500WoL Reviews: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

There are two types of information that cause me realize where my weaknesses lie and convict me into wanting to change: well-researched statistics and well-reasoned arguments from the Bible.

So, being a confessed smartphone addict (which I have written about here) Tony Rienke’s new book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You really impacted me through the use of both.

I had seen it recommended on Twitter several times by people I consider to be wise. And I read it quickly yet carefully. I will probably read it regularly. That is how badly I need the material.

The book is written clearly and unashamedly from a Christian worldview. And as such is able to tie numerical data and Bible together. Rienke doesn’t just tell you that people check their smartphones every 4.3 minutes of their waking lives, but also that 73% of smartphone users do so before they do their spiritual disciplines. As someone who believes time with God is important yet still feels deep temptation to check my phone constantly, this speaks to me. The author weaves dozens of Scripture references throughout his profound points about how smartphones affect behavior and thinking. I do not want to think through this issue without theology because I am convinced Christians cannot truly compartmentalize their lives. Rienke makes sure Truth is the main goal and not secular thought on how we change and control our habits through goodness and effort.

The smartphone phenomenon is so new (about 10 years old now) that this book is groundbreaking to me. The smartphone addiction snuck up on me so quickly and subtly. I was not ready for it. As with all major cultural changes, Christian leaders need to be on the front lines, thinking and researching and communicating their findings. This is definitely that.

This book is peer reviewed; the foreword is by John Piper and has endorsements by people like Russell Moore and Jackie Hill Perry. So you can be assured that even if you do not agree with it all, people who get the Bible and are on the front lines of technology and social media have expressed their appreciation for what Rienke has written.

I have made conscious decisions about how to deal with my addiction as a result of this book and you can read them in the article I linked above. I am very thankful for the inspiration to repent.

If you have a smartphone, and especially if you check it constantly, I strongly recommend this book. Every culture has their sinful vices that are so common that we basically ignore them and I am convinced that time-wasting and narcissism are legitimate threats of the social media and smartphone movements. Yet they are so common they can become invisible, much like the “gossip” prayer request.

Thanks to Tony Rienke for causing people like me to see this issue for the first time.




Is There A Biblical “Age of Accountability”?

Recently for Rambling Ever On I dealt with the hot-button issue of “What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?” This topic really gets people in Christianity talking because it creates a head-on collision of one obvious fact about the world—that not everyone has heard of Jesus—with a crucial piece of Biblical theology: Jesus is the only way to God. Trying to think through that collision and maintain that God is fair in how he judges people makes for some lively discussion and debate. 

You can read that article here.

Yet as a result of my thoughts on that topic a side conversation invariably comes up when I bring it up in public: What about an age of accountability?

This is a fair question. I lean toward believing there are no exceptions to the “Jesus is the only way to God” truth in terms of people from remote villages or really any place where the Gospel is not shared. Yet, if I am inclined to not believe in exceptions in this way, can I believe that a 1-month old baby who has minimal cognitive and moral development would go to Hell if he or she died?

Logic, of course, guides me to believe that a baby or very small child being accountable to God for their sin is perverse. Yet, I have chosen to follow the Bible wherever it leads because it has proven that often human logic can fail us because humans are fallible (for example, it may sound logical that since “God is love” that he would not eternally punish people, but biblically this is not so).

So the question is: does the Bible speak to this? I think in some sense it does. Not nearly as clearly as I would like, but I gave up a long time ago trying to get God to do what I think he should. Yet, I want to look at five passages that I think help guide me to being satisfied that up to a certain age, people are not held accountable for their sin in terms of being judged by God for it.

 

Isaiah 7:16-17

He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

I have a very specific aim in this article so I will not be dealing with the bigger meaning of this passage. But suffice it to say that it sounds like God is saying that there is a point in this child’s life where he is too young to choose right from wrong. That sounds, especially in Old Testament vernacular, like choosing to follow God. At the very least it speaks to a developed morality, but I think it’s closer to the former. I have heard parents and child experts tell me that children have a concept of right and wrong at a very young age. But the idea of choosing right as in choosing God is something more complex and involves higher order thinking, self-awareness and a developed biblical morality[1. In other words, I can believe a child learns much more quickly that it is bad to touch something when they are told not to, than they can learn that there is a God, that we are sinners and that Jesus died to reconcile us to him.]. The Isaiah verse sounds more like this.

 

Deuteronomy 1:39

And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.

This is basically the same as the previous verse except it expands the thought to include all the children of Israel, instead of just one child. This is a crucial point of hermeneutics to me–that just because something was true for one person in the Bible does not mean it is true for all people everywhere[2. For example, I do not think putting out a fleece to test God as Gideon did is something for all people in the US in 2017 to practice]. But the broader the application of any truth in the Bible, the more easily I can believe it is a truth not confined by time or culture or specific circumstances. This verse speaks to many children who are too young to know good from bad, contrasting how the adult Israelites rejected God and could not enter the Promised Land. Again, this sounds like God didn’t hold small children accountable for the sins of their community because they were too young to know better[3. And while I will not add it as its own entry because I am still not sure I agree with it, some interpreters believe the comment in Jonah about the Ninevites not knowing their right hand from their left is about the children without a developed morality that God was showing compassion to. This would go beyond even Israel to a Gentile people, meaning its application lying outside of time and culture would be more likely.].

 

Romans 9:10b-11a

When [Isaac] married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God.

Bringing up Romans 9 in the context of any theology discussion is like bringing up Donald Trump on Facebook. Yet the fact that God through Paul here acknowledges here again that these two unborn children had not done good or bad leads me to believe that children are protected from judgment by God while in the womb. To say it one way, they are not “saved” but they are “safe'[4. I realize that if you adhere to some form of Calvinism these verses probably don’t support my thesis at all since the thought is that God chose them independently of anything other than His good will. Yet I go a different way–God didn’t choose them according to good or bad but according to His promise, eventually realized in Jesus Christ, and which still leaves room for human choice. But this article is not about this argument and if you’d like more you can read this or I always recommend Brian Abasciano’s book Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:10-18 and Robert Picirilli’s Grace, Faith, Free Will.].

 

2 Samuel 12:22-23 

David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.”

David here seems to say that he will one day be reunited the baby Bathsheba lost, presumably in Heaven. The hermeneutical danger here still stands; Just because David says something here doesn’t mean it is an eternal truth, or even true at all. Yet, when somewhat obscure Bible passages remain without contradiction in the rest of Scripture and align with basic human logic and our sense of fairness, then I am more inclined to believe they are true for all people everywhere. I have little struggle believing God probably used David here to communicate an important truth about babies that are lost as Bathsheba’s was. Wise people I know have used these verses to comfort grieving parents and I think they do so with integrity.

 

Matthew 19:14

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I’ll be clear again: I do not think passages like these seal the deal on an age of accountability, but that they may support it. I am not 100% positive about what Jesus meant here other than I am sure he is saying that to follow him you have to take on the humility of a child. Yet is he saying something else? Is he wanting these little children to come to him because they have nothing in them to keep from him, that older children and adults do, i.e., sin and rebellion?

I stop short of saying I’m certain he is saying that. But that it is possible. Jesus loved children and it appears without a disclaimer and without commands like “repent” and “believe”.

 

I close by saying that I have a hard time believing there are exceptions to coming to God through Christ for those who are in remote villages where there is no Gospel presence precisely because verses like Acts 17:26-30 appear to preclude those exceptions. They seem to be making the point that “You cannot be excused because of where you live.” But small children are different biblically. They go the opposite way–that they can be too young to know right from wrong and to choose to follow God. For that reason, I believe in an age of accountability.

