Bob and Weave

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Archive for September, 2016

The Weekend Is Here 9-30-16

Posted by flyingbk on 09/30/2016

Let’s go:


1. This Tim Challies post about David Boudia serves as a nice coda to my 3-part series. David Boudia, a four-time Olympic medalist diver, writes about the struggle for athletes to live “normal lives” after reaching the mountaintop in his career (cue what happened with O.J. Simpson). The five life lessons in this post are very helpful, and very applicable to our own lives. Sadly, the post-Olympic blues phenomenon is all too real (really pulling for Michael Phelps now that his career is over).

2. Because I was still under the weather on Monday night, I had to cancel my dinner plans. This unfortunately meant that I ended up watching the first debate. All I want to say for now is that my heart sank while watching it. It saddens me that we are at this current level of political discourse in our country. I’ve felt like Lester Holt when I’m trying to calm down my 8th grade students. I don’t think it was fair to blame him; we should have political candidates who don’t need to be told to wait their turn.

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What’s also noteworthy to me is how we can all watch the same thing and form drastically different opinions. Here’s one example, and here’s another. This phenomenon reminds me of another Revisionist History episode: The Satire Paradox. The problem with satire is that people will interpret it whichever way their bias points. The same can be said about the reaction to this first debate, and of course, the media and our politically active friends on social media.

3. Last night, there was a ridiculous ending to the Cardinals-Reds game. Basically, the game winning hit for the Cards should’ve been ruled a ground-rule double, which would put runners at 2nd and 3rd base with the score remaining tied. But according to the umpires, Reds manager Bryan Price was not quick enough to challenge it. And Price stated that it was too loud for him to hear the dugout phone.

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What an embarrassment for Major League Baseball. The umpires were more interested in getting off the field and enjoying a post-game meal rather than actually, you know, getting the call right. And in the middle of a playoff race to boot (LGM). The antidote is simple: Get rid of the challenge system in all sports.

4. We have to end on a sad note: RIP Jose Fernandez. Words fail me; it’s just such an utter shame. Sadly, tragedy can also bring out the best writing. It’s definitely worth reading Jeff Passan and Joe Posnanski. You will be deeply missed, and baseball is much, much worse off without you.

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Live For The Reward

Posted by flyingbk on 09/28/2016

This is the final part of a 3-part series. Here’s Part 1, and Part 2.

10 days ago, I serendipitously ran into a friend of mine. Let’s call her Sandy. I drive into NYC for church, and pick up random people at the George Washington Bridge to save on tolls. Sandy happened to be there, waiting for a car. I do a circle hand wave, trying to get her attention. She does a double take, and realizes it’s me. She gets in my car, and tells me she’s on her way to church: my church!

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It can take forever and a day to find parking in the city, especially on Sunday morning. So I meander round and round for over half an hour. But it’s fine because Sandy is someone I’ve been wanting to catch up with, and the search for this elusive spot allots us plenty of time.

The reason Sandy’s going to my church is because she’s helping her cousin find a church. Her cousin is recently new to the NYC area and is looking to find a church in Manhattan. This is the second week they’ll be attending the church, and Sandy plans on helping her out each week until she finds the right one. Sandy then blurts out, half-jokingly, “God better have a big reward for me when I get to heaven.”

In my last two posts, I looked at the human need for validation. Whether you’re a celebrity, a politician, an athlete, a working man or woman, a stay-at-home mom, or anyone else, we all possess this need.

First, it’s important to note that the desire for validation is God-given. Yup, God created us with this yearning. It’s not a character flaw. God specifically made you and me with a desire for reward, with a desire for being praised. Let’s look at a well-known verse from the Word of God:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)
We focus a lot on the first part of the verse, and rightfully so. But what does this “faith” consist of? The verse is clear that there are two components. One must believe that God exists, sure, but one must also believe that God *rewards* those who earnestly seek him.
The Bible is not shy about rewards. In fact, there’s many verses that give a sort of reward as motivation for those in the faith. Here’s a quick sampling:

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5, NIV)
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12, NIV)
I’m currently reading the book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness by Andrew M. Davis. (Shameless plug: Connect with me on Goodreads!). There is a fantastic chapter where he graphs out the shape of various journeys of Christian faith i.e. those who backslide, those who remain lukewarm, those who keep growing. It’s worth getting the book just for that chapter. But I digress.

