The NFL on REO: Dominance

The Insane Ramblings of Gowdy Cannon

On to 2017…

Yes, I’m the guy who wrote a 2500-hundred word counseling session on how Tom Brady is the most overrated quarterback of all-time. But don’t let that keep you from reading what I’m about to write. You should appreciate it primarily because I wrote the Brady article.

While players can be overrated or underrated to team success I do not think there is any way to get around claiming team superiority in an objective way. For example, we could argue all day whether Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan was the best QB in the NFL last year, but we cannot argue that New England was the best team. That was objectively settled on the field.

With that philosophy as a backdrop, I think it wise to give the Patriots their due for what they have accomplished the last 16 NFL seasons. Even more impressively than the 49er run of the 80s and 90s (due to the rise of things like free agency), the Patriots of the 2000s have owned the NFL. They have ruined the NFL’s desire for parity, which the league is absolutely built to achieve.

You know they have won five Super Bowls and have barely lost two others. But the consistency goes way beyond that. Consider this list of accomplishments since 2001:

  • New England has been one of the final four teams, playing 11 times.
  • New England has failed to at least tie for the AFC East only once, 15 years ago.
  • New England has outright won the AFC East 14 of 16 times.
  • New England has won 25 playoff games, or as many as the Browns, Lions, Raiders, Texans, Bills, Jaguars, Redskins, Rams, Buccaneers, Chargers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Bengals, Titans, Cowboys and Bears have won…COMBINED.
  • New England has won 11 or more games 13 times.
  • New England has zero losing seasons.

And on and on it goes. This franchise doesn’t just win the Super Bowl on average every three years but is always a contender. They are always either good or great or otherworldly. It has been a wonder to behold, even if most of the country hates them like I do.

Bill Belichick and for the most part Brady have been the constants. They have proven they can lose or get rid of anyone (Romeo Cornell, Randy Moss, Josh McDaniels, Jaime Collins, Vincent Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski) and not miss a beat as far as wins and losses. New England has been a tad fortunate that the AFC East has been terrible this century, with 22 different coaches and 40 starting QBs having had a turn for the other three teams. But the Patriots are so good versus everyone that I doubt it would matter which division they played in.

 

How have they done it? By being good at everything.

Since 2001, they have finished in the Top 10 in offensive points per game all but one season and in the Top 10 in defensive points per game all but three times. They have proven that the adage “defense wins championships” is often too simplistic, although the other extreme is also false. Only twice have they failed to finish in the top half of the league in defensive points per game and those two seasons (02 and 05) were two of the worst seasons in the run, featuring “only” 19 total wins between the two seasons, a playoff miss and only one playoff win total.

On a micro-level you can see it more clearly. While I will not rehash any of my Brady article since it is entirely unnecessary, I think looking at their success highlights how much of a team game football truly is and how it takes 35-40 players, multiple coaches and the occasional good break to have a run as New England has had.

For example, beyond the Tuck Rule break (ruled correctly to be clear) in that game, Adam Vinatieri still had to make two clutch FGs to pull that game out. Same for Vinatieri vs. Tennessee, kicking a block of ice football 48 yards to win that game on the way to another Super Bowl. Malcom Butler had to read and react perfectly in Super Bowl XLIX to pull that win from the jaws of defeat. Julian Edelman had to make a near impossible catch last year to keep the tying drive alive vs Atlanta. New England’s defense had to shut Atlanta out over the last 20 minutes and force them to move backwards on two drives that could have been FGs to give the offense a chance. And of course Brady made some all-pro throws the last three scoring drives for New England last year to give them a chance.

What is special about this team is how they find a way to win when someone or some unit is off. The defense got torched by Smoking Jake Delhomme in the fourth quarter in the 03 Super Bowl and the offense bailed them out with 18 points in the final period to win. The offense was mostly ineffective in their first SB win vs St. Louis and the defense led them to the victory, scoring one TD on a pick 6 and setting up the other. Scott Kacsmar for Football Outsiders has studied and broken down stats for the NFL for years to find things that correlate to wins and losses. He says that when NFL teams fail to hit 7.0 yards per pass on offense, they win less than 25% of their playoff games this century. Yet New England is 9-7 in such games. In playoff games the last decade the team with the higher QBR rating by their quarterback wins 71% of the time. The team with the most wins despite having the lower QBR by their quarterback? New England with 4.

