from the God that created me, and breathes life into me.  It comes from the knowledge that no matter what, God is with me, empowering me and sustaining me. It comes from the knowledge that my talents, skills, and intellect are not enough to save the world, but I don’t have to do it on my own.

My self-esteem comes from the inside-out.  It comes from the knowledge that my talents, skills, and intellect can be used to change the world for good.  It comes from my experience, my failures, and my victories.  It comes from the knowledge that today I can do something powerful.

Another question that is posed asks “How do you define yourself?  Who defines you?”

I define myself as beloved child of God.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Everything else that describes me is a subset of my primary identity.  I am a father, a son, a brother, a friend, and a pastor.  I am educated, affluent, American, Irish, and Italian.  I am strong, athletic, intelligent, and compassionate.  I am forgetful, lazy, fearful, and overweight.  These things are all descriptors.  None are definitions.  My hope does not rest on any of these characteristics.

My hope doesn’t rest on the power of a special suit, or on the hope that I might find the instruction book someday.  It resides in the knowledge that I am a beloved child of God.  I am created in the image of God.  I am redeemed by the love of Jesus.  I am sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This defines me.  Nothing else.

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Greatest American Hero movie? Nope.

I think this might be my new Facebook cover photo after the NCAA tournament is over.

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The 2012 Mascot Bracket

Iowa State Cyclones have a pretty formidable mascot. It is really hard to beat a weather system, even if it is some strange tornado-bird hybrid.

The 2013 Mascot Bracket

Filling out the bracket is one of my favorite annual events.  I’ve been filling out brackets for over 25 years.  In all my years of filling out brackets, I’ve only won a group once.  I stopped doing pay-for-play brackets many years ago, but I did finish in the money once when I was a kid.  The only time I’ve ever won a group was in 2010, when my Mascot Bracket beat about 30 other submissions in my free yahoo group.  Among the submissions were President Obama’s and Joe Lunardi, the man who coined the term “bracketology.”

What is the Mascot Bracket?  It is simple: pick the winners of the entire NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament based solely on which mascot would win in a fight.  To accomplish this task, I have come up with some rules.  The 2012 bracket has the first major rule change.  In the past, I used a simple food-chain style set of rules which placed weather systems at the top.  I’ve decided to make a change, so that the rules form more of a rocks-paper-scissors format.

Do you think you can do better than The Mascot Bracket?  Then join this free yahoo group.

Click here for a pdf version of the Mascot Bracket.

The rules

      1. Inanimate objects, e.g. colors and plants, always lose to animate objects.
      2. Predators beat non-predators and unarmed humans.
      3. Humans beat non-predators.
      4. Humans with weapons beat predators.
      5. Humans with weapons beat humans without weapons.
      6. Humans with superior weapons/training win.
      7. Supernatural beings and killer weather systems defeat human warriors.
      8. Many animals, especially birds and fish, can survive devastating storms.
      9. Ties go to the high seed.
      10. Prepositions lose to everything. (See explanation of What’s a Hoya)

17.  Don’t turn your back on bears.

South Region (Atlanta)

First Round

Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils def. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  We start right off the bat with two unique mascots.  The Hilltopper’s Big Red is perhaps the most mysterious mascot of them all.  He looks like the love-child of the Red M&M and Ronald McDonald’s best friend. At first, I thought a hilltopper was going to be some sort of military guy – someone like Teddy Roosevelt reaching the top of San Juan Hill.  I was wrong. The only explanation I can come up with for the name “Hilltopper” is that the school, in Bowling Green, is a beautiful hilltop campus.     A Delta Devil is some sort of demonic creature that I presume comes from the Mississippi Valley.  The school’s website doesn’t give a lot of help.  Western Kentucky’s Big Red really defies all the rules. I suppose the only category it can fall into is the non-predatory animal.  The Delta Devil looks like it will be pretty tough to beat, even in that fancy green cape.