What is that age?  I have no idea. I know of some children that began following Christ at the age of 3. I will guess that in cultures with less Christian presence the age is probably higher than in places where children go to a Gospel preaching church three times a week essentially from birth.

But at the end of the day, I think human logic and God’s justice in the Bible on the issue are square. And that is enough for me for the moment. I will keep thinking and keep searching on the issue. I hope you will too.

 

 

 




Five TV Moments That Made Me Literally ROTFL

I look like and argue like my dad. But I laugh like my mother. That woman can laugh. She can really get going. It’s fun to experience. And I am thrilled I inherited it from her.

There’s nothing quite like laughing so hard you fall out of your seat and start rolling on the ground, fully incapacitated. I could probably name 50 times it has happened in my life. Many of my closest friends and relatives know me for those moments. It is quite a spectacle. It is when life is at its emotional perfection.

It’s special. And the moments that cause it will always be special to me. Today I relive five moments from watching TV that caused me to live out the ROTFL acronym quite literally.


Seinfeld
The Episode: “The Fire” (Season 5, Episode 19)
The moment: Kramer recounts how he saved the pinky toe.

The first time I can recall that I fell on the floor laughing at a TV show. I can take you to the spot in my parents’ living room in Tookeydoo, SC where the magic happened.

Kramer is dating an annoying woman, Toby, who according to Elaine is like “a contestant on the Price is Right”. Kramer takes her to see Jerry do his stand up and she heckles him. Jerry gets flustered as a result and gets a bad review by a magazine. With George as his guide, he decides to get the ultimate comedian’s revenge by going to Toby’s workplace and heckling her. She, in turn, gets upset, leaves in a huff and loses her pinky toe to a street sweeper.

Kramer saving the toe is not seen on camera. But him telling the story of how he saved it—by hopping on an NYC bus that was about to be hijacked—is. The scene is all Kramer. Pure, unadulterated, 100% Kramer. Using his whole body to tell a story with more twists than an Oceans 11 movie. By the time he gets to the part where he had to drive the bus because the driver passed out, I was on the ground, convulsing with laughter, begging for mercy.

True story: I once told this as close to how Kramer tells it as I could for a sermon illustration at my church in Chicago. And when I brought it home with, ‘You kept making all the stops?” “PEOPLE KEPT RINGING THE BELL!” two people in the audience nearly had a ROTFL moment. That’s how funny it is.

Image result for kramer driving the bus gif


King of Queens
The Episode: “Name Dropper” (Season 7, Episode 5)
The moment: Doug fakes a heart attack when he can’t remember Carrie’s co-worker’s name.

I fell on the floor for this moment but I must add that my roommate at the time, Chris, laughed harder than I did. Which is saying something. In fact, he laughed longer and harder at this than anyone I’ve ever seen.

Carrie had already reprimanded Doug in the episode for not paying attention and learning names of people at work. So at a work gathering, Doug finds himself alone for a minute and one of Carrie’s coworkers flags him down. Doug refuses to acknowledge that he doesn’t know her name so he, in classic Doug fashion, begins interacting with her like they’re best friends. Then Arthur, who invited himself for the free shrimp, shows up and asked to be introduced. Doug is trapped. Carrie is still gone. So in a move of utter desperation, he fakes a heart attack.

We were both on the floor. Chris laughed at least 15 minutes, uninterrupted. By the time he stopped it was the end of the episode when Doug fakes another heart attack in a similar situation causing the laughter to start over.


“Community”
The episode: “Contemporary American Poultry” (Season 1, Episode 21)
The moment: Pierce goes toe-to-toe with a lunch server after they run out of chicken fingers.

I doubt anyone, even the staunchest Community fans, laughed at this scene quite like I did. My wife videoed the second half of it and just that much was several minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

The Greendale Cafeteria serves the most streets ahead chicken fingers and when everyone knows it’s Chicken Finger Day, there is a race to the cafeteria to get them because they always run out. This day, Pierce and Jeff are next in line and at that very moment, they run out again. They express their outrage. The server says nothing. Pierce calls her a “mute idiot”. She hands Pierce a note that he reads and then responds, “Well throat surgery may humanize you but *this* [pointing to the empty chicken finger tray] is still unacceptable.”

So that exchange got me going. For a long time. When I finally got it together, I rewound it because we missed about half the episode at that point. And I started at the beginning of the scene with Jeff saying, disgusted, as they realize there is no more chicken: “Again?!?!” And then Pierce adds directly to the lunch server, “At least apologize!” And that got me going again.

I bet I lost five pounds laughing that day. And Kayla started holding the remote.


Arrested Development
The Episode: “Good Grief” (Season 2, Episode 5)
The moment: Gob’s burial “illusion” falls through 

Arrested Development delivered jokes like a machine gun and while laughing at one you may miss three. This episode is no different.  George Sr. has reportedly died in Mexico so now they have to plan a wake for him. They don’t tell Buster, who has been faking being in the army because he can’t handle that kind of information (evidenced by his lost parakeet when he was a child). Gob offers to be buried in a coffin in his father’s stead, since they don’t have a body, as one of his “illusions”. And during the wake, Gob keeps Buster distracted with getting the illusion set up so he doesn’t find out the news.

At the climax of the episode Buster (who is wearing a magicians army outfit Gob lent him, since, you know, he’s not really in Army) and Gob gets ready to perform. The Final Countdown begins to play, setting the mood. And while Gob is getting in the coffin he lets it slip about George Sr. and Buster freaks out and abandons his duty. Gob then falls through the coffin trap door, into the grave, the coffin falls on top of him and the bulldozer driver begins to put dirt on him as the audience politely claps as though they were at a golf match and not at a magic trick during a wake. Which, BTW, is something you will only experience in the Bluth family.


Psych
The Episode: “True Grits” (Season 6, Episode 15)
The moment: Shawn and Gus decide to “Fight the Power” with Thane

A man named Thane approaches the Psych private detective duo because he was falsely imprisoned for two years and eight months and released through the Innocence Project. He gets restitution if they can find the real thief and, being wary of the police for messing up in the first place, solicits the help of Shawn and Gus.

At first, they reject him. But in a fine bit of acting by Anthony Anderson, Thane appeals to the heart of justice: he lost everything during those 32 months, including his woman. Shawn and Gus converge again to reconsider. Moved to tears by his impassioned speech and especially the loss of his woman (“He set her free, like a hurricane” “She got married quick”), they decide to help him. Shawn gets worked up into a tizzy–“Fight the power! Together!”–and as Gus tells him to not go all Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing Shawn goes all Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing by throwing the trash can against the window.

 

Image result for Psych just because you put syrup on something don't make it pancakes

 

Shawn and Gus are the standard for comedic duos to me as far as timing, chemistry, and banter. And this scene is as good as it gets.

I fell on the floor again a couple of minutes later when Juliet informs them that she is the one who put Thane away in the first place, meaning Shawn and Gus will be going against her police work. And it becomes such an awkward moment that Gus flees the scene, peeling out in his car, screeching the tires along the way.

So, that’s my list.  Have you ever had a ROTFL moment while watching TV?

 




Being Petty: A Tribute To a Legend

On Monday, October 2nd, we lost the heart and soul of American rock and roll. Tom Petty’s career and influence spanned decades, leaving hit after hit in their wake. Everyone knows a Petty song. Everyone has a favorite. There are innumerable articles out right now highlighting his music, his career, and his legacy. We won’t pretend that our take is the best you will read, but we do hope that for those that loved his music, it will serve as another opportunity to reminisce and reflect on an artist that helped create the soundtrack for many of our lives.


Josh Crowe
The American spirit is vast. It’s hard to nail down. Many artists have tried to do so and several have failed. Some who have succeeded are Bruce Springsteen with Thunder Road or Bob Seger with Against the Wind.