New England once murdered Peyton Manning and the Colts record breaking offense in the playoffs in 2005 with Patriot wide receiver Troy Brown playing defensive back. That’s how good this franchise is at plugging in pieces and winning no matter what.

What they have done since 2001 is in my opinion, the most impressive thing I have seen in professional sports. Because the NFL just doesn’t get dominated like this. New England almost never misses the playoffs. They almost never go one and done. They never get blown out. They just win. The five championships are just part of the story. And as you can see below, they are in position yet again this year for us to see more of the same.

So even though I loathe them, I give them their due. They are the most dominant longterm franchise in pro sports in my lifetime. They deserve that recognition.

 

 


Phill’s Pre-Season Power Rankings

Do you want to know why our power rankings are better than most of the others you will find out on the internet? Because we won’t make you scroll through page after page to find out who is next on the list. We list them all on the same page. You’re welcome.

Additionally, I am only going to be ranking the Top Ten. I have no interest in keeping track of all 32 teams because after you get past numbers 12 or 13, it’s all just a gigantic coin toss. I will post the power rankings periodically throughout the season – most likely quarterly. Use the comment section below to argue and tell me why I am wrong.

10. Kansas City

Honestly, I don’t love KC this year, but I couldn’t justify putting anyone else in this spot. This is a team that can only go as far as Alex Smith can take them and he just can’t take them that far.

9. New York Giants

This is the year the Giants will make some noise in the league. They were 11-5 last year and while they might not win as many games (they probably will) they should be a tough out in the playoffs. And if Eli goes “Super Bowl Eli” mode, then we could be talking about three-time Super Bowl champ Eli Manning. Weird.

8. Tennessee

It’s playoffs or bust for the Titans after an eight season drought. By the end of the season, the drought will be over and the Titans will be starting their new streak: Playoff wins.

7. Dallas

They will take a step back this season but still have enough talent to be competitive. Their offensive line will keep them in games.

6. Seattle

They are almost unbeatable at home and are good enough to win some road games. That alone gets them into the playoffs. Plus, they play in the same division as the 49ers and the Rams.

5. Green Bay

Aaron Rogers is the best QB I have watched in my life from a skills standpoint. He can throw the ball better than anyone in the league. He is not a tactician like Manning and Brady though – he free-lances, ad-libs, and generally plays the position in a most unorthodox manner. But on the right team, that is enough to win and win big. This Green Bay team looks like it has the right parts to make a deep run.

4. Oakland

All the MVP talk last year for Carr was a little overblown but he did have a very solid season. He should only be better this season as long as his leg has healed well. Adding Lynch to the offense could be huge or it could be another aging running back that refuses to accept he has lost something.

3. Pittsburgh

They have one of the best QB, WR, RB trios in the league. Maybe the best. Is that enough for them to contend in 2017? I think so.

2. Atlanta

This is a team that should be the defending Super Bowl champs. That was a monumental collapse. I believe it will have lasting effects on the team this season. I have them at second for now because of how last season ended, not because I think they will remain the second best team in the league throughout the season.

1. New England

Is there any debate about this? They are the defending Super Bowl champions and they got better this offseason. This team will be scary good this season. Their aggressiveness in the offseason feels like a team that is doing everything they can to make one last push for a championship. This push will probably last two or three years and it is clear Belichick, Brady, and company intend to go out in a blaze of glory.


Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy what we do with our NFL coverage, spread the word. Tell your friends, your neighbors, and your coworkers. We are doing our part to improve the conversation and dialogue about the NFL. And stick around because we have some pretty fun things lined up for this season.
 




Unfiltered Thoughts of a Smartphone Addict

Every 4.3 minutes.

That is how often the average American checks their smartphone while awake[1. Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, 16]. I am positive that I am average. And when I use the word “addict,” I am not trying to devalue the word. I just know that people get physiologically attached to their phones[2. www.psychologytoday.com Can-You-Get-Addicted-To-Your-Smartphone?].

We know the stereotypes probably better from images rather than data: people walk down the street and everyone is staring down at their phone instead of noticing things around them…a couple is lying in bed and both are on their phones instead of talking to each other…people take pictures or video of “the moment” instead of actually experiencing the moment in 3D and real time.

This is me. This is too often my real life.