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Davis writes the following:

A healthy theology of rewards is of the essence of faith. As we have already noted, Hebrews 11:6 makes faith in rewards essential to pleasing God…In other words, we cannot please God if we don’t believe in rewards! We are supposed to live our lives in this world as though the ledger sheet is supposed to be imbalanced, that the reason for our suffering and the effects of our seed-planting, and the results of our gifts to the poor, are all hidden and seemingly unrequited. We are supposed to expect to be repaid only “at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14: 14).
To believe in future rewards for present suffering and service is absolutely required in order to please God. If we say, “I don’t need any reward; for me it is enough to make God happy,” we might think we are being humble, but we are actually being arrogant. God intends us to live daily for the rewards, and to store up as many of them as possible for the future (Matthew 6: 19–20). (emphasis mine)
So again, this human desires for rewards, for validation, for someone to be pleased with us, for celebration of our good deeds and good life, is God-given. The problem, of course, is when we seek that validation in what cannot validate us long-term. It could be the praise and pleasure of another person or group of people. But as the old adage goes, “Praise [from man] is like perfume.” OK, I’m not sure that’s a real adage, but I heard a preacher once present it that way. The point is, it smells good initially, but if it’s left on too long, it goes stale. Moreover, when we do achieve someone’s praise, we become desperate to hang on to it, and terrified of losing it. We saw that was the case with O.J. Simpson and the portrayal of Nick Wasicsko. No wonder many of our human relationships are riddled by insecurity, and marred by codependency.

It could also be reaching a certain goal or promotion in our careers. It could simply be itching for that daily sense of accomplishment. But none of those things can truly fulfill our need for validation.

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Christians believe that we were created in the image of God, to be with God. Therefore, it’s God’s validation, God’s pleasure, God’s joy that we get to share in, and that alone is what satisfies the human heart. And it’s an eternal security: Even when we mess up, even when we don’t have that sense of accomplishment, or disappoint (or even lose the support of) a fellow human being, even when our flaws get exposed (cue my blog’s tagline).

And we know that this security is eternally certain because of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross, forsaken by his Father, so that he would never have to forsake us. Jesus absorbed the punishment for all of our sins so that if we believe in him, that punishment becomes our peace. There’s a safety net: No matter how much human validation we receive on any given day, we can soak up as much of God’s validation over us as necessary.

Last time, I quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a tragedy.” Jesus endured that tragedy on the cross so that he could be the hero that we need. He alone can give us the validation that we were created to receive. All we have to do is believe that he exists, and that we need him.

After all, what is this reward constantly referred to in the Bible? Take it away, Davis:

The reward is praise from God: that God would actually praise us and commend us and speak words of blessing on us in specific and detailed ways based on what we have done. He may also give us tokens or emblems of that praise (some people call them “crowns,” based on 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, Revelation 2:10, 3:11, 4:4, and 4:10) as our permanent possessions in the New Heaven and New Earth. But the essence of the reward is the joy in the relationship: my heavenly Father is pleased with me! (emphasis mine)
Oh, yes. And we can live with that joy each and every day. So let’s live for those heavenly rewards while also knowing that in this present life, God is our great reward. Then, and only need, can we keep that pesky need for validation, and all its destructive tendencies, at bay.

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A Hero, and a Tragedy

Posted by flyingbk on 09/27/2016

(This is part 2 of a series I began last week. Part 3, the finale, shall be tomorrow.)

David Simon was recently in the news for an ill-advised tweet. That aside, he creates iconic TV shows. Of course, there’s The Wire: For my money, The Wire is 1, but The Shield is 1a. I’ve re-watched both series, but if I could re-watch again, I would opt for the last three seasons of The Shield. Forest Whitaker helped take the show to a new level, and the tense scenes between Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and Shane Vendrell (my favorite actor, Walton Goggins) are forever etched in my mind.

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Anyway, while I was binge watching O.J.: Made in America, I also binge watched Simon’s HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero. Only someone as smart and talented as Simon could take a dry subject like the late-1980’s Yonkers housing crisis and transform it into a memorable period drama with well-developed characters.