For me, Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ also gets the job done. From the first chord to the fade out, I’m swept away to the life of a Southern California teen in the 80’s. It’s broad and simple. It’s full of tension. The girl is good and the boy is bad. How many 80’s romance movies played this situation out for us? Yet, Petty made us feel it again.


Mike Lytle
When thinking of which Tom Petty song to pick it is very easy to fall back on the old joke that I can’t narrow it down to one song since I celebrate his entire catalog. In this case, it is not a joke though. Free Fallin’, Runnin’ Down a Dream, I Won’t Back Down, The Waiting, he has so many great songs that it is very difficult to pick one to pay tribute to. So instead of choosing a song, I am going with a Tom Petty movie. That movie is none other than the Kevin Costner classic The Postman. For those too young to remember (or those who have tried to forget) Kevin Costner decided in the mid to late 90s to focus his acting energies on three hour, post-apocalyptic epics. Waterworld received the most attention because it cost so much to make and went so far over budget, but The Postman is the better movie. A primary reason for this is Tom Petty and his role as Bridge City Mayor. He actually plays himself in the movie, but since it is set in a world that no longer cares about famous rock stars he is content to inspire people in other ways. Whether it is for his singing, songwriting, guitar playing, or acting, Tom Petty will be missed.


Gowdy Cannon
Chances are you have heard American Girl not just on the radio but on any number of TV shows or movies, usually during a climax of a story about a woman triumphing.  Americans have heard it in everything from sitcoms like Scrubs and Parks and Rec to movies you’d expect like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and movies you wouldn’t like Silence of the Lambs. I read even The Handmade’s Tale recently made use of it.  We can’t get enough of this song to help tell our stories. Musically it makes you want to cut loose and “dance all night,” even if you can’t dance or normally don’t (like me). But it’s deeper than that, which is why Hollywood keeps calling and why it’s been covered dozens of times the last 40 years. It’s so versatile it can tell any number of stories but I find it quite appropriate that the song didn’t catch on for a while but later became a mega-hit. Because that is probably the story we love best. The story of Ben Carson and his library card, of Kurt Warner and his grocery bagging, of America being the underdog in its revolution.  American Girl is, like the song’s author, as American as apple pie and absolutely what is great about this country.


Phill Lytle
I don’t have a singular story to share – no transcendent moment when a Tom Petty song knocked me over and captured my heart. What I do have is decades of unreserved love for Learning To Fly. From the opening guitar to the triumphant, drum-laced bridge, the song is a revelation every time I hear it. It’s a simple melody, played with precision and care, wonderfully mixed to bring out the most of each instrument. The guitar solo is reserved and understated, fitting perfectly with the song’s laid-back vibe. Petty’s voice sounds as confident as ever, singing about living, failing, and trying again. It is a song with redemption echoing in every corner and it is as beautiful a song as I will ever hear.


David Lytle
A couple weeks ago I was listing to Tom Petty and talking to my wife about him. I made the comment that Tom Petty was my go to if I wanted something that made me feel good. I never get tired of the sound of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their sound makes a bad day bearable and a good day great. Then Petty died, and while the loss of a legend saddened me, I am grateful that the magic of recording allows the music to live on. For my dime, Runnin’ Down a Dream is the quintessential feel-good song of an artist that never failed to make me feel better. It describes driving a car with music on and presumably the windows down. It’s about life on the road encountering both the rain and the sunshine. The guitar riff “drives” the song so effectively that just hearing the guitar makes you want to jump in a car. Let’s celebrate Tom Petty driving down the freeway as we hope for “something good waitin’ down this road.”




Miserable Comforters: What A Grieving Person Probably Doesn’t Need

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand[1. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 12]. [C.S. Lewis, after his wife died]

 

One of many great things about being Josh Crowe’s roommate for a year was that he taught me about music. We bonded over dozens of songs, over countless stories and moments. I can’t hear “Brick” by Ben Folds Five without thinking of Josh and smiling. The look on his face as he told me what the lyrics meant is forever etched into my brain. Thanks to Josh I get how music is the language of the soul.

But there is one song we talked about that means more than the others: a heart-wrenching personal testimony by Caedmon’s Call called “Center Aisle”. The story behind the song, written by Derek Webb, is as honest as it is tragic. It involves the death of his best friend’s teenage sister and how he struggled to write a song for the funeral. “Center Aisle” is the song that he really wanted to write but couldn’t because it would not be appropriate for the service. It is far too dark and raw. So he started writing it on the car ride home. You can read a brief account of Webb’s testimony and hear the song here.

“Center Aisle” echoes several things I have learned over the last 20 years of being a pastor about dealing with grief. While no two people are the same and people indeed grieve differently, there are things about dealing with it that come up often when I talk with those in the depths of it. As with Job calling his friends “miserable comforters” I have discovered that often people’s well-meaning intentions towards the grieving can make it worse. This is an attempt to reflect on what God has taught me from the Bible and from hundreds of conversations that I hope will help us all to minister to grieving people in a more emotionally intelligent way.

Here are a few things a grieving person (probably) does not need:

1. Answers

Tragedy, loss, and mourning should make us comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” These three words are at times okay in Christianity and even at times the only legitimate response. And sometimes knowing why doesn’t help at all. If you read Lamentations, Jeremiah absolutely knows why Jerusalem is being judged and it didn’t alleviate his pain.

Job’s friends treated Job’s grief like a problem to be solved. Bildad in chapter 8 even has the gall to tell Job that his children died because they were sinners. Pain isn’t a math problem. It is in many ways as different from math as possible in that it lacks order and logic. It’s messy. It brings dissonance. It makes us incoherent. Solutions to pain are often like square pegs to a round hole.  

 

2. Cliches

Pain cuts through the most superficial parts of our faith, in particular how we speak. Grief has a way of making platitudes seem perverse and disgusting. If you have ever read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, you will find the exact opposite of “strong faith” cliches. You’ll find intense monologues of anger and vicious, struggling doubt–closer to what Job says in chapters 3, 6, 7 and 30, what dozens of Psalms say and what many others in the Bible wrote.

Once on Facebook I asked people what the worse Christian cliches were and the top two both dealt with grief: “God won’t give you more than you can handle” and “God (or Heaven) just needed another angel” (when someone dies). Quite often words like these grate on the grieving person’s ears.

 

3. Argument or Correction

Job’s friends actually offered this, as vulgar as it may be. Yet I will guess it is rare in our culture for someone to argue with a grieving person. At least with those who are grieving in ways we commonly think.

So here I will state that I think a possible application for many of us may be the need to not debate with people who are grieving in a different sense, due to issues like racial injustice or hostility from the church for their sexual struggles.

On the first one I will not repeat verbatim what I wrote for in the NFL on REO article last week but will allude to the fact that while some racial issues are worthy of discussion and disagreement, some people are hurting and just need to be listened to without judgment or debate.

On the second, it is clear to me that some people are struggling with same-sex attraction and Christians are frequently guilty of preaching from a distance without showing any semblance of compassion, humility or relational engagement. And this rejection in turn creates genuine grief people carry with them constantly. Dr. Michael Oliver, Department Chair of Psychology at Welch College says (while in part quoting Eric L. Johnson), “Through our abrasive speech toward homosexuality, ‘we have assigned it to a dark corner where it cannot shine’…We should call God’s people to listen to brothers and sisters who struggle with SSA[2. Michael Oliver, Sexuality, Gender and the Church, 136].” After a person is wounded, it may be time to put down the sword. 