So in the spirit of brutal honesty but also with an attempt to wrestle with problem-solving and public accountability, I want to write about the smartphone abuse epidemic. I want to write about my personal struggle–the things I think but never say.

 

First, I feel shame over my smartphone habits.

I was late to the smartphone game, not owning one until 2012. I remember being mesmerized by how I could then watch videos and get on Facebook conveniently and without a big, clunky computer.

And in five short years, I have allowed this small device (with several upgrades) to become a dominant force in my life. I am the kind of person to be in a crowded room and on my phone the whole time. No matter how many times I put it in my pocket, I feel the temptation to reach for it within a few seconds or a few minutes and check it again. I feel slight panic when the battery gets low. Any time I post to Facebook I check it dozens of times the rest of the day to see who has liked or commented.

And this brings me shame. I hate the way it masters me instead of vice-versa.

 

The problem is not just how much time I spend with my phone but what I am looking at.

I don’t even mean porn. That is something I have struggled with but due to being married and things like Covenant Eyes, I can’t say this is the problem.

No, it’s when I get on Twitter and find people I disagree with and read about 50 of their tweets because apparently I love being angry. It’s when I fall down rabbit holes for a half hour reading inane things, as I did once with Jerry Seinfeld’s answers to public questions on a Buzzfeed forum. It’s when I watch ten straight Youtube videos of 80s Saturday morning cartoon theme songs.

It all seems harmless, but it is a huge waste of time and my phone’s potential. I could be reading edifying articles on culture or practicing Duolingo Polish. Those would be a preferable way to spend 30 minutes[3. Though a little inanity every day keeps me sane.]. Yet I find myself watching the “Bushes of Love” Star Wars video or yelling at celebrities on Twitter far more often.

 

When I use my smartphone unwisely, my marriage is affected. 

Not only do I mean that it takes time away from my wife, but also there are times when I will be on my phone or reading while my wife is away and what I see or read will cause me to be short with her or just generally unaware of her when she comes back.

Based on the last election, I am closer to the political middle than ever. This means people from both extremes annoy me. And as I said, I regularly feed my heart and brain political garbage, like an immature child gorging on potato chips instead of a healthy diet. And when my wife walks in, she can tell immediately that I am not all there. I’m distracted not only when I am on my phone, but even after I’ve put it down. Because I cannot stop thinking about what I was reading. That is messed up.

 

I have tried to get better but have often failed.

I have read articles on how to stop the addiction. I have heard tons of advice. I’ve been told to not keep the phone by the bed, to put it away when around people, to set times to check social media and not break those appointed times and many other things. More often than not, just reading the “how to”s has been useless.

One reason I keep failing is because I make the arrogant mistake of trying to dig deeper or use will power. At my church we preach that this is not how God works in helping us overcome temptation, yet I somehow get confused that this is how he works in my bad habits. I have felt this before with lust and other areas.

It’s foolishness.

Genuine change in my worldview only comes by the grace of God. And only when I start with this will I see results that matter. “Hungering and thirsting for righteousness” is the posture of a begging person who desperately needs help. Not a strong warrior who overcomes.

 

My goals must be specific, measurable and practical to bring success.

No two people are the same so this is not advice. It is just an example of how saying “I’m going to get better” is useless. I need a plan. None of this is cutting edge or even extremely sacrificial. They’re just small steps that I have taken so far:

1. My wife and I consider all dates to be cell phone free.

This one we have broken, but only when we were both interested in looking something up, like the name of an actor we were talking about.

2. I turn my phone off while at church.

Sadly, I have broken this a few times this year. I do not want to be legalistic, but I personally know Sundays need to be as distraction-free and others-focused as possible.

3. Sundays are a no social media day.

This one is rather new. Maybe I’ll make an exception for Mother’s Day.

4. I do not use my phone 30 minutes before sleep or within 30 minutes of waking up.

I have read the research that says smartphone usage affects sleep[4. www.sleep.org/articles/Is-Your-Smartphone-Ruining-Your-Sleep?] but I still struggle to eliminate this completely at night. In the morning I have determined that God comes before Facebook.

 

I want to keep evaluating and changing my smartphone habits. 

I doubt I will ever totally eliminate smartphone usage, social media or screen time from my life because I think my ministry and witness are enhanced when I use them wisely. Yet there are many things I could and should do to keep the addiction at bay. I want to look into taking weeks and even whole months away from screens and/or social media. I want to not simply curb smartphone usage but find positive ways to spend that time instead, be it reading more or spending more time with people in conversation. I want to consistently seek God’s wisdom in all areas of life, but especially in this area. Because without that I will continue to struggle and feel shame.