The main character is Nick Wasicsko, played deftly by Oscar Isaac. Wasicsko is a former police officer turned Yonkers City Council member who runs to become mayor of Yonkers in 1987. He wins, at the tender age of 28, to become the youngest mayor ever in a major American city. During his campaign, he promises that he will fight the courts, who have mandated that Yonkers must forge a housing desegregation plan. The majority of white voters are furious and find the idea of being forced to live near blacks and Hispanics deeply abhorrent. So when Wasicsko vows to be their advocate, he wins their vote.

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But as we all know, campaign promises are one thing; actually implementing them once in power is completely different. Once he becomes mayor, Wasicsko realizes that the city and its lawyers have no chance of winning. The exorbitant fines that will be levied against Yonkers for noncompliance (within weeks, the price is $1 million per day!) become a non-starter, no matter what desire there was to fight. To save his city from bankruptcy, Wasicsko changes course and works to bring the housing desegregation plan into fruition. He receives praise in some circles (even being cited for the 1991 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award). But in his own city, he’s a pariah who receives death threats.

Despite the public outcry and even the jailing of city councilmen who resisted, the plan is approved on September 9, 1988. And of course, no good deed goes unpunished: Wasiscko is trounced in his bid for re-election the following year. He never returns to much success politically, and loses another election (for City Council President) in 1993.

There’s a heartbreaking scene in Show Me a Hero where Wasicsko approaches a house in the newly integrated neighborhood. He knocks on the door, which is answered by a black lady. He asks her how she likes the house; she is confused by this intruder and becomes suspicious of his motives. He wants her to know that he is the man responsible for her new abode… He desperately needs her to know. But she soon closes the door, and doesn’t think twice about their strange encounter. Wasicsko walks away, discarded.

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Imagine being in Wasicsko’s shoes. You become mayor. That goal’s been accomplished. Bur once you’re a mayor and you take a stand, you’re hated and they’re delighted to vote you out. And the ones you helped? Well, they’re oblivious. They don’t know who you are, and they’re certainly not appreciative.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s no wonder that Wasicsko commits suicide in 1993. He kills himself with a single gunshot at the Yonkers Cemetery, near the grave of his father. So it’s fitting that Simon (and the author whose book the show is based on) uses F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote: “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

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Watching this miniseries alongside the O.J. Simpson documentary drove home the idea of how we are desperate for validation in our lives. Simpson had it all: a Hall of Fame career, wealth, a gorgeous wife, loyal and even sycophantic friends, beloved by the masses. And it still wasn’t enough; there was always that constant itch for more. Wasiscko reached a milestone at such an early age. But that blessing became a curse. Due to circumstances beyond his control, it became real clear real quick that he would never ascend to such heights ever again.

So what do we do? We all possess a deep desire for validation. We want, we need praise and the acceptance of others. We need to reach goals and milestones in our lives; otherwise we feel woefully incomplete and feel a constant itch within. How do we find true validation, true satisfaction when there will always be more that we want to do, want to win, and more people to please?

More on that tomorrow.

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The Weekend Is Here! 9-23-16

Posted by flyingbk on 09/23/2016

I’ve been under the weather this week. So I’m pushing Part 2 of the series that started on Monday to this coming Monday. I’m very excited to write this post, and I look forward to having you check it out. For now, here’s a few links for the weekend:


1. Unless you live under a rock, or have chosen to care as little as possible about this year’s presidential election, you know that the first debate is set for this Monday. Honestly, I haven’t watched a single speech or news broadcast during this entire cycle. And I already have dinner plans on Monday, and we’ll be watching Monday Night Football.

I do have some thoughts on the election, and the state of American politics, but I’m not sure if I’ll write them. For now, I strongly encourage you to read Mockingbird’s guide to Surviving November. Mockingbird is my favorite blog on the interwebs; nothing else I read online does more to stimulate my mind and freshly appreciate the gospel. Do yourself a favor and bookmark it.

This post draws heavily from Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous MindIn short, we’re all hopelessly biased, whether we realize it or not. We think we’re all logical beings, but we’re most certainly not. Part III of this post, which focuses on how we ask ourselves “Can I believe it?” and/or “Must I believe it?” is especially insightful.

