Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Farewell Bill Walsh

God bless Bill Walsh (1931-2007).

Walsh served as Head Coach for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. During that time, he led the 49ers...once the laughingstock of the NFL...to 3 Super Bowl championships. More than that, he is one of those rare people to have really changed the way football is played, by developing what is commonly known as the "West Coast Offense", a system which focuses on quick, short passes to move the ball down the field before a defense has time to react. His system has been adapted by many, many other coaches, and is used at every level of play. His disciples and their own apprentices have dominated NFL coaching positions for 20 years. He is also largely responsible for recognizing and developing Hall of Fame talent such as Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Steve Young (my favorite Mormon). Walsh was himself inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.

The passing of Walsh begs the question as to his place among the greats. While Chuck Noll, for instance, wasn't the great innovator that Walsh was, Noll won more Super Bowls in a shorter span of time, dominating his era like no coach since. Tom Landry and Don Shula had great success over long periods of time, but won fewer Super Bowls than Noll or Walsh. There are many other great names to consider, including Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Joe Gibbs, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, and Bill Parcells, to name a few.

Perhaps in a future post, I'll sort this out. But, for now, I'm thanking God for the fun that Bill Walsh brought to this world, and I pray that, while I prefer a running game and "hard hitting defense" focus, the fun will continue.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Farewell Ingmar Bergman

God bless Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007).

Bergman was a Swedish film director and winner of several Academy Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement. He is generally considered to be one of the all-time greatest filmmakers. The son of a Lutheran pastor, Bergman claimed to have later lost his own faith. Nevertheless, his works are masterful morality plays dealing with theology and psychology at extraordinarily deep levels. There was no "theology lite" in Bergman's films; the characters struggled honestly and painfully with real existential problems and significant questions of faith.

My favorite Bergman film, and the one which introduced me to this master artist, is The Virgin Spring. Released in 1960 and starring Max Von Sydow, it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It is set in medieval Sweden, and deals not only with the struggle between paganism and Christianity, but, eventually, with powerful ideas such as justice, revenge, and the real meaning of Christian faith. The story (and the emotional rollercoaster of the characters) takes the viewer to radically unexpected places. In this truly exceptional movie, Von Sydow struggles with his own faith, and the torment and agony he displays are extremely uncomfortable to watch; they're real. It's a film which will challenge your faith and cause you to ponder some very weighty concepts.

If you aren't familiar with Bergman's work or with The Virgin Spring, I urge you to do yourself a favor and order this fine movie from Netflix or your local library; my guess is that it's hard to find in most video stores. It will definitely be worth your effort.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Camp, etc.

Toady, we're taking Elliot to camp for the first time. He'll be spending the rest of the week at Jumonville with John Shaver, pastor of "emerging ministries" at Christ UMC in Bethel Park. Elliot is very excited, having watched his big brother and sisters go to camp each year, and not being old enough until now. Robyn is a little uneasy, letting go of her "baby" for the next few days. I'm sure it will be great for both of them.

Next week, Claire goes to pony camp at Camp Allegheny with Eric Raygor, pastor of Grace UMC in Somerset. The following week, Christian will start band camp at TJ High School, and Kate will be off to drama camp at Camp Allegheny, where she'll perform in Godspell.

Summer will officially conclude for our family on August 26. On that day, JUMC will be worshipping at Round Hill Park in nearby Elizabeth, PA rather than in our sanctuary facilities, then to enjoy our annual church picnic. That evening, our recently formed ministerium will hold its first event together...a community "back-to-school" prayer service at TJ High School.

All in all, quite a busy finale for the summer.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Good quote

"The late, great Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, distinguished his historic pacifism from liberal pacifism precisely in respect to differing views of human nature. Liberal pacifism is a tool for achieving peace believing that it can be realized through discussion, negotiation, and increased appreciation of human and societal differences. Historic pacifism, on the other hand, is not a tool, but a way of life for followers of Jesus who understand that they live in a world at war, and that there are those who, no matter how nicely and kindly they are treated, and no matter how much they are helped, will kill whether the enemy is armed or not."
- Allan R. Bevere, from a fine blog post

Thursday, July 19, 2007

NFL prep: Final pre-camp thoughts

I think that...

...if the Steelers can sign safety Troy Polamalu to a contract extension before training camp begins, or even before the regular season begins, they should celebrate like signing a #1 overall pick, because he's that good...

...Head Coach Mike Tomlin reminded everyone in his press conference earlier today (to which I was able to listen, being on the road) why he is where he is: he is tremendously mature and seems to have his act together, personally and professionally; I think he's going to be the real deal...

...it will be extremely difficult for the Atlanta Falcons to begin their training camp next week with the Michael Vick situation dominating sports media; if they manage to make a real playoff run this year, it will be a testament to excellent work by their new coaching staff...

...the New England Patriots have to be everyone's pre-season favorite to win it all this year, given their talent, leadership, offseason moves, and, especially, the Hall of Fame pair of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady...if anyone can tame talented-but-selfish wide receiver Randy Moss, it's New England's dynamic duo...

...the Arizona Cardinals may not be a playoff team this season, but they'll make great strides under the leadership of Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, and QB Matt Leinart...

...the New Orleans Saints will be the class of the NFC...

...the Chicago Bears will pay the price for sticking with inconsistent QB Rex Grossman...

...the Oakland Raiders will remain an embarrassment to all who love professional sports...