Second Round

(16) Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils def. (1) Kentucky Wildcats.  A game like this just makes me shake my head and consider instituting a No. 1 seed exemption.  Seriously, No. 16 seeds are 0-108 in the history of the tournament, and I already know I’m picking at least two to win this year.  This Delta Devil is going to be tough to beat.

(8) Iowa State Cyclones def. (9) Connecticut Huskies.  This is kind of sad to think about, but I just don’t see how a Huskie stands up to a Cyclone.

These two look like cousins to me.

(12) Virginia Commonwealth Rams def. (5) Wichita State Shockers.  A Shocker is basically a walking shock of wheat that has a Lady Elaine-like profile.  When you get down to it, a Shocker is just a pile of grass.  Even if you go back to the mascot’s roots, which paid homage to the fact that many Wichita State students shocked wheat as a summer job, I don’t think their heads would be hard enough to take out  a ram.

(12) New Mexico State Aggies def. (5) Indiana Hoosiers.  A few years ago New Mexico State really hurt its own chances in the mascot bracket by giving the guy in their logo a lasso instead of a six-shooter.  Fortunately for the Aggies, a Hoosier is just a person from Indiana.  While I found this pretty interesting explanation for the etymology of the word Hoosier, it really doesn’t help their cause.

(2) Duke Blue Devils def. (15) Lehigh Mountain Hawks.  The Blue Devils are a perennial power in the Mascot Bracket (see 2010).  At first glance, they seem to be a supernatural entity, bound for an epic clash against the Delta Devil in later rounds.  After doing some research a couple of years ago though, I found that the Blue Devils are named for a squadron of French military made famous in World War I.  A soldier shoots any kind of hawk, even a  mountain one.

(10) Xavier Musketeers def. (7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  This is actually a fight that I could imagine happening.  Couldn’t you just imagine a hard-nosed Irishmen’s reaction if this guy walked into a pub.  He would certainly pick a fight.  Unfortunately for Patty though, the Musketeer would have a musket (or he would be known as something else).  Unless the Fighting Irish start the fight with a sucker punch (which isn’t beyond the realm of imagination), the Musketeer wins.

(3) Baylor Bears def. (14) South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  This one wouldn’t really be a fight.  It would just be a snack.

(6) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels def. (11) Colorado Buffaloes.  A man out west with a gun versus a buffalo.  I think history has taught us how this one ends up.

Third Round

Iowa State Cyclones def. Mississippi Valley Delta Devils.  This is an epic match-up.  A super-natural entity against a killer weather system.  I’m going with the Cyclone because it is a real thing and they are the higher seed.

New Mexico State Aggies def. VCU Rams.  A look at the Aggies official site reveals that farmer is still packin’ steal.  That means Ram stew.

Duke Blue Devils def. Xavier Musketeers.  Rule 6 – Superior weapons.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels def. Baylor Bears.  Rule 5 – Human with weapon.

Regional Semis and Finals

Iowa State Cyclones def. New Mexico State Aggies.  Duke Blue Devils def. Runnin’ Rebels.  Iowa State punches their ticket to New Orleans by blowing past the Blue Devils.

West Region (Phoenix)

First Round

The Iona Gaels have a mascot that is “spunky” and “is consistent with the school motto ‘fight the good fight'” (from the official website)

Iona Gaels def. BYU Cougars.  In my real bracket, I’m picking Iona to be this year’s VCU.  That probably means they’ll get beat by the Jimmerless Cougars.  In the mascot bracket, that little club is enough to fight off the cougar (okay, maybe its a little Scotch-Irish bias, but I’m a McCoy!).

Second Round

(1)Michigan State Spartans def. (16) LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds.  This time the No. 1 seed cruises.

This statue sits on the campus of Saint Louis University. Reminds me of that old SNL skit, “You put your… in there”

(8) Memphis Tigers def. (9) Saint Louis Billikens.  A Billiken is basically a chochtky (sp?).  It’s a made-up good luck charm that some lady dreamed of 100 years ago.  Weird, right?  Picture a tiger – a huge, ferocious tiger – fighting the old troll key chain you had in high school.  Not much of a fight, is it?