I used to be that guy who couldn’t believe the viewpoints of the other side, and got all riled up by their seemingly fallacious and utterly ridiculous arguments. I engaged in a heated political argument with a friend a few months back, and in retrospect, all we did was spew out our respective party’s talking points. But reading a post like the one on Mockingbird is most helpful in understanding why we are the way we are. If we all truly understood our own inherent biases and tendencies to construct narratives, we would be more humble about our opinions, and political discourse in this country would be so much better.

2.  Along those lines comes yesterday’s NYT editorial by J.D. Vance. I’m currently reading his memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, which everyone says is a must-read to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon. To be honest, this book is reminding me why I don’t like memoirs, but more on that another time.

In this piece, Vance notes how we’re so quick to throw people into baskets and buckets; it’s just so much easier and tidier that way. But the truth, of course, is that we’re usually much more complicated than that. Again, it’s very helpful if we first acknowledge how deeply flawed each of us are, and then we’ll be less likely to stereotype.

This story reminded me of the Woodrow Wilson protests at Princeton University. Wilson was clearly a racist, and students wanted his name removed from the institution. It’s easy to be cynical about Princeton’s response, but there is a lot of truth in what the administration stated:

We owe a great deal to people who are deeply flawed, and not many people can transcend the prejudices of the times they lived in… We assess ourselves with great humility because we, too, are flawed, and it’s likely that we will also be guilty of sins and prejudices that to future generations who look back on our own legacies will be very obvious.

3. The NYT also reviewed the book I alluded to on Tuesday. I started it this week, and finished Part I. Excellent writing by Millard as usual, and I agree with the reviewer that she has an uncanny eye for specific newspaper quotes. She mentions her favorite one, which also caught my attention from Part I:

Ms. Millard also shows, as she has in her previous work, that she has a great ear for quotes — an underrated virtue in writers of history. (Favorite example: The British ambassador to Berlin wrote that Churchill’s mother had “more of the panther than of the woman in her look.”)

4. Now, the lighter stuff. I’ll definitely be checking out the new FOX TV series, Pitch, which is about a female major league baseball pitcher.

After I watch it, I’ll read the A.V. Club’s review. I already read the review from two Baseball Prospectus writers (!), which only makes me want to watch it more.

And if you’re a baseball nerd like me, you’ll enjoy Jeff Passan’s 25 things you didn’t know about baseball. and the new Statcast metric.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone. Let’s Go Mets, and thank you AsCab. Best bat flip ever.

 

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Nonfiction Historical Narrative Interlude

Posted by flyingbk on 09/20/2016

I’ll get to Part 2 of my series in the next day or two. But a quick interlude: I am so excited to tackle Candice Millard’s book Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchillwhich is out today! Nonfiction historical narratives are my absolute favorite genre, and Millard is a master at it. Plus this story is about Churchill, one of my personal heroes.


I cannot recommend her previous book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, highly enough. There’s romance, rags to riches, political intrigue, attempted murder, the foolishness of premodern medicine, and Alexander Graham Bell. And I love these kinds of writings because they’re paced like an action novel. You will come away with a great appreciation for President James A. Garfield, a man of impeccable character who passed away too soon.

The one anecdote in this book that will forever stick with me, and one I’ve used often as a sermon illustration, is about Garfield. I’ll let Millard tell it:

Nor was Garfield capable of carrying a grudge, a character trait that neither Conkling nor Blaine could begin to understand. Years before, Garfield had resolved to stop speaking to a journalist who had tried to vilify him in the press. The next time he saw the man, however, he could not resist greeting him with a cheerful wave. “You old rascal,” he said with a smile. “How are you?” Garfield realized that, in a political context, the ease with which he forgave was regarded as a weakness, but he did not even try to change. “I am a poor hater,” he shrugged.

I love it. May we all seek to be “poor haters.” It’s so easy in today’s world to instantly judge, stereotype, hate, harbor offense, hold grudges. We all know there’s a ridiculous number of opportunities every single day for people to stir up hate and anger in us: co-workers, bosses, spouses, parents, children, friends, acquaintances, strangers, political figures, athletes, celebrities, police officers, drivers, pedestrians (that last one is for me).