 

4. Theology Without Biblical or Relational Context

Romans 8:28 is a great verse about God working things together for good. But unless a person understands what “good” means in the Bible and unless they properly understand the verses before this passage that talk about longing to be rid of our bodies of sin and suffering and groaning in our prayers because we don’t know how to pray, that verse may not help much. And even with a proper biblical understanding, it may not be what the person needs to hear just a few hours or a couple of days after the tragedy.  

In general, unless I know a person quite well I prefer to stay away from trying to Jesus juke their suffering. There are of course exceptions and that is why I use “probably” in my title. If I am close to a person I will know better how to use the Bible to serve them.

I recall a classmate of mine in grad school who lost his teenage daughter unexpectedly. After taking time off to grieve he came back and told the class, “People that didn’t know me wanted to quote the Bible to me. I know the Bible. That’s not what I needed.” That will not be everyone’s response but there is an element of truth in it for a lot of grieving people.


Conversely, a grieving person probably does need:

1. Presence

The heart of the issue with all of the above points is that they involve talking without empathizing. Time and time again I have heard people in the deepest levels of hurt tell me they didn’t want an abundance of words, but rather just for someone to be there and cry with them. In “Center Aisle,” Derek Webb wrote this, reflecting on the awkwardness of trying to interact with his best friend at the funeral:

There aren’t words to say
Words aren’t remembered
Presence is

Back in January of 2014 when REO contributor David Lytle’s first wife, Bethany, passed away, the guys from REO were talking privately and I mentioned this lyric. Later, when Dave joined the conversation he responded that he agreed with it.

A huge problem in Job isn’t just that the friends argued and spoke falsely about God. It’s that from Job 4 to 26, they take up nearly half of the conversation. Often, just being there speaks sufficiently.

 

2. Commitment

When you read Ruth, you find Ruth refusing to abandon Naomi even after her initial grief over losing her husband and sons. Ruth’s declaration of commitment to Naomi is so powerful I’ve heard it read at weddings. I think quite often, after a while, the tragedy that causes a person grief leaves the public consciousness but the griever continues to have bad days and weeks, struggling with pain. And that is where long-term relational commitment is vital.

In an article Dave wrote about life as a widower, he said, “Most importantly, widows and widowers need relationship. This need is especially acute for [them], because this is exactly what has been stolen from them[3. David Lytle, D6 Family Minsistry Journal, Vol. 2, Randall House Academic].” Additionally, he told me that in the long run of grief, commitment from people enables them to see you in the daily grind and offer you the words of true encouragement like “Hey, you are doing a great job parenting in these difficult circumstances.” That can be like water in the desert of grief.

 

3. Patience

Sometimes we need to resign ourselves to the fact that grief is just hard and we cannot do very much to alleviate it. I have heard grieving people say that they hate hearing “Sorry for your loss” over and over and getting the constant looks of pity. Those are reasonable reactions to a grieving person yet they still can be met with frustration.

Even after Ruth commits to Naomi, Naomi remains bitter. Commitment didn’t take the grief away. I will guess that there were some tough moments in their relationship, and Ruth had to sacrifice greatly by being patient with her mother-in-law. Job’s friends did exactly what Job needed for one week (Job 2:11-13) but then lost patience. If you hear a grieving person talk the way C.S. Lewis did in A Grief Observed, you may think they are a heretic. Be patient with them.

Of course, all people need to try to process grief in a healthy way and that means eventually getting back to some sense of normalcy, whatever that means in a person’s unique circumstances. But the person may need great patience in the meantime.

 

Paul told us to weep with those who weep. I will never ever try to romanticize grief but if there is one way God does use horrid circumstances for good, it’s that he builds intimacy through it, with Him and with each other. The people I’m closest to are the ones who have cried with me. My church in Chicago basically is my family as a result. And it’s largely because they have just been there during the nightmarish circumstances I’ve been through, mourned alongside me and not thrown cliches at my suffering.

May we all have those types of people in our lives and be that type of person to others.

 




The Flag, the Protests, and Finding Some Common Ground (The NFL on REO Special Edition)

Last week on The NFL on REO, I highlighted a few areas where the NFL needs change. While it was not my intention to use an entire article to deal with any one of those issues, sometimes events and cultural conversations become too large to handle in a paragraph or two. As most everyone is aware, over the weekend, President Trump made some very pointed and controversial comments about national anthem protestors in the NFL. The NFL and its players responded forcefully on Sunday during the games. That is the immediate context. The larger context is much more complicated.

Generally, I try to stay away from a few topics when I write about the NFL and the Titans. I avoid politics as much as possible. I avoid religion as well, for similar reasons. The majority of people that read articles about the NFL want to read about just that – the NFL. They don’t want another political screed, diatribe, or pontification. I hope this is not that. But, this topic is so big, so intense, and so interconnected with the sport I love the most, I feel it would be a massive oversight on my part to completely avoid it.

Instead of simply writing down my thoughts on this issue, which are tangled and not entirely coherent, I decided to bring some of the other REO writers to the table for a conversation. Joining me today are Gowdy Cannon and my brother, David Lytle. Hopefully, something said here will help those of you that are struggling with making sense of all of this.


Phill: To kick things off, I want to lay down some groundwork. First, I believe I speak for everyone at REO that the NFL players have a right to speak out and stand up for issues they are passionate about. Second, there are injustices in our country that need to be confronted, addressed, and corrected. And finally, this weekend was a mess.

Prior to this weekend, what did you think about the limited anthem protests that have been happening in the NFL for the past few years?

Gowdy:
Prior to this weekend my thoughts towards the protests were very mixed. My very first reaction was that the time, place and manner were unwise and that instead of creating dialogue and awareness, they only further divided the country along racial and political lines and brought about a new angle of racial justice promoters vs. Veterans and not just police. At first, I thought, that can only be a bad thing.

Yet at the same time I never for one second thought Kaepernick or anyone else should be disciplined or muted and especially not fired. Because of US history and current politics, I felt that could be yet another step to dividing us. I think the protesters need to be heard.

And as I have read and listened to people like Benjamin Watson, Lecrae, John Perkins and a whole host of others on racial issues in the United States, the more sympathetic I have felt towards the message behind the kneeling and I had changed my perception of it greatly. It may be divisive but I think I have to believe that either wise, Christian black people are way off on this, or that attention desperately needs to be brought to racial injustice in the US in 2017. I do not believe the former is correct. For that reason, I think it is worth making some people mad to start the national discussion. Surely some people will never change their minds. But some, like me, will.

I had some disagreement towards Kaepernick and Michael Bennett for reasons that were not specifically related to kneeling. But the act itself to me was something I would not condemn.

Phill:
I had a similar reaction Gowdy. If the NFL allows this sort of protest, which actually goes against the operations policy it distributes to each team, then these players have a right to kneel, or sit, or raise their hand. I have no problem with any of that. I’m not sure how much good it does in the long run, considering most fans didn’t agree with the protests, but it was their right to do it. My biggest issue stemmed from Kaepernick’s comments after his protest started and some of the other things he said, did, or the clothing he wore – police as pigs on his clothing. He made positive comments about Fidel Castro, which were ill-informed at best, and that completely ruined his credibility among many, myself included.

The issue was dying down. Most of the players that had protested with Kaepernick at the beginning had moved on to other ways of bringing awareness to what they saw as racial inequality in our country – one-half of one percent of the players were still protesting. The protests were going to be mostly gone, probably this season. And then Trump happened.