(12) Long Beach State 49ers def. (5) New Mexico Lobos.  First of all, I love the fact that Long Beach State’s uniforms read simply “The Beach” across their chest.  That doesn’t help them much in this fight against a wolf.  What does help them is the giant pick ax this dude is carrying.

(13) Davidson Wildcats def. (4) Louisville Cardinals.  I’m not really sure how this fight would go down, but I don’t see a Cardinal being able to mount much of an offense.  Does Steph Curry have any eligibility left?

(15) Norfolk State Spartans def. (2) Missouri Tigers.  I would really like to make the case for the Tigers here, but if this Mascot Bracket is going to have any integrity, I have to go with the armed and well-trained Spartan (plus, Michigan State vs. Memphis is coming in the next round of this region, and I assume your memory is long enough to notice if I am inconsistent here).

(10) Virginia Cavaliers def. (7) Florida Gators.  I’m not sure if a sword is enough to take on a Gator, but if Swamp People has taught me anything, it has taught me that Gators can be manhandled by anybody (BTW, Swamp People hasn’t taught me anything).

(14) Iona Gaels def. (3) Marquette Golden Eagles.  Rule 4 – human with a weapon.

(6) Murray State Racers def. (11) Colorado State Rams.  This is a genuinely difficult one to judge, but the Murray State Racer is a thoroughbred horse.  I could probably be swayed, but I think a horse is just too powerful.

Third Round

Michigan State Spartans def. Memphis Tigers.  See the previous round – Norfolk State over Missouri.

Long Beach State 49ers def. Davidson Wildcats. Again, the man with the pick axe takes out the overgrown cat.

Norfolk State Spartans def. Virginia Cavaliers.

Murray State Racers def. Iona Gaels.  This is an exception to rule 4.  I just don’t see that shillelagh being enough against the thousand pound horse.

Regional Semis and Finals

Michigan State Spartans def. Long Beach State 49ers.  The Spartans were some of the greatest warriors in history.  The 49ers were some guys hoping to score a gold nugget.  It would be a massacre.  The Norfolk State Spartans def. the Murray State Racers.  Again, Spartans are bad-asses.  Finally, Michigan State Spartans def. the Norfolk State Spartans because ties go to the higher seed.

East Region (Boston)

Second Round

(16) UNC Asheville Bulldogs def. (1) Syracuse Orange.  At least when Syracuse was the Orange Men, they had a fighting chance.  Now that they’re just a color, they kill my mascot bracket every year.

(9) Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles def. (8) Kansas State Wildcats.  Air-ground battles are the hardest to decide.  It’s hard to imagine how this fight would even work, but I’m not sure how the wildcat would be able to mount an offense.  Eagles are pretty powerful birds, and wildcats are not very big.  A couple of good strikes at 80 mph would probably do it.

(5) Vanderbilt Commodores def. (12) Harvard Crimson.  People love picking the Ivy League upset, but I don’t see it happening.  This has already been established.  Colors lose to everything.

(13) Montana Grizzlies def. (4) Wisconsin Badgers.  Badgers are mean, but one would not stand a chance against an 800 pound grizzly bear.

(15) Loyola (MD) Greyhounds def. (2) Ohio State Buckeye.  Remember when I said that colors lose to everything?  So do plants.  This region is killing me.

(10) West Virginia Mountaineers def. (7) Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Mountaineers usually go pretty far in this bracket, largely due to the large beard, I mean shotgun, this guy is sporting.

(3) Florida State Seminoles def. (13) St. Bonaventure Bonnies.  The Bonnies have gone through several different mascots over the years.  They have settled on the Bona-Wolf.   A Seminole could kill a wolf.

(11) Texas Longhorn def. (6) Cincinnati Bearcats.  Bearcats are also known as Binturongs, which I think is a much cooler mascot name.  They are tough little creatures, and a match against a Badger would be interesting.  A match against a Longhorn would just be cruel.

Third Round

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles def. UNC Asheville Bulldogs.  If an eagle can beat a wildcat, it could beat a poor bulldog too.