But the secret is to instantly forgive. As quick as the opportunity to hate arrives, we should be even quicker to forgive and refuse to take offense. Life is a lot more joyful and a lot less messy that way. Thank you, Millard and President Garfield.

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O.J. and the Need for Validation

Posted by flyingbk on 09/19/2016

It was no surprise when The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story swept the Emmys last night, including its capturing of the best limited series award. I would also give it a slight nod over Fargo, a show that I absolutely love. The O.J. show was that good, and Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, and Sarah Paulson were all very deserving. I’d have to think that the episode submitted for Paulson’s consideration is the “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” one, which may be the best hour of television I watched all of last year. And I could watch Vance depict Johnnie Cochran all day long.

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2016 was unquestionably the year of revisiting the O.J. Simpson saga. Not only was there this fantastic FX TV series, there was Ezra Edelman’s documentary series O.J.: Made in America. When this series first debuted, I binge watched all seven hours in a span of two days. It was that engrossing, mesmerizing, informative. (If you haven’t seen it, at least watch the opening segment of the opening episode. I guarantee that your spine will feel all tingly. It’s an unforgettable moment that Edelman displays.)

This documentary series was the first time I saw clips of Simpson on the football field. Dude was ridiculous, the perfect mix of power and speed. No wonder he was the first player ever to rush for 2,000 yards. In the final game of that 1973 regular season, after Simpson reached the mark, he made sure to celebrate with his entire offensive line. The line was dubbed the “Electric Company” because they, of course, turned on The Juice. (That’s definitely one of the best sports nicknames of all-time).

In retrospect, that celebration displays the best and the worst of O.J. By many accounts, he was the most charismatic guy. He was the proverbial guy who, with his smile and demeanor, lit up every room he entered. When you watch interviews with him in the 1970’s, or see him featured on NBC’s NFL pregame show, or naturally, go down the rabbit hole of Hertz commercials on Youtube, O.J. comes across as instantly likable.

 

But the FX series and Edelman’s documentary both aptly portray that O.J. Simpson possessed a fatal flaw. It’s flaw that many of us struggle with: The need to be liked. Finding validation in people’s opinions of you. And at its worst, it can lead to codependency. It’s easy to revisit the footage of Simpson praising the Electric Company and see a man whose motive is not to give credit to where it’s due; rather, it’s to ensure that he remains liked by his teammates. It’s easier to understand why Simpson became an enraged, paranoid, jealous man toward his ex-wife to the point that he kept tabs on her and verbally ripped into her when he saw her with another man. It makes perfect sense when you see Simpson completely letting himself go and partying as much as humanly possible after the verdict of not guilty. Especially since many of his friends left him because they knew he was not innocent.

At the same time I watched the Edelman documentary, I also enjoyed David Simon’s miniseries Show Me a Hero. And I was struck by how the main characters of both shows desperately sought validation. Certainly that’s the human condition. But more on that next time, and I’ll look at how we can escape the trappings of our God-given (yes, He made us this way) need for validation.

 

 

Posted in God, Sports | 4 Comments »

The Weekend Is Here! 9-16-16

Posted by flyingbk on 09/16/2016

Each Friday, I’ll include various links that I enjoyed and sprinkle in some commentary along the way. Let’s do this.

  1. I wrote extensively this week about how foolish it is to punt in certain situations (certainly be on the lookout all football weekend: pro, college, even high school). In his wonderful podcast, Malcolm Gladwell touches briefly on this topic. Episode 3: The Big Man Can’t Shoot is a must-listen not just for the sports angle, but because it’ll really make you think about why we don’t (and sometimes do) stand up for the things we actually believe to be true. After listening, I now want to be more like Rick Barry.
  2. I spent a lot of time earlier this week meditating on this Tim Challies piece on what God does with our sin. I had the privilege of hanging out a couple days at Long Beach Island two weeks ago, and I actually imagined the crashing waves washing over all my sin. I also visited Barnegat Lighthouse at the north end of the island, and was immediately struck by its color scheme.

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    This pattern vividly reminded me of Isaiah 1:18 (NIV):

    “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord.
    “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
    though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

    Hallelujah for what God does with my deep scarlet, my utterly despicable thoughts and acts.