This has the potential to be a source of debate with our readers, but I don’t believe Trump acted wisely by saying what he did. In fact, it all feels very opportunistic and calculating. Trump gets beaten up on a daily basis by the media, unlike any other president I have seen in my lifetime. He is criticized for things he deserves and for things he does not. The media reacts to him like a petulant, angry, child would. So Trump occasionally makes comments where he knows he has the majority behind him – and he does on this issue. Most people dislike the anthem protests. His most rabid supporters hate the protests. Many of them have already turned their back on the NFL. He was preaching to the choir on this one and he knew it would ignite a firestorm because that is how he likes to operate. And the media played right into his hand, as we all knew they would because that is who they are.

So, I guess my question is, how do we deal with this? How do we condemn what Trump said but still understand the anger and the frustration many Americans feel when they see wealthy athletes kneeling or “disrespecting” the flag, the country, and the anthem? And how do we do all of those things while acknowledging that there are real problems with injustice in our country?

David:
It is a shame that Trump is bringing a new level racial tension and political division into America’s favorite sport. By having such strong and vulgar words aimed at NFL players, he made standing for the National Anthem a referendum on his presidency, when it was just a side issue having to do with basically one former player. He backed NFL players as a whole into a corner and forced the issue. When bullied, people punch back. I was not upset with the Titans for staying in the locker room. It seemed like a respectful way to let the president know that he shouldn’t bully. It won’t do any good, because its Trump, but it was an effort. An effort that did not infuriate me as much as the President’s words, but still bothered me deeply.

Gowdy:
I will echo you guys that Trump’s comments Friday were a disaster as far as national dialogue and unity. It is incomprehensible to me that a US president would speak using those words, as loudly as possible, completely unashamed. Other presidents have definitely helped divide us but the whole spectacle was unprecedented in delivery and pejorative, at least in my lifetime. I’m not one who gets outraged about everything any president does or says, but I am still stunned by the comments. My sympathies for the kneelers are at an all-time high as a result.

I don’t have many answers. Something that I have seen good, balanced Christians post to social media (that often gets drowned out) is James 1:19. As a Christian, I absolutely should be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen. Yet this is so poorly practiced, by me and others quite often. But thanks to godly people in my personal life and on social media, I am trying to get better at it. I want to listen when Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator in the US, says that he had been stopped by police seven times in a year for driving a nice car and no other reason. I want to listen to Ben Watson when he says there is a fear in the black community of the police. I want to listen to an unnamed friend that talks about how they once had a gun pulled on them by police for playing their music loudly while driving. A good friend just lent me a book by “Coach” Wayne Gordon, a pastor in Chicago, called Do All Lives Matter? I read it in a day. It helps me want to live out James 1:19

I don’t have to agree with everything someone says to listen to them. But I will not argue with a non-white on this topic, especially if they speak of their experience. Data can be argued but I will not even do that because I personally feel that is counterproductive in most cases. Others may feel differently and that is fine. This is a topic and a time for me to practice James 1:19. At the very minimum, I wish people would stop talking in cliches and posting and tweeting without trying to understand others. Especially face to face. (Tim Scott and others have launched a huge movement of inviting other races into each other’s homes for Sunday lunch. Let’s do this, people!)

However, I am not a veteran or a cop and if I were I may feel differently. I can only imagine what it is like to be in battle and view the flag as a source of pride. I can only imagine because I’ve never been in battle. Right now I remain convinced it is worth the controversy because many veterans and cops support the kneeling and because many protestors have tried to be clear that people will not listen unless we go to extremes sometimes and they truly mean no disrespect to the flag, veterans or policemen. Based on US history, I personally am not comfortable constantly telling black people or other races or ethnicities how and when they should peacefully protest.

Phill:
I don’t disagree with any of that. I completely agree that dialogue is important. Listening is important. Empathy is important. We do too little of all those things. We are quick to speak and quick to anger and very slow to listen. Here comes the but…

We could spend hours and way too many words discussing the validity of these protests. We could talk about statistics, evidence, facts, and all those other things. I’m not really interested in that and I am definitely not qualified to speak intelligently about it. I want to keep this focused on the NFL, Trump, and how everyone can do a better job of having this public debate.

As David said, there has to be a better way to do this. And this is not saying minorities need to find less uncomfortable ways to protest. I would simply urge people to find wiser ways to protest – ways that will not give off the appearance of disrespect for our nation. They are less likely to change minds when you start from a position that puts people on the defensive.

The fact is, for too many, this protest is attacking everything they think the flag and the anthem stand for. For too many, these NFL players are showing contempt and disrespect for the flag and our country. These people will never be able to see past this form of protest. To them, it feels completely un-American. Kaepernick’s original comments were very pointed in their criticisms of the US. Too pointed for many. And they made it clear that he was showing contempt for the flag and the nation because he felt the nation was showing contempt for minorities.

And for people who agree with Trump, the NFL has only further confirmed in their mind that it is full of players that hate our country. I believe the overwhelming majority of these players love their country and meant no disrespect to the flag or anthem this weekend. But that is not how many people see it. And a productive conversation on this issue will never happen if we are starting on such polar opposite ends.

Without sacrificing their voice and their position, what can NFL players, the league, and the owners do to make their statements without alienating, angering, and inflaming millions of fans? And what can fans do to listen and understand what is truly being said through these protests?

David:
At the end of the day (or beginning of the game), kneeling for the anthem or even staying in the locker room is counterproductive. Perhaps attention is called to an area needing reform, but players can do a lot of good with their money and influence in ways that don’t make the nation think they hate their country. The flag and our national song about it, however, stand for the ideals of this nation, not the problems. The first and greatest of those ideals is that “all men are created equal.” Those who cannot stand up for this ideal are either tragically uninformed (like Kaepernick) or worse (like the dictator on his T-shirt).

I think Trump has been wanting to get back at the NFL going all the way back to his days as a USFL owner days. He resented being excluded from their club and now he is using his power to revive a dead issue and forcing the nation into a false dichotomy–Boycott the NFL or hate America. I won’t be Trumped.

Gowdy:
The events of this past weekend are still fresh so this is a quick reaction and could easily be ignorant in hindsight, but…is it too idealistic to think what the Cowboys did is a reasonable alternative? If you missed it they knelt as a team, including coaches, staff and even Jerry Jones, before the anthem. Could this still bring awareness and yet placate many veterans and others who feel that honoring the flag and anthem are important?  Again, my first reaction says it could work. But I also know if you try to please everyone you often please no one. I know there were boos by the Cardinal fans, though they could have been just a knee-jerk reaction/assumption without realizing what the Cowboys were actually doing. Or could be that they were just booing the Cowboys! And I can theorize on the other side some protesters still feeling silenced or unheard or feeling that kneeling before the anthem totally misses the point.

So I don’t know. Just some raw thoughts mere days after the incidents.

Phill:
My suggestions would be pretty simple: Listen more, react less. And while you are at it, ignore the media as much as possible. Don’t allow the media or the fringes to frame the issue. Those that are angry about the protests are not all racists and white supremacists. Those that are protesting are not all anti-American traitors. In fact, I would argue that there are very few on either side that fit those descriptions. There are real problems with equality and justice in our country – so even if we disagree on what those problems are or how widespread they are – we need to be willing to listen to people that feel strongly about them. And for those that are on the other side of the debate, be willing to empathize with those that don’t see eye-to-eye with your position and be very careful about labeling them as racists or evil because of their differing perspective.

We are much closer on most of these issues than the media, Trump, etc… would have us believe. Having real conversations where we really listen will go a long way towards helping us see that.




Five Reasons Fall Is Better Than Summer

Fall in recent times has taken its lumps for the “pumpkin spice” craze that people seem to find annoying because here in America we love being annoyed. Historically, it has brought on the beginning of the school year, which causes groans from some people I’m sure. Although as a teacher I confess that I embrace the familiarity of a returning structured schedule and the newness of student lists that greet me every September.