Vanderbilt Commodores def. Montana Grizzlies.  While a matchup between a Grizzly and The Commodores would be brutal, but I don’t think that is the kind of Commodore we’re talking about.

West Virginia Mountaineers def. Loyola (MD)Greyhounds.  Rule 4 – human with weapon.

Florida State Seminoles def. Texas Longhorns.  Again, rule 4.

Regional Semis and Finals

Vanderbilt Commodores def. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.  Florida State Seminoles def. West Virginia Mountaineers.  I feel like I might be getting into hostile and abusive territory here, so I’ll forgo more explanation, and just put Vanderbilt into the Final Four.

Midwest Region (Saint Louis)

First Round

Vermont Catamounts def. Lamar Cardinals.  In case you were wondering, a cardinal is a little red bird that is quite popular in the midwest.  I’m pretty sure the big wild cat would eat it.

California Golden Bears def. South Florida Bulls.  This would be a devastatingly violent affair.  This is all about rule 17.

Second Round

(1) North Carolina Tar Heels def. (16) Vermont Catamounts.  The Tar Heel name is the stuff of legend, but according to the UNC website, it started during the Civil War and refers either to the North Carolina soldiers’ stubborn ability to stand and fight, as if they had tar on their heels; or was a slur used to make fun of the poor and dirty soldiers that made tar.  For the purposes of the Mascot Bracket, I’m going with civil war soldier.

(9) Alabama Crimson Tide def. (8) Creighton Blue Jays.  The Crimson Tide pose an interesting problem.  Are they a weather-like mascot – like the tide rolling in?  Are they just a color?  Or are they elephants?  If they are the tide rolling in, a blue jay could wait that out easily.  If they are a color, then the animate bird wins.  I’m going with elephant.  Roll Tide.

(12) California Golden Bears def. (5) Temple Owls.  Do I really need to explain this?

(4) Michigan Wolverine def. (13) Ohio Bobcats. My gut is with Hugh Jackman.  This website concurs.

(15) Detroit Titans def. (2) Kansas Jayhawks.  The Titans ruled the world before the Greek gods defeated them.  They are also guys that look a lot like Spartans when turned into mascots.  Jayhawks, besides looking a lot like a Foghorn Leg-horn, actually have a pretty interesting history.   According to the school website, the Jayhawk refered to pioneers in Kansas that bugged other pioneers, notably from Nebraska.  As Kansas moved toward statehood, there was quite a public debate over whether Kansas would be a free or a slave state.  Ruffians on both sides of this battle were dubbed “Jayhawkers” and were known to rob, vandalize, sack, set fire to, and steal horses from the other side.  In time, the Jayhawks referred mainly to the free-staters.  So, that is a very long-winded way to determine that the true meaning of Jayhawk is not a stupid little bird, but a 1850s thug that was against slavery. Pretty cool, yes.  Able to defeat a Greek god?  I don’t think so.

This Gael is significantly different and more formidable than the Iona Gael.

(7) St. Mary’s Gaels def. (10) Purdue Boilermakers.  The Boilermaker has a big hammer, but this version of the Gael is in full armor.

(14) Belmont Bruin def. (3) Georgetown Hoyas.  And now, my annual explanation of Rule 10.  You might be asking yourself, “What’s a Hoya?”  Well, that is a question that Georgetown opponents have been chanting for decades.  Wikipedia gives us the answer – it appears to have come from a chant, “Roxa Hoya,” which is loosely translated from Latin to “such rocks.”  Hoya is basically Latin for “Such as.”  So, if you’re using that – I think we finally found the only mascot that would lose to the Orange or the Buckeyes – a preposition.  Yet, their mascot is a bulldog.  A bulldog could be tough, but not against a Bruin (Rule 17).

(11) North Carolina State Wolfpack def. (6) San Diego State Aztecs.  I am so tempted to insert a clip from The Hangover here, but it is kind of vulgar, so I won’t.  Just google “one man wolfpack” for a laugh.  The truth is, if NC State were a one-man wolfpack, the Aztecs could win.  I’m assuming its an actual pack, and  this statue confirms this.