  3. I’m heading to the Mets game tonight. This will be my 10th game at Citi Field this year (sad but true: Record is 4-5). It’s the homestretch for the good guys, with 16 games left against bad opponents. I’m still uneasy, but hopefully they’ll win tonight with Big Sexy on the mound.

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    One important note: James Loney is freakin’ terrible. There’s actually a cadre of Mets fans who like Loney, and think he’s better than Lucas Duda. Talk about fans gone wild and completely insane. Loney is basically a left-handed version of Eric Campbell, with less speed and less defensive flexibility. Lucas Duda is actually a very good defensive first baseman (I know, I know, that throw in the World Series…). And he was ione of the top 20 hitters in the baseball the last two years.

  4. The 15th anniversary of 9/11 has passed, but I wanted to share this inspiring story. I’m forever floored by the heroism displayed on that tragic day.

    Have a wonder-filled weekend, everyone! The weather (esp. today and tomorrow in NY/NJ) should be out of sight!

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The Antidote to Disappointment Management

Posted by flyingbk on 09/15/2016

Let’s rewind 20 years (sadly, it’s been that long). I’m a senior at Cresskill High School. It’s mid-December, and I’ve just been accepted early into Columbia University. Thus, the next couple months are marked by less working hard in school and more hanging out with friends- mainly in the form of supporting them at basketball games and wrestling matches, home and away. I’ve got a good jump shot, but yeah, I wasn’t on par athletically with most of my buddies.

Our basketball team was a small-school juggernaut. The Cougars won the league and the state sectional with breezy ease. I watched them win on the road against our arch rival, Bogota, by a score of 70-26 (an indelible score, and I still savor how dejectedly the Bogota players walked off the court). They even reached the Bergen Jamboree final, and were only down by six late to a Teaneck squad that featured guys who ranged from 6’0″ to 6’11’ (At least two guys, Michael Nurse and Peter Vignier, played Division 1 basketball). Our tallest guy was 6’2. In short, it was a season chock full of achievements.

Now, the wrestling squad. This was a group of guys who worked their butts off for the last six years. They exerted so much blood, sweat, tears, and chewing gum and spitting into garbage cans to help fashion Cresskill into a league contender. And this was their moment: Facing off against Becton for the league title. Alas, they fell short, but no worries for there was a rematch for the state sectional crown a couple weeks later. This victory would be the culmination of all their dedication and determination, and then we would all storm our home court in jubilation.

They lost that match, too. Afterwards, I walked into the locker room to see how my friends were doing. They sat at their lockers, teary-eyed and crestfallen. I’ll never forget the words of one of my good friends: “We worked so hard, and we have nothing to show for it.” Calling him inconsolable would be an understatement. In fact, the next day at school, he was present, only in bodily form. He literally didn’t say a word all day. That’s the result of an ocean of opportunity cost, lost and buried for good.

Last time, I wrote about why football coaches make poor decisions. And as is my wont, I tenuously connected the dots to decisions we make in life. Football coaches choose to punt or “take the points” because the fear of failure overwhelms. Therefore, better to manage the disappointment and trust in their (suspect) defense. Likewise, we massage our expectations and tamp them down. We forgo a variety of opportunity costs since few things are worse than putting in the time and energy and “losing.”

Therefore, as time goes on, many of us become deathly afraid of losing. We’re terrified of getting our hopes up for anything, and then being disappointed. We adopt the attitude “If it happens, great.” We excel in what I call “disappointment management.” We don’t want to live with hope because we fear loss and disappointment, and all the opportunity cost that comes with it. For some of us, it’s become so deeply ingrained that we couldn’t raise up our hopes– for that job or promotion, that dating relationship or improving our marriage, having another child, reaching financial stability or saving up enough for the future– even if we tried.

But thanks be to God. If we’re believers of Jesus Christ, we know the end from the beginning. The end is gold-medal guaranteed, as right as rain: God wins! God is victorious! The Bible says:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
-2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV

That’s why you and I can live our lives with great hope. Because Christ rose from the dead, and we know that we will live with him for eternity, we can take risks. We can fear no opportunity cost, no matter how time and energy-consuming. We can process and even mourn our losses and absorb great disappointment without allowing them to tarnish our outlook on life. We do not downplay or sugarcoat the trials, the tribulations, the struggles, the heartbreak, the pain. But we also don’t let them restrain the hope God has put in our hearts.