 

I am not and never will be a “5 steps to…” or “3 ways to…” person. I just like to talk about reality and how God collides with it. I want to be transparent, but only inasmuch as God’s grace and transformative power are highlighted. I hope that is what I have done here. If so or if not, we welcome feedback below.

 

 

 

 




REO Pays Tribute: Tom McCullough

REO maintains a consistent publishing schedule highlighted by the Friday Five each week. Today in lieu of a Friday Five we are respecting the passing of Mr. Tom McCullough by re-sharing our tribute to him from last week. We felt this was our way to honor this man who taught many on our staff while in college and means a great deal to us and countless others around the world. 

 

 

I majored in Youth Ministry in college. Yet the head of the Missions department at Welch College was a man that impacted me deeply. I only had one class where he was the actual professor, but he was so influential on campus that through a hundred big teaching moments and a thousand small gestures, he altered the trajectory of my life and ministry.

This is not an exaggeration.

Upon my graduation, I decided to do youth ministry in an international city for a home missions church plant. While never in my title, I have felt like a missionary from day one of living here. I find no pride in this. I owe it to the passion Welch College had for biblical missions. The Global Mission Fellowship was extremely active on campus, leading prayer times, community events and spiritual life retreats. Their students were among the brightest and most spiritually mature. Their department was thriving. And Mr. Tom McCullough, who served from 1979 to 1994 as a missionary in France, was the heart of it all.

I could not be at that school and escape the fact that my life should be about God’s grace in making Jesus’s name great among the nations. I could not know Mr. McCullough and not be discipled by him.

Additionally, take the following quote from a sermon he preached in Grand Rapids, MI at the National Association of Free Will Baptists in July 2015:

“God is not American or Mexican or Bulgarian or Korean. God is not a Republican. God isn’t even a capitalist. God does not salute the American flag (that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t). God’s first language is not English or Spanish. God is not white, brown, or black. God does not play favorites. God is God and he has no political agenda. He cares not about the color of a man’s skin, but the condition of his heart. And when by our speech, by our tweets, and by our Facebook entries we show more concern about a political agenda, or we contribute to the racialization of our culture, we are, in effect, limiting access to the Gospel! We do it by alienating those who don’t share our political, economical, or social views. And this happens because we’ve traded the “Pearl of Great Price” – The Kingdom of God – for a scaled down and deformed view of whom and what we think God should value and favor and what the church should look like politically, socially, or racially… The world is too small for us to stay in our insular, parochial, homogeneous communities.” 

I am sincere when I say that Mr. McCullough wasn’t just a huge reason that I moved to Chicago after graduation. He was instrumental in why eight years after moving here I transitioned from doing youth ministry in my church to being the point person to helping the church become a bilingual church. Even though I was never “his” student in school, my mind was absolutely transformed by his influence. After I preached the sermon at my church nine years ago to cast the vision for bringing English and Spanish speakers together in worship and community, I emailed him to thank him because he was the first person I thought of when God first put the idea in my head.

That was just one of the many times Mr. McCullough and I corresponded after I graduated. A few years ago I was reading Intentional Integrity by Dr. Garnett Reid and came across a Mr. McCullough quote from a time of grieving over his late wife: “God help me not to forget in the dark what I know to be true in the light.” I shared that with my Spanish Sunday School class the next week and it sparked a significant time of teaching, discipleship and sharing in that class. It was emotional and poignant as many of the people were at that time overwhelmed by the darkness. They were so thankful for this quote and expressed it to me through tears where you could see sorrow and joy collide. I emailed Mr. McCullough to let him know. By impacting me, he impacted a church community hundreds of miles away.

Then there was the time I emailed him before I got married two years ago to ask for advice. I had asked about 30-40 couples or individuals about this and he was someone I strongly wanted to hear back from. And he said something that that no one else did that I will never forget. He said, “When you marry you MUST realize it’s not about YOU anymore. It’s about the both of you, under God’s direction. Love her sacrificially, unconditionally. Let her be herself, under God’s authority, not what you want to make her into.” The first part of that I had heard many times but still needed it. But the last sentence struck me like a sledgehammer. Wanting my wife to be what I want her to be in the picture perfect world in my head has been an issue I have had to work through the last two years. Thank God for Mr. McCullough’s wisdom in helping me see it ahead of time. I love him for that.