Third Round

North Carolina Tar Heels def. Alabama Crimson Tide.  This is a tough call, but I’m invoking rule 4.

California Golden Bears def. Michigan Wolverines.  Sorry Red Dawn, Rule 17 strikes again.

St. Mary’s Gaels def. Detroit Titans. This is the mascot the Titans use.  Have you seen Full Metal Jousting?  That stuff is insane.  I’m going with the guy in full armor.

NC State Wolfpack def. Belmont Bruins.  Bears are tough, but a whole pack of wolves would never have to turn its back.

Regional Semis and Finals

North Carolina Tar Heels def. California Golden Bears.  Rule 4. St Mary’s Gaels def. NC State Wolfpack.  Rule 4, plus the armor would go a long way in fighting off wolf bites.  North Carolina Tar Heels def. St. Mary’s Gaels.  I don’t think the armor would stop the bullet.

Final Four (New Orleans)

Iowa State Cyclones def. Michigan State Spartans.

North Carolina Tar Heels def. Vanderbilt Commodores.  This is a tough one.  The Commodore outranks the Tar Heel, but that doesn’t mean he’s tougher.  I’ll take the hardened Civil War vet in a fight.

Iowa State Cyclones def. North Carolina Tar Heel.  The Tar Heel might stick in the mud, but it wouldn’t be enough to stand against a cyclone.

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2011 Mascot Bracket

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Also of interest – The Best College Basketball Program Without a National Championship


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Weber a decent guy and coach. Is it too much to ask for more?

The Bruce Weber era at the University of Illinois is over.  He finished his career at Illinois with a 210-101 record and a Big Ten record of 89-65.  His career includes a national runner-up and two Big Ten titles.  This does not look like the record of a former coach, but a closer look reveals the problem.  Dee Brown and James Augustine graduated in 2006 with the most wins of any starters in Illinois basketball.  Since then, the Illini have been 50-56 in the Big Ten and 1-3 in the NCAA tournament (they will presumably not make the tournament this year).

Weber seemed to be a decent guy.  All accounts show that he ran a clean program in terms of NCAA rules.  With a few notable exceptions, e.g. Jamar Smith and Jereme Richmond, his players have seemed to be decent guys too.  Weber always seemed like an honest, hard-working, straight-shooter.  He went to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and coached at Purdue and Southern Illinois.  He is a Midwestern guy with a Midwestern ethic.  He brought no glitz or glamour.  His voice was always horse and his smile and orange blazer were always endearing.

The consensus opinion of Weber was that he was a good coach and a bad recruiter.  The problem was that he was a decent recruiter, and only a decent coach.  Close watchers of Illini basketball were frustrated by their lack of improvement.  Guys like Demetri McCamey and Brian Randle had loads of talent, but seemed to make the same mistakes as seniors as they did as sophomores.  The team seemed to constantly struggle against zone defenses. The easy basket on an in-bounds play or well drawn-up quick shot were rare.  Basketball “experts” seemed to talk about Weber’s great motion offense.  To me, his motion offense seemed too often to entail passing the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds and then chucking up a three.  When it was Head, Williams, and Brown doing the chucking, it worked brilliantly.

Illinois remains the best program in college basketball to never win a title.  Over the last couple of seasons, it grew more obvious to me that Weber was not the man that would end that streak.  That said, I take no joy from the firing of Bruce Weber.  I also don’t worry much about him.  He has been compensated very well at Illinois, and he will surely be on a coaching staff somewhere very soon.  In the end, I will remember Weber as a decent guy and a decent coach that ran a decent program for awhile.

Is it too much to ask for more?  In the current climate of NCAA sports, I’m not sure it is possible to be clean and win championships.  A recent sports radio program asked Illinois fans, “Do you want a coach that is willing to cheat to win a championship?” In other words, do you want a temporary banner?