Today we celebrate the finer aspects of this exquisite season. Here are five reasons to love fall more than summer.


Because Sports

Is there really a better stretch of the sports calendar than Fall? I’d venture to say that October is the greatest month for sports.

First, you have the baseball playoffs which are second to none. Yes, we know that MLB players are known as “the boys of summer”, but it’s during the Fall when we are treated to the payoff for the long grind of the regular season: post season baseball! Legends are born in the post season. From Schilling’s bloody sock to Morris’ 10 inning shutout in game 7 of the World Series the post season produces memories that will last a lifetime. Home runs become mythical feats that transcend the sport. Remember Kirk Gibson’s walk off homer on two bad knees in his only plate appearance of the 1988 World Series? Or Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run in 1993? Everything about post season games is magnified. Albert Pujols pretty much single-handedly altered Brad Lidge’s career in the post season. And who could forget the Red Sox coming back from 3 games down in a best of 7 series against the Yankees! Whether it’s the excitement of the winner takes all Wild Card games or the thrills of a 7 game series something special happens when you take a sport known for its “there’s always another game” attitude and have the outcome determined by only a handful of games.  If you have your doubts then you don’t have to look back beyond last post season which produced one of the most exciting, dramatic World Series of all time.

Also, October has historically been the only month where you can get games that matter in the NFL, NBA and MLB (though November is now joining it…which is still in fall!) Imagine a world where on Sunday, October 15 we get a full slate of NFL games, on October 16 we get Game 3 of an ALCS with Boston battling Cleveland and on the 17th we get the NBA tipping off with the Cavs battling the Celtics, fresh off that mega-trade this Summer. What a world!! Only in Fall.

Plus, it gives us some outrageously big college football games, high school football, the beginning of college basketball and the beginning of hockey. It’s a veritable feast for sports fans during the fall months.
– Gowdy Cannon and Mark Sass


You can stop being hot and humid and sticky and sweaty 24 hours a day.

I know that many will recoil in horror at this notion, but I really don’t care for summer that much. Much of this is due to the oppressive weather. You go outside for just a little bit and that extra strength antiperspirant you just put on is gone in ten minutes and a river of sweat is coursing from every sweat gland of your body. In no time at all you can smell your own stench which is always a bad sign. And then this stench attracts every gnat and mosquito from miles around with no pest repellent known to mankind able to withstand the insectile attack. And night isn’t that much better. I am one of those unfortunate souls who can’t sleep very well unless there are lots of covers caking me. So it’s annoying when the nights are so oppressive that you are forced to use only a sheet or two at most. But then autumn falls and its quite literally a breath of fresh air. Gone is the air so thick with humidity that it’s like the mask of death itself. Gone are the days when your sweaty clothes cling to your body’s every orifice for dear life. Gone, making way for the cool, cool winds of fall.
– Ben Plunkett


Bonfires!

I love a good bonfire. I love sitting outside, when the weather is cool, enjoying the heat and light of a crackling fire. I love roasting marshmallows and hot dogs. I love eating said marshmallows and hot dogs. (I like both of them a little charred. Come at me.)

I’ve enjoyed bonfires with our church’s youth group, with friends, and with family. It’s always a special time. Hanging out with people you care about, seeing their faces light up in the glow of the fire, spending hours and hours talking, joking, and laughing – there are very few activities I know of that inspire the kind of camaraderie and fellowship like a bonfire. And outside of the Fall months, the chances are slim you are building a bonfire.
– Phill Lytle


Movie Marathons

Namely, every year my wife and I enjoy a Halloween marathon and a Christmas marathon. For Halloween we do NOT watch things that are gory or filled with obscene language or content. But that still leaves tons of great options for being innocently scared, especially if you include TV. For example, last year my wife and I watched several episodes of Doctor Who, that are entirely Halloween-esque yet not an assault on morality and decency. This year we will watch the Yang Trilogy from the TV show Psych, an incredible run of three consecutive season finales from a TV show we adore.

But this year is extremely special for another reason. This year Stranger Things 2 comes out. And even though I have learned that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, our tentative plan is to watch several movies that helped inspire this Netflix original series (Ghostbusters, Stand By Me, Poltergeist, etc.), then rewatch Season 1 from October 23-26 and end the marathon watching the new season from October 27-31. I have purposefully watched less TV September this year in anticipation of this event. If the Cubs make the World Series again, we are going to have some serious decisions to make.

My wife doesn’t enjoy the Halloween marathons as much as I do, but I appreciate her being a good sport. And she did enjoy Season 1 of Stranger Things. But she is more into Christmas movies and starting around December 1 we will enter another glorious time of bonding over some of our favorite Christmas stories told on the big and small screens.
– Gowdy Cannon


Fall means Halloween and Halloween means CANDY!

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Halloween is evil and of the Devil. As Christians, we do not participate in any Halloween activities. Ever. (Sidebar: Ladies, I would like to use this opportunity to urge all of you to not use Halloween as an excuse to dress like a prostitute. You are better than that. Be better than that.) But change that name to Fall Festival, or Trunk and Treat, and we are totally cool with that! All of that presupposes that candy is involved at these alternate celebrations/activities. If there is candy, all is well with the world. We love candy.

Little known fact: This time of year is one of the best reasons to have children. You get way more candy that way because your kids come home from their “Fall” activities with mountains of candy. And you, as their loving parent, get to partake in all that bounty. Be fruitful and multiply people! There is a mother lode of candy in your future if you do!
– Phill Lytle

 




Five More Movie Dinner Scenes We Love

We enjoyed putting together our last list so much we decided to do it again. We also loved all the interaction we received in response to our previous list, even from those that yelled at us and called us names. We are confident this second list will inspire the same sort of reaction. (Finger’s crossed!) Feel free to post your feedback, insults, and name-calling in the comment section below. Bon appetite!


The Thin Man by Benjamin Plunkett

The Thin Man dinner scene

The Thin Man was released in 1934, two years after the publication of the book on which it is based. Most of the acting in the movie is okay at best. It is saved by two things: The masterful, charismatic acting of William Powell and Myrna Loy; and excellent writing throughout. Along with the help of his trusty dog, Asta, Nick Charles (Powell) investigates the mysterious disappearance of an old inventor friend who he discovers is murdered. It culminates in a dinner with all the assembled suspects in which Charles reveals the culprit. Like most great dinner scenes, the dinner is chock full of some angst-driven dialogue between the hilariously tense guests, Nora (Loy), and engineered by the very laid back Nick who is obviously relishing the evening. While revealing the facts of the case he sometimes randomly shouts the name of this or that guest. This guest jumps out of their pants (no, not literally). At other times he makes sudden comments directly to guests such as asking one not to hold his butter knife in a threatening way or asking another if he saw anything important as he gazed into his crystal. And in the end the evil-deed doer is revealed to be no other than—ho, ho, ho, you sly devil. You’ll have to watch the movie for that juicy bit of info. At the time, the movie was so popular that it spawned five sequels.


Christmas Vacation by Gowdy Cannon

Christmas Vacation dinner

Christmas Vacation was released when I was in the 8th grade and at my small town high school the following exchange got randomly quoted year round, and not just at Christmas:

“GRACE!”
Grace? She passed away 30 years ago!!”
They want you to say grace. THE BLESSING.”

And then someone would invariable start into the Pledge of Allegiance. Considering the fact that she wrapped up her cat earlier in the movie, Aunt Bethany definitely could steal a scene, as she does at this epic family dinner.

But of course we should not fail to mention a classic Clark vs. Cousin Eddie moment. After Clark announces Santa Clause has been spotted by the news, Eddie chimes in, “You serious, Clark?” Village idiots are dime a dozen in entertainment, but very few people have played the doofus this well. The list of people that I am positive could have delivered that line so believably starts with Chris Pratt and Randy Quaid. And it’s probably not much longer than that.