But beyond the quotes, the advice and the sermons, Mr. McCullough was just a walking evidence for how the Kingdom of God is for the “poor in spirit”. He was truly a humble, God-dependent person who considered others more important than himself. When he taught and preached he exuded meekness and did not give off one ounce of arrogance. I never felt he used knowledge as a platform as many educated Christians do. I remember a time he preached about nationalism vs. patriotism and was deeply concerned that he said what he said in a balanced and fair way and expressed this to me and other students afterward. You could see in it his face how much he cared about doing what was right God’s Word and by us.

There are thousands of other things that can and have been and will be said about Mr. McCullough and I am thankful for them. There are many who knew him much better than I do, many of whom were his students during his time at Welch. And many have spoken profoundly on his Facebook wall over the years. If you are on that site I encourage you to read them if you can. His imprint has been so strong in my life, I felt it appropriate to add one more. He touched people outside of the normal spheres of influence, including me. And he is worthy of honor in our words, but also in actions that make Jesus’s name great among the nations.

 




Our Five Favorite Dinner Scenes of Film

Some of the best conversations occur during a meal. Sitting at a table and breaking bread together is almost mystical in its power to produce vibrant and enjoyable discussion. It’s no different in the world of entertainment. Movies are full of examples of great scenes set around a meal or a table. Some are funny, some are sad. Some are tense while others are full of joy. Some are heartwarming yet others can be heartbreaking. We have chosen to spotlight five scenes that capture so much about what makes a great dinner scene work.


Back To The Future 2

Back to the Future 2

The scene where Jennifer gets taken to her future 2015 home and the McFly family sits down over pizza is not as elaborate or as funny as other dinner scenes but it has stood out in my family since this movie was released in 1989.

And in a trilogy rife with mind-bending time travel, exhilarating plots, and inimitable character performances, it boggles my mind why this short scene is so entertaining.

Is it because Michael J. Fox plays all of the McFlies? That does make me smile so surely that’s part of it. Is it how fun it is to see the domestic aspects of an imaginative futuristic world with double ties and pizza hydrators? Without a doubt. Is it because it’s so utterly quotable? Seeing as how often my brother Jeremy says, “Fruit! Fruit please!” and I can’t help but reply with “Why don’t I just shove it all in my mouth ?!? HA HA!” when I have food in my hand the size of that tiny, yet-to-be hydrated pizza, I’d say definitely.

BttF sets the standard for fun, summer action-adventure, summer popcorn cinema and in the midst of all the movie’s twists and turns this simple meal that lasts 90 seconds and barely impacts the plot stands out. I love it. (Gowdy Cannon)


The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

I have always loved a good “dinner” scene almost entirely because they are so conducive to great dialogue. The nightclub scene in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a prime example of that. Maybe one of the best. I have watched BatBS every few months for the past few years and appreciate it more every time. It is an easy to underrate lighthearted comedy that is chock full of great writing, wonderful scenes, and extremely witty quotes. At the center of it all is Richard Nugent (Cary Grant), and the sisters judge Margaret (Myrna Loy) and Susan (a teenage Shirley Temple) Turner. Susan has developed a huge crush on Nugent. In exchange for the dismissal of a wrongdoing, judge Margaret orders Nugent to “date” her younger sister until her crush wears off. During the course of this “courting,” Nugent and Margaret fall in love. On the flimsy pretext of wanting to discuss their legal arrangement, Nugent and Margaret attend a nightclub for dinner, drinks, and dancing. And then everything comes crashing down as most of the personal dynamics encountered throughout the film converge in this single scene and collide in a beautiful explosion of dialogue. (Ben Plunkett)


Heat

Heat, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

Two of the most famous, decorated, and iconic actors of all time, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, had never been in a scene together on film. They had been in the same film, The Godfather Part 2, but they played characters during different time periods. These two actors had spent decades wowing audiences with their craft, but had yet to speak to each other on camera. That all ended with Michael Mann’s tour de force crime drama, Heat.