My answer is a resounding “no.”  Am I being naive in thinking it’s still possible to win at Illinois without cheating?  I really don’t think I am.  I guess I just want to believe that it is possible to win and be (relatively) clean. Part of the problem is that the NCAA’s rule book is ridiculously long, and sometimes illogical. I’m sure that there are small-scale rules violations all the time. The real systemic problem seems to be the AAU coaches and the pseudo-agents that HS kids get when they are in 9th grade or earlier. When coaches get enmeshed with these shady characters, that is when the real muck gets stirred.

I would not want a guy like John Caliparri to be the coach at the U of I. I just couldn’t cheer for the guy because all of the banners he wins are temporary. I believe that it is still possible to put together a solid basketball program without getting all of the 5-star recruits and getting involved in all that comes with them. Teach good, fundamental basketball to hard-working athletes and I believe you can have a consistent sweet 16 program, and break through every once in awhile.

Is that too much to ask for?

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(BTW, if you do a Bruce Weber image search on google, it would be a good idea to include something like “coach” or “basketball,” or you will be quite surprised.)

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Journey to Hope: Relationships

Week One of the Journey to Hope is about relationships.  Here is a seven minute discussion about the connection between friendship and hope.  The hosts of the program talk to a mother of an autistic boy.  She talks about how shattered she was when she first heard the news, and how relationships gave her strength.  Brian, one  of the hosts, Brian, said:

“Sometimes we don’t have the words.  Sometimes we don’t know what to do, but we can just be. And just sit, and perhaps hold someone’s hand and walk with them.  It’s not always about doing or saying something.  That bond can be transformational.”

I’m immediately reminded of Job’s friends.  There are times when I hear about a friend’s problem, and I feel like I need to rush in to solve the problem.  I often have to remind myself that a friend might not be looking for solutions.  It’s easy to offer answers.  It takes time, commitment and compassion to offer myself.  Friendship – true friendship – isn’t an easy endeavor, but it is so worth it.

When I start to think of the friends in my life, I can easily become choked with emotion. I think about people with whom I’ve shared a moment in time:

High school friends with whom I shared a television show, a “secret club,” a perfect night on the roof of The Odyssey, parties at Weed’s (not weed parties), and one great victory over the BBC.  I think of fraternity brothers with whom I shared a few beers, a few all-nighters, a few meetings of the TNC, a couple of trips to Virginia, and more than a few long, heart-felt talks.

I can think of the faces that have come in and out of my life and thank God for the moments that we shared.  I can think of teammates, classmates, and colleagues that populate my memories.  Even if we aren’t in contact anymore, I am so grateful to the people that have been the in the movie of my life.

And then I think of the co-stars.  The ones that have done more than shape me.  They are the ones that have formed me.  So much of my hope comes from my friends.

My friends have loved me through difficult times.  They have (as my Dad often says) “Multiplied my joy and divided my sorrow.”  We’ve been together trough the valley of the shadow of death, and we have celebrated the greatest joys.  There’s nothing like calling  a friend with good news, or lightening my load with a quick phone call that turns into an hour-long conversation.

I love my friends, and I probably don’t tell them that enough.  But then again, they probably know.  To my friends, thank you.  Thank you for being a source of hope, for showing me what it is like to walk with God.  Thank you for offering me forgiveness when I don’t deserve it, and helping me when I could never pay you back.  Thank you for revealing the love of Christ in your smile, your listening, your tears, and your embrace.  Thank you, above all, for reminding me that I am never alone in this world.

When I think of hope, I think of my friends.  And Jesus did to.

“‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.'” (John 15:9-13, NRSV)

It was to his friends that he entrusted his life.  He was abandoned, denied, and betrayed, but his faith in his friends held fast.  He knew that it would be his friends that carried out his mission in the world.  Jesus wrote nothing save for what he wrote on the hearts of his friends.  His friends would become the Church.  All that claim Christ as their friend today do so because Jesus trusted his friends so long ago.  For this we may all be grateful, for we are all offered the love that Jesus described – the love that is so strong that he would lay down his life.

The Journey to Hope: The Beginning

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