It’s still not easy; we’ve been conditioned for decades (exactly two for me, in fact). But I hope you’ll join me in actively fighting against the tide of disappointment management so that we can be that hope-filled people God has called us to be.

 

Posted in God, Sports | 2 Comments »

Why We Don’t Play to Win The Game

Posted by flyingbk on 09/13/2016

I’m a Chicago Bears fan. Allow me to explain why. When I was about seven years old, I picked the team who won the first game I watched in each sport. For the NBA, it was the Detroit Pistons, also known as the Bad Boys.

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I have henceforth switched NBA teams, which is a long story for another time. For college basketball, I chose the Georgetown Hoyas (right after the Patrick Ewing era, and just before the Alonzo Mourning/Dikembe Mutombo Twin Towers era). For baseball, it’s the Mets, of course. I vividly remember watching my first baseball game on TV, a game the Mets won in Pittsburgh, 4-2, in 1985. That’s how I became a Mets fan.

Here’s the thing, though. A few years back, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and find the boxscore of that life-defining first contest. I fired up Retrosheet with eager anticipation. I specifically recall the Mets scoring 4 runs on 5 hits, and the Pirates scoring 2 runs on 4 hits (with no errors for either club).  That’s because I remember thinking at the end of the game that the announcers kept getting it wrong; the Mets were actually winning 5-4. After all, doesn’t the “H” in R-H-E stand for home runs??

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That game doesn’t exist. I perused Retrosheet over and over, only gaining more certitude in each attempt that I would locate the right boxscore. The Mets did win in Pittsburgh, 4-2, in 1986. But that game was opening day, a detail that would be etched in my brain. And the hits and errors don’t add up, either. So: a) My specific memory is specifically wrong and it was a different game in 1985; b) The game I remember was actually opening day 1986; c) Retrosheet is wack. Yeah, it’s probably a or b.

Back to football. The first NFL game I watched (if my faulty memory is right this time) was Super Bowl XX, when the Bears trounced the Patriots, 46-10. Little did I know that when I chose the Hoyas, Mets, and Bears that ALL OF THOSE TEAMS would not win a championship since I’ve become a fan. It’s not likely to happen with Georgetown, and with the Bears, I’m not a die hard. I’m not greedy; I only want one Mets World Series title before I die.

All of this is a long-winded personal introduction to a play that took place in the Bears-Texans game on Sunday. The Bears led  14-13 in the third quarter and faced 4th-and-2 at the Texans 38-yard line. Bears coach John Fox chooses to punt, which is an absolutely horrendous decision. The Bears never score again (they don’t even cross midfield!), and they fall, 23-14.

Earlier in the game, Fox actually made the correct call. In the first quarter, up 7-0, the Bears faced 4th-and-1 at the Texans 31. He goes for it. Problem is, Jay Cutler fumbles the snap (it was most likely the center’s fault), and the Bears fail to convert. I’m speculating, but it is highly likely that this earlier failure colored Fox’s latter decision to punt. That’s simply poor decision making. The first call was right and even the sour taste of a fumbled snap doesn’t change that. Fox couldn’t stomach another failed decision; therefore he chose the safe route and punted.

Perhaps they lose anyway. But this kind of disappointment management, and hope and defense as a primary NFL coaching strategy that I wrote about yesterday, is so utterly pervasive in all sports. Watch any NFL game, and you’re guaranteed at least a couple preposterous punts and/or “take the points” decisions instead of going for a touchdown.

Two baseball writers, Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh, were given the opportunity to run an independent league baseball team (the Sonoma Stompers), and they wrote about their experiences in the book The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. It’s a terrific book that the casual baseball fan will enjoy and the nerdy baseball fan (like me) will devour. Late in the book, the Stompers are on the cusp of a championship and Miller muses about why he can’t escape the dread of losing:

Losing is the sad inverse of winning, and yet not so easily disregarded as an illusion; losing is ruining me. Why does losing cost me so much more happiness than winning provides? Because, I come to realize, losing is not only the absence of victory but also the expenditure of an opportunity for victory.