Pacino plays a detective. De Niro plays a master thief. After a lot of cat and mouse moves, the film finally places them together in a diner somewhere in Los Angeles. They are two masters of their craft, both in the film and in real life. They feel each other out. They give information and they hold some things back. When Pacino leans in to deliver a line, De Niro counters it with a slight shift here or a slight move there. They present their philosophies of life with dialogue that is crisp, tense, playful, and precise. They end their conversation with very specific promises that they are willing to kill the other if it comes down to that. Now that they have met, they won’t want to do that, but they will, because that’s the job. That’s the way it is.

In a movie filled with memorable performances, genius set pieces, and impressive directing, this scene stands above them all. And to make matters even more astounding, the final scene in the film is almost entirely one take filmed with two cameras over their shoulders. They barely rehearsed because they wanted to preserve the spontaneity and energy of the scene. The diner scene in Heat is a masterpiece. (Phill Lytle)


Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

Ben Stiller honestly has had more misses than hits in his career to me. And Robert De Niro, he of a legendary filmography with too many hits to try to list, had never had a role that I’d seen that was fall on the floor funny. And even though the two sequels were forgettable, everything came together perfectly for an excellent 95 minutes of comedy in Meet the Parents.

And for all the scenes that make this move totally rewatchable–Greg losing it on the airplane, the volleyball game in the pool (“It was a big shot!”)–the first time Greg has dinner with Pam’s parents is one that causes tears of laughter every time.

Jack’s poem about his mother is simultaneously disturbing and hilarious. Jack’s continued subtle and psychological intimidation of the nervous and awkward Greg causes Greg to pop a cork in an urn of Jack’s mother’s ashes. Then Greg tries to work his way around a lie about growing up on a farm by talking about milking a cat, which prompts one of the greatest follow up questions of all time by Jack. And to round it off, Jewish Greg tries to impress Jack by saying grace at the meal and recites “Day by Day” from Godspell.

And it all works. I have fallen on the floor laughing during this scene more than once. It is truly one of the funniest dinner scenes in movie lore. (Gowdy Cannon)


Babette’s Feast

Babette's Feast

As mentioned, I love “dinner” scenes in movies because they are so conducive to great dialogue. The long dinner scene in Babette’s Feast is certainly no different. However, there is a lot more than just the dialogue going for it. A whole lot more. In short, two sisters are leading an extremely humble life leading a small, elderly flock of pious Lutherans in a tiny Danish village. Yes, they are very pious, very devoted to their faith, but they know nothing of grace or joy. Into this scene steps Babette, a world-class French chef fleeing much hardship amid the French Revolution. She enters the employ of the two sisters. After several years she wins a lottery of 10,000 francs from her homeland. Instead of spending it on herself, she opts to spend the entire thing to make a top French gourmet meal for the sisters and their congregation. In the end Babette’s presents the true face of grace and joy to the graceless, joyless villagers. But the scene is a masterpiece for more than one reason. In my opinion, it is the king of this specific genre. And the dinner scene is only the centerpiece of a masterfully adorned cinematic table. The whole movie is dense with layers of theological and philosophical meaning. It is perfect and an absolute joy to watch every single time. (Ben Plunkett)




Ode to the Grammar Nerd

Sheldon is one lab accident away from being a Super Villian 

I don’t know if we can credit the rise of The Big Bang Theory for it, or maybe even Ben Wyatt in some small way, but it seems to me that words like “nerd” and “geek” are actually cool these days.

That’s a good thing seeing as how it celebrates intelligence instead of disparaging it. Since sports and Seinfeld fandoms do not really qualify as geeks or nerds, I have been wondering if I am a nerd of any stripe. If I’m not there with Harry Potter, I’m on a Usain Bolt pace to getting there.

I do know this: I am not a grammar nerd. Just writing for REO these last 19 months has reminded me how much I don’t know about the English language. Nathan had to point out to me that “resign” and “re-sign” are two different words once when I wrote about the Chicago Cubs. I don’t think you can fail to know that and be a nerd.

But I respect those that are. I celebrate them. While the grammar nazi crowd–those that insist on correcting and complaining about all English errors constantly–is a tad over the top to me (we get it, people should use there, their and they’re correctly), part of me still admires people who are dedicated to education. And no doubt my own insecurities contribute to the annoyance.

So to celebrate those people I want to write about a few things in the same family of nerd-dom where I perhaps do qualify: the area of linguistics. Between teaching English to adults and learning Spanish and Polish, I have found myself mesmerized by language: syntax, semantics, translation, pronunciation rules, idioms, and a million other aspects.