...if the Carolina Panthers don't make the playoffs, their new coach next season will be Bill Cowher...

...the New York Jets may give the Patriots their stiffest competition in the AFC; the Indianapolis Colts will take a step back...

...the AFC South and the traditionally strong NFC East will both stink...

...Steelers' draft picks Lawrence Timmons (linebacker), LaMarr Woodley (linebacker), Daniel Sepulveda (punter), and Ryan McBean (defensive line) will all prove to be solid contributors, and make for an exciting camp.

I am really excited for the season, and very anxious for things to begin! Go Steelers!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NFL prep: Best Coach

10 - Herm Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs

9 - Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles

8 - Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears

7 - Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans

6 - Brian Billick, Baltimore Ravens

5 - Mike Shanahan, Denver Broncos

4 - Mike Holmgren, Seattle Seahawks

3 - Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints

2 - Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts

1 - Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Sunday, July 15, 2007

NFL prep: Best QB

The Steelers report to training camp in Latrobe, PA next Monday, so it's time to start focusing on the glories of the NFL once again.

To start off the season, I'm ranking the ten best quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL.

Honorable mentions: Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks; Jon Kitna, Detroit Lions; Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles (the question mark of the 2007 season); Chad Pennington, New York Jets

10 - Vince Young, Tennessee Titans...so much potential, so much fun to watch, he made a bad team good

9 - Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers...what a season he had with the great Chargers team; I'm not sure he (or they) will come close this season

8 - Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons...tremendous talent, stupid off-the-field decisions...it's time to win some meaningful games

7 - Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers (a lock for the Hall of Fame)...at one time the best in the game and probably more fun to watch than any other QB in NFL history, the old man's bringing it on for one more season...his farewell tour won't be pretty, but, being maybe the toughest athlete on the planet, it will be great to watch

6 - Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams...efficient, flying under the radar in the wake of teams and QBs with more flash

5 - Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals...a great passer and tough leader, but he'll have to win some meaningful games (i.e., playoffs) to make me into a true believer

4 - Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers...I'm thinkin' he'll bounce back into superstar form, even if the Steelers can't overtake powerhouse teams like the Patriots

3 - Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints...magnificent...he may lead the Saints to an NFC title

2 - Tom Brady, New England Patriots (a lock for the Hall of Fame)...the most successful QB of the 21st century (so far), and leader of the team of the decade...he's the favorite to win the Super Bowl in the upcoming season, which would tie him with Bradshaw and Montana...two more Super Bowls puts him in a class by himself

1 - Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts (a lock for the Hall of Fame)...he finally got the monkey off his back by winning a Super Bowl; unquestionably one of the all-time greats and certainly the best passer in the game today, I typically give Brady the edge over Manning, but Manning beat Brady's Patriots twice last season and, of course, won the game that really matters...Manning's the best QB currently playing in the NFL

Monday, July 09, 2007

Stop in the Name of Love

"...Jesus said to a lawyer, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

"Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

"But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
"The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend."'

"Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?'

"The lawyer said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
- Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)

One of the many troubling aspects of this parable, which is included in the lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, is that the two men who seemingly ignored the suffering traveler were both clergy.

It's easy for us to read this parable and feel some sense of compassion for the hurting man or a sense of admiration for the Samaritan. But as I read and re-read this parable, it occurs to me that as a pastor, I'm one of the guys who walked past the suffering man.

Now, I don't want to be too hard on the priest and the Levite. Commentators and theologians have given lots of legitimate reasons why they ignored the traveler, often having to do with ritual uncleanliness and the subsequent inability to minister effectively and offer atonement for the sins of the people. These don't seem like bad guys; they simply wanted to be as effective as possible in their current appointments.

In fact, it seems to me that they passed the traveler for a very utilitarian reason: they were simply too busy doing very important work to be bothered with one more thing. After all, it was a well traveled road, and, sooner or later, someone else was bound to help the poor guy in the ditch.

Man, too often, I fear that's me.

I'm reminded of a favorite episode from Jesus' life. On his way to Jerusalem to face, ultimately, the horrors of Golgotha, Jesus had a lot on his mind. All pastors are doing important work and feel the stress..."What about this project? How many people will it touch? Can we do better? Can we reach more?" (More of our preoccupation with programming, I suppose.) Jesus' mission was obviously even more important...the fate of all creation depended on what he did in Jerusalem, how faithful he was, how effective he was.

Yet, blind Bartimaeus, seeking healing, called to Jesus as he walked along the road, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" The disciples told the blind man to be quiet, as Jesus was very busy, and simply couldn't be bothered with one more healing, one more blind man...one more suffering traveler in a ditch.

Then, we read in Mark 10:49 my two favorite words in Scripture..."Jesus stopped."

Busy Jesus wasn't too busy for one more healing, one more blind man, one more suffering traveler in a ditch.

How often have I failed to heed the voice of the one in need, because I have been so busy doing good things, too focused on big projects and important events, too distracted by the work of ministry that I fail to live the reason for ministry?

I fear that I'm guilty, far too often. John Wesley's words to distracted and failed clergy cut deeply, "O house of Levi and of Aaron, is not the day coming, when the virtues of heathens and Samaritans will rise up in judgment against you?"

So, I need reminded that I am not only called to be an effective leader and faithful pastor, but also a good neighbor, not failing to stop to help one hurting soul, even if it throws off my schedule and sets my day on a very different course. After all, at whatever destination, whenever I finally arrive, Jesus is waiting for me there.