Ah, there it is. Losing is just the absolute worst. If you’re a sports fan, and your team loses, it’s devastating and you have trouble sleeping (I’m quite sure that I’ve still not over last year’s World Series). If you work so hard to land your dream job, and fail, it’s much more painful than the joy of actually getting that job. That’s because of opportunity cost.

Therefore, in attempts to ward off the specter of losing, we do whatever we can to manage the disappointment and downplay the opportunity cost. “It’s OK, I didn’t really want that job or to be with that person, anyway.”

That is precisely why NFL coaches make such passive and scaredy-cat decisions. Better to punt and forfeit the opportunity cost than to go for it and risk failure and loss.

That is precisely why I (and you) make poor decisions in life, managing my disappointment and often times being shy about any opportunity cost that may not lead to success. It’s an awful way to live.

More next time about this topic (yes, there is more, and yes, this is where I use the Bible).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Play to Win The Game! (Unless You’re a Football Coach)

Posted by flyingbk on 09/12/2016

If you’re even a casual football fan, you remember the following rant. Take it away, Herm:

 

Sadly, in today’s NFL, this truism is not true. Rare is the NFL coach that actually seeks to win the game. In abundant supply is the coach who abhors risking any kind of failure and opts for the safer option.

Take the Giants/Cowboys game yesterday. The Giants were up a point, 20-19. They now faced a 4th and 1 at the Dallas 37 with 1:12 left and the Cowboys out of timeouts. Convert the first down, and it’s victory formation time. Instead, the Giants chose to punt and put the game in the hands of their defense.

The conventional wisdom is to punt, and of course, Mr. CW himself, Troy Aikman espoused it. (Pro tip: Whatever Aikman supports is the wrong strategy 99% of the time.) The CW is certifiably insane, and completely wrong.

The game’s current rules make it ridiculously easy to march a good chunk of yardage in a short period of time in order to attempt a field goal. It happened in SIX different games already in Week 1: Panthers/Broncos, Raiders/Saints, Bengals/Jets, Lions/Colts, Patriots/Cardinals, and Giants/Cowboys. Now, the Lions were the only team to actually convert their game-winning try since the Panthers, Saints, and Cardinals all missed on their kicks. And Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a game-ending interception that gave Jets fans a bad case of deja vu. And we all know how the Giants/Cowboys game ended.

But, let’s take a step back. Today’s kickers are more accurate than ever before. The chances of the Panthers and Cardinals kickers to make their attempts were easily over 50%. If Terrance Williams properly makes a beeline for the sideline, the Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is attempting about a 60-yard field goal. Quite a long distance, sure, but Bailey is one of the accurate kickers in NFL history and had perfectly split the uprights with room to spare on a 56-yard attempt in the 2nd quarter. Also, if Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar had been able to get out of bounds earlier in the drive, there would’ve been more time to get closer (basically, the Giants were saved by not one, but two Cowboys who displayed utter lack of game awareness).

You have one yard to get. You have a solid back in Rashad Jennings, and an offensive line that was winning the battles at the line of scrimmage. Shoot, forget running, you have Eli Manning and three receivers who had little trouble getting open. Instead, not only did the Giants punt, but they punted without any pushback from the announcers calling the game or any outcry on social media. And they only gained a measly 17 yards of field position as the punt sailed harmlessly into the end zone (courtesy of Giants punter Brad Wing, who had already failed to land two punts inside the 20-yard line).

So it came down to two choices: Gain a measly yard for 100% guaranteed victory, or rely on a shaky defense (that had rarely succeeded in applying quarterback pressure) and hope that an All-Pro kicker misses (or hope that a Cowboys receiver screws up, I suppose). And everyone’s impulse is to opt for the latter.

That’s insanity. But that is the state of football coaching (and fandom) in 2016. Disappointment management, don’t try to win the game, hope and defense as the best strategy in a league that actively seeks to give offenses as much an advantage as possible.

I’ll write more tomorrow about how pervasive disappointment management is in sports managing and coaching, and why. But for now, let me say that Jack del Rio is my new favorite NFL coach.

 

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