Other than Harry Potter, this is one thing that earns the nerd label that I could talk about for hours. Yet I’ll limit myself to less than 1300 words.

 

I’m not Samming you

Pretend the names “Sam,” Rick” and “Ned” are verbs. Pretend they are regular in past tense, with “ed” endings. This would mean these fake verbs would be “Sammed,” “Ricked” and “Nedded” in past tense, following English spelling rules.

Now, pronounce them. Say “Sammed”. Then say “Ricked”. Then say, “Nedded”.

Let me ask you: When you said, “Sammed” how did you pronounce it?  Was it like “Samd?”  I’m going to guess you did.  Now, how did you say “Ricked”?  Was it like “Rikt,” with a ‘t’ sound at the end?  Again, I’ll guess so.  And finally, how did you say “Nedded”?  Did you say it as two syllables, as in “Ned-ed”?  Yet again, that is my guess.

Why? Because your English speaking brain knows the rules for “ed” pronunciation even if you are not aware of it. There’s a reason you probably didn’t say “Ricked” as “Rick-ed” but instead as “Rikt”. Your brain knows that when a regular verb ends in the sounds of k, p, s, x, ch or sh, then the ‘-ed’ will sound like ‘t’. Every time. If the sound before ‘-ed’ is d or t then the ‘-ed’ will sound like ‘ed’ like normal[1. What kind of language makes ‘ed’ sound like ‘t’ anyway?]. And all other sounds give the ‘d’ sound for ‘-ed’. To see this in real verbs, say fixed, needed and cleaned. Three distinct ‘-ed’ sounds. Three different rules, depending on the sound before ‘-ed’. And your brain is so used to them that fake verbs can’t throw it off.

I didn’t know any of this until I had to teach it to adults.

 

If Only You Wish

Spanish and Greek both frequently use what is called the subjunctive mood. We have it in English yet I had never heard of it until I started learning Spanish. There are two ways that we use it in English in common speech that I want to mention. First, when we say “if” with a circumstance that is impossible or a fantasy, as in: “If I were you, I would be quiet.” Note that we don’t say “If I am you” and we are not talking in the past tense. No, we say were because it is subjunctive and English in one of the simplest languages in the world when it comes to verb forms. Similarly when we say “I wish”: “I wish I had $1 billion.” We don’t say, “I wish I have“.

It’s a quirky grammatical construction that we do not use as often as other languages so we are not as aware that it exists. Spanish uses it a lot and I confess I still do not know the rules of its usage and often just go on key words to know when to use it. For example, whereas English says, “I want you to come,” Spanish says, “I want that you come” (Quiero que vengas) and “come” will be subjunctive (vengas instead of vienes). Believe me, they corrected me on this the month I spent in Peru in 2007 literally every day. I was ready to be put in a padded room by the end.

 

It is the same suitcase, right?

Speaking of other languages, I posted something similar on Facebook a while back, but I repeat it here just for the sheer linguistic entertainment value. Look at these translations, English on the left, Polish on the right:

Suitcase = Walizka
In the suitcase = W walizce
Beside the suitcase = Obok walizki
Under the suitcase = Pod walizką
I have a suitcase = Ja mam walizkę

Five phrases, five different words for “suitcase”! If English is your first language, that is insane. Granted, they all begin the same and it is just the endings that change but that is a lot to remember. EVERY noun is like this in Polish. There are patterns but there are several. And I force it into my English brain like a square peg in a round hole.

 

Just don’t talk like Jar-Jar 

But I confess nothing is more fun to me than just messing around with English. I’ve written before that part of what I love about the house elves in Harry Potter and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings is how they mess with typical English syntax in humorous ways. Yoda is also famous for this, but seeing as how he didn’t always speak oddly and when he did it sounded more intelligent instead of less, it wasn’t quite as endearing to me.

I’ll also add that the use of vocabulary out of the common vernacular scratches me where I itch. In a Season 1 episode of Lost, John Locke tells Jack that Ethan “bested” him, instead of “defeated”. I loved that so much that when I was in South Carolina for Christmas one year I let my 4-year-old nephew beat me in a race and strongly influenced him to say, “I bested Uncle Gowdy” the rest of the day.

This is surely a small part of the appeal of British entertainment like Sherlock and Doctor Who in addition to Harry Potter. Every time I read or hear someone say “nicked” instead of “stole” or “he got the sack” instead of “he got fired,” there is a party in my brain in celebration. One time I had to call London for business and I kept the woman on the line for several needless questions just to keep hearing her talk. I may be messed up.

 

This hasn’t been exclusively about grammar but I thought “Ode to the Language Nerd” didn’t have the same ring to it. Nevertheless, I hope it has been entertaining and preferable to charts and lists and posts complaining about English speakers confusing homophones and saying “could of”. I would love to hear your favorite aspects of grammar or language or language learning below.

 

 

 




Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

I’m a man.

And while I believe men and women are created equally yet distinctly by God, I sometimes hate gender stereotypes. For example, I cry over fictional moments. I have for decades. From the time I first saw Gargamel in his pursuit of the Smurfs until I finished my first ever reading of To Kill A Mockingbird a few weeks ago, I have cried dozens of times over TV, movies, and books. Maybe hundreds.

So I was glad Phill Lytle got REO on the board on this topic a few weeks ago by confessing the same. Now I feel that as a website we are ready to delve into this further. I’ll go next by writing about five TV episodes that brought on the ugly tears. Youtube clips of the moments are embedded in blue highlights.

[This is obvious, but we will note it anyway: Major spoilers are ahead. But they will not be given away in the headings so if you have not seen the TV show mentioned and plan to in the future, skip to the next one.]

 

1. Family Ties “Say Uncle” (1984)

The 80s was truly a golden run of TV for me. Family Ties was a show I watched weekly with my family. It had an incredible cast headlined by Michael J Fox and Michael Gross. It had warm familial and political humor and to this day I am humored that Alex P. Keaton was an unabashed Republican. And it had one exceptional recurring guest star–Tom Hanks as Uncle Ned.

This was before he was an uber megastar, but he was still lovable as the carefree uncle who contrasted with the responsible Keatons. But this came at a price: He was an alcoholic. And in an unforgettable episode they try to get him to get help, but he doesn’t and in the climax he strikes Alex, causing a stunning transformation from jovial sitcom to a sober reality. Ned is brought to tears. Steven tells him to get help or get out of his house. And Elyse, his sister, makes one final plea for him to call AA. He does, making a joke after he picks up the phone before saying, “My name is Ned Donnelly, and I have a drinking problem.”

I was about 7 years old when I saw this and I cried like a baby. I got this episode through Netflix DVD several years ago and it has not aged well, but at the time it was about as good as TV got.

 

2. Scrubs “My Lunch” (2006) 

Bill Lawrence and his Scrubs production team were masters at concluding episodes with dramatic story arcs while a perfect song musically and lyrically played behind the action and JD’s inner monologue gave us closure. The crowning jewel is a Season 3 episode where in the beginning Dr. Cox invites JD to lunch for the first time ever and in a touching mentor-to-protege moment, tells him that he can’t blame himself for deaths that aren’t his fault.

Then back at the hospital, Dr. Cox makes the call to use a deceased woman’s organs for three patients who desperately need them. It turns out she had rabies. As a result, all three of them die. As the last one is coding and they try to revive him, “How to Save a Life” by The Fray plays and Dr. Cox loses it after the patient flatlines. He goes to leave and JD gives Dr. Cox his own advice about death and blame. Dr. Cox says, “You know what, Newbie, you’re right” and then leaves as the episode ends.

Incredible acting by John C. McGinley + incredible plot twist + the perfect song = Five minutes of Gowdy bawling

 

3. House, M.D. “Fetal Position” (2007) 

The drama in House was so tense, confrontational and cerebral that there were not many cry moments in the series to me. Most episodes I was too busy thinking about why I believe what I believe about God and disturbed by the conflict House created as an atheist (or too depressed by the illness) to shed any tears. This Season 4 episode is no different in general; it has moral dilemmas, boisterous arguing and enough stress to melt your face.

But there was one moment that is so different from the typical House fare that it stands out like the little girl in the red petticoat in Schindler’s List. A 42-year-old pregnant photographer falls ill and House believes the “fetus” (as he adamantly calls it) is the cause and has no problem wanting to abort it. But as old as the mother is she demands a different answer. After several scenes of all the other dynamics I mentioned, exploratory surgery on the “fetus” is agreed upon by Cuddy and House. And during the operation, a tiny little hand grabs House’s