Just a hilarious four minutes. Back in my teen years and on through college and young adulthood, watching this movie was a Christmas tradition. It helped kick off the festivities. So I am thrilled to include it in this sequel to our great dinner scenes article.


The Incredibles by Phill Lytle

The Incredibles dinner scene

In 2004, Pixar Studios gave us The Incredibles. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film was an original superhero story about the Parr family – a family of super-powered individuals who have been forced, due to governmental and societal pressures, to keep their powers hidden from the world. They live normal lives. They are the classic nuclear family. Yet underneath that veneer of familiarity and averageness, everyone in the family, besides baby Jack-Jack, are gifted with powers ranging from super strength to elasticity.

Early in the film, there is a scene set at the dinner table. It is the quintessential examination of both sides of their lives. It is the picture of a family that is not connecting – something that many viewers can identify with. You see the stay-at-home wife and mother, Helen, after a long day of juggling household duties, running the kids to and from school, and caring for an infant, sitting down at the dinner table trying to engage her husband with the events of the day. You see the husband and father, Bob, home from a long day at a job he hates, distracted and irritable. You have the young boy, Dash, with too much energy to spare and no outlet for any of it. Finally, you have the teenage girl, Violet, sullen, withdrawn, and doing everything she can to stay hidden from the world. (The baby is there as well but he is perfectly oblivious to all the tension in the room.)

Throughout the dinner, each character demonstrates all aspects of who they are – the normal and the super. Helen is pulled in all directions (both literally and figuratively) as she tries to manage the household and make things work in less-than-ideal circumstances. Bob is dissatisfied and frustrated because he knows full well that his life is meant for more than sitting in a cubicle all day. His talents are being wasted and his impressive power flashes at inopportune moments throughout the meal. The kids all add their own unique issues and gifts to the conversation. The scene is funny and intelligent, insightful and recognizable. We can connect with it, even though we do not have powers, because we identify with exactly what this family is facing. Brad Bird uses one of the most familiar settings – the dinner table – to peel back layer after layer of family dynamics, cultural expectations, and the dangers of settling and compromise. This scene firmly establishes each character, their roles, the major themes of the film, and foreshadows the climactic resolution of the film by presenting its inverse in a delightfully funny sequence.


The Return of the King by Benjamin Plunkett

The Return of the King Denethor eating scene

Although there are those who claim to be able to do so, you will be very hard pressed to settle on any one element in the theatrical trilogy The Lord of the Rings as the one element that is better than anything else in it. The movies, all three of them, are caked with brilliance and layered with excellence. One of the many, many ingenious elements is Denethor’s lunch/dinner scene in Return of the King. In this scene Denethor appears to be eating a meal composed of many vegetables, with baby tomatoes making an Oscar-worthy appearance. His madness and the decadence in which his life has become steeped is characterized by his viciously chomping the cherry tomatoes like some brute beast as their red ooze dribbles carelessly down his face like blood. He eats his little feast while commanding Pippen to sing a song to him. The singing, the eating, all seamlessly juxtaposed with a scene of his son, Farimir, and his men, riding to certain death by Denethor’s mad command. To this day, I can’t eat baby tomatoes without thinking of that scene. In those instances, I do the only rational thing and pretend to be old Denethor.


Lars and the Real Girl by Phill Lytle

Lars and the Real Girl dinner scene

I’ve written about this movie for REO before – you can read that here. In hopes of not spending too much time getting bogged down in the details, I’ll keep this concise: Lars, the protagonist, is different. He lives in a converted garage behind his brother (Gus) and sister-in-law’s (Karin) house. He is withdrawn and awkward. His family worries about him. He orders a sex doll online and pretends she is a real person. (Read my review if you need more details.) The first time we, and his family, meet his new “girlfriend” Bianca, is at dinner. When Lars tells them he is bringing a girl to eat with them, they are so excited. Then, they are sitting across the table staring at a life-like, sex doll. They are dumbfounded. Lars is as happy as can be. Bianca takes it all in stride. The scene is a masterpiece of awkward humor, strained conversation, and quirky character interaction. It sets the table for the rest of the film perfectly.




Five Sports Movies Our Staff Love

The best movies tell unforgettable stories and introduce us to legendary characters and performances. So it is no surprise that in a culture obsessed with sports, some of the best films of all time are about them. Sports prove that truth is indeed better than fiction quite often–you will notice below and on any list of sports movies how many are based on or inspired by true stories. Movies, for their part, make us interested in sports we as Americans often are not obsessed with, like boxing, karate and hockey. The two together have given us exceptional entertainment.

Today our staff discusses five sports films that we love. This is not a Top Five list; just five selections that impacted us deeply…as sports fans (most of us), moviegoers and human beings that love to be inspired.

 

Chariots of Fire by Ben Plunkett

I can’t remember exactly when or where I first saw The Chariots of Fire. All I know for sure is that it was in the first half of the 80s. My best friend at the time later said he stopped watching immediately when the first shot was of a bunch of guys running down the beach in their underwear. But I went against the norm of kids in my age bracket and watched the whole thing. It remains one of the most inspirational movies I have ever seen. (Not the best, in my opinion, although it is excellent). I remember in the months afterward I would pretend to be Eric Liddel, running in one of the first races we see him in. He’s doing really well, but then another racer pushes him down to the side of the track. He falls with a crash and his race seems over. But then he gets up, runs like a chariot of fire, passes all the runners who are all way ahead of him, and runs like a beast to against all odds win the race. I’d put on our Chariots of Fire record and run in slow motion around the living room, dramatically falling and rising in strategic places. That particular Liddel story isn’t the only great and inspirational moment in the film, though, not by a long shot. All the details surrounding the 1924 Olympics are legendary. The movie inspired me to be a runner. Yeah, that didn’t really pan out.

Most inspirational of all to me as a Christian was Liddel’s Christian strength eximplified perfectly throughout the whole movie, especially at the Olympics. It is also inspirational to know that after the events of the movie he left his successful running career to be a missionary in China.

 

The Sandlot by Allen Pointer

My favorite film, not just favorite sports film, is Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell is one of my heroes.
My sleeper sports film? Victory. I saw it when it was released during my high school years and it was epic.

Someone beat me to both of these films.

So that leaves me to write about another film that I have grown to love that I had never seen until last year.

The Sandlot.

Nostalgic. Great retro Los Angeles Angels cap, and a KC Monarchs Negro League cap as well. Playing ball all day long. All of the names for Babe Ruth. James Earl Jones. What is not to love?

But my favorite part by far is when Benny brings Smalls into the group. A shy, awkward young man is saved by the kindness of the star of the team. While everyone else is making fun, Benny allows a young man entrance into the most important team in the world, located at the local sandlot. Consumed by a love of baseball, he looks beyond that to do the decent thing, and through an extra ball glove and cap includes someone starving for belonging in the group that matters the most.

I am glad that I finally watched The Sandlot.

 

Field of Dreams by Phill Lytle

What do you get when you combine two of my favorite things – sports and fantasy? You get one of my favorite films – Field of Dreams. I love everything about this film. I love the premise – the out-of-his-depth farmer hearing voices in his corn field telling him to build a baseball field in their place. I love the performances – Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, and Burt Lancaster all create believable and interesting characters. The music is appropriately winsome when needed and epic when called for. While some baseball purists huff and puff about the accuracy of the players and if they are batting and throwing with the correct hand, those things are minor details in the grand picture. The film is about heart, inspiration, and grand gestures. It’s never meant to be a realistic portrayal of baseball or family dynamics. It’s a fantasy story built around a baseball diamond in a corn field. Where ghosts of great players come to play. And sons are reunited and reconciled with their long deceased fathers. It’s beautiful and life-affirming stuff and I enjoy it more every time I watch it.



Rudy by Gowdy Cannon

I played basketball in high school, but being 5’10 and 135 lbs, I realized by my 10th-grade year I had to abandon the dream of playing in the ACC. So you can see how a real life story-turned-movie like that of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger would captivate me.

Let there be no doubt that some of the supporting roles are memorable: a baby-faced Vince Vaughn, an endearing and relateable Jon Favreau and a heart-wrenching performance by Charles S. Dutton as Fortune. When he slow claps at the end before walking off, I want to stand up and clap for him. Every time.

But not many movies this good relied quite so heavily on the lead as Rudy. Sean Astin has had roles as glorious as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings movies and as ridiculous as Bill the Speedo-wearing swim instructor in Adam Sandler’s Click. In Rudy, he gives a masterpiece that will be what I associate with his name the rest of his life.

There are the obvious emotional moments near the end of the movie that make it great–when the Notre Dame players one by one give up their jerseys in the coach’s office (which didn’t really happen but was an excellent touch of dramatic license), and when they start the famous “RU-DY!” chant near the end of the final game. But there are two moments that I cherish deep in my heart that are less famous but equally as meaningful: when he gets rejected by Notre Dame to be a student for the third time and he balls the letter up and bangs his head against the wall, and when he finally makes it onto Notre Dame’s practice squad and is getting his brains beat out and keeps getting up and challenging the offensive linemen: “I’m a defensive lineman from Purdue!” Those are what make Rudy special: perseverance despite failure, pain and every reason in the world to quit.

Rudy does not culminate in a magical moment of winning like in Miracle or an epic individual center stage performance as in Rocky. All Rudy did was make a meaningless sack after finally getting on the field. Yet it was way bigger than that. It was about real world inspiration from a man whose heart was too big to ever give up. That is why they carried him off the field in real life. And that is why this movie is on our list today.

 

Victory by Nathan Patton

Most of the people to whom I’ve mentioned the movie Victory (or Escape to Victory as it’s known across the pond) have never heard of it. Those who have didn’t like it. It’s a favorite in my house though.

It’s a war movie that I can actually show my kids. Of course it’s not completely realistic, but I’m also not having to send them to a therapist after it’s over.

The great Sir Michael Caine and Sylvester “Sly” Stallone aren’t really believable as world class soccer players, but they’re loveable and fun to watch, and the movie is full of some of the greatest soccer players of all time, including Pele and Bobby Moore.

The basic plot is that a German officer arranges for allied prisoners to play a friendly soccer match with some of the guards at a POW camp in France, just for fun. It gets caught up in the Nazi propaganda machine and becomes a match between the best of the Allied POW players from all over Nazi occupied territory (mostly famous soccer players before the war) and the German national team in Paris, intending to show that the Nazis are superior. Intermingled throughout are escape plots and attempts. It is loosely based on an actual match played between a Ukrainian team and the German team during World War II.

Yes, it does share some similarities to The Longest Yard, except, of course, that it’s about a sport that actually matters…

What is your favorite? Share with us below!

 




The NFL on REO: Game Time!

It’s game time baby!

The NFL season kicks off tomorrow with the defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, facing off against the Kansas City Chiefs. I am so excited, even if this first game includes my most hated team in the history of all sports – the Patriots. It’s real NFL football for the first time in over half a year! What is better than that?

To commemorate this momentous occasion, here is my interest level for each game this week. We’ll start at the bottom.

The “Zzzzzzz….” group:

Jets vs Bills
Jaguars vs Texans
Colts vs Rams

The less said about these three games the better.

The “I’ll watch if there isn’t a better game on” group:

Panthers vs 49ers – I want to see Christian McCaffrey. That’s it. I don’t care about anything else in this game.
Ravens vs Bengals – This one just made it out of the first group. There is very little interesting about this game.
Cardinals vs Lions – Matt Stafford is on my fantasy team. So there’s that.
Falcons vs Bears – Matt Ryan and Julio Jones usually bring something interesting to the table.
Saints vs Vikins – AP against his old team deserves a little attention.

The “I’m intrigued” group:

Buccaneers vs Dolphins – I want to see what Winston looks like in his third year with a full compliment of weapons on offense.[1. If this game actually takes place. The hurricane might not let that happen.]
Eagles vs Redskins – Does Wentz take the next step? Does Cousins improve or has he hit his ceiling?
Chargers vs Broncos – I think the Chargers are going to be a lot of fun this year if they stay healthy. Rivers is always worth a look.
Steelers vs Browns – ‘Burger, Bell, and Brown are an awesome trio to watch. I am also curious about DeShone Kizer.

The “Must See TV” group:

Giants vs Cowboys – Two heavy-hitters from the NFC East (Otherwise known as the only division in football to most of the sports media.) This one could have huge ramifications at the end of the season.
Chiefs vs Patriots – Defending champs. Solid Chiefs team. First game of the season. Of course I am watching.
Seahawks vs Packers – Rogers is always must-see TV and these two teams have played in some great ones in the recent past. I’m sold.
Raiders vs Titans – This is not just my Titans’ bias coming out. Two up-and-coming teams. Two young QB’s on the rise. This one should be a lot of fun for the early Sunday schedule.


Staff Predictions for the Tennessee Titans

Gowdy Cannon
Anything less than a better record than last year’s 9-7 would be at least a little disappointing to me as a Titans fan-in-law (being a Bears fan first but well connected to Nashville through REO and my college friends). And I think the team is ready for a leap.

I voted for 12-4 last week. NFL Nation has them as one of several teams with 11 wins predicted[2. Projected records] and I think they are team that is easy to overlook and underrate since Nashville is not a major market. On that note, I think Mariota will be approaching a Top 5 quarterback by season’s end, barring injury, and that will be worth a win or two by itself. Going on what Paul Kuharsky wrote last week, I think he is primed to pass Stafford and Rivers at least on his list.

If Indianapolis were in the shape we assumed they’d be in during Luck’s early career arc, I would be less optimistic. But they are not. Tennesee looks to be in prime position to win the division and get a high seed. I’m excited for them.

Mike Lytle
The Tennessee Titans had a solid season last year winning nine games and barely missing out on the playoffs. They lost a couple games they probably should have won and ended up stealing a couple games they should have lost so all in all they were what their record says they were – a slightly above average team with many strengths, but a few glaring weaknesses.

In the off season they added some solid pieces in free agency and had a definite plan in the draft. They drafted for positions of need and did not simply pick the best players available even if when some projected high picks fell to them. I have no problem with that strategy. As long as the scouts did their job in projecting future performance then this year’s draft should help the team right away.

For these reasons I am predicting an 11-5 record. My head tells me 10-6, but I am going with my heart on this one.

David Lytle
This is my pessimistic take.

8-8

While the Titans have been going in the right direction under Coach Mike Mularkey and GM John Robinson, they may see a slump this year. As a whole, the team lacks depth and will struggle to compensate for injuries that come their way. Even though they added personnel to their defensive backfield and wide receiver core, they will continue to struggle to cover the pass or pass the ball very effectively.

Phill Lytle
I’ve been high on the Titans since last year. I believe they have made numerous improvements on both sides of the ball this offseason and I think that will translate to a few more wins. I am predicting the team will go 11-5 in 2017. This preseason has dampened expectations in Nashville, but we’ll look back on our worries with a laugh by season’s end.


Enjoy the opening week, football fans. It only happens once a year. We’ll be back next week with a recap of Week 1 and a few other items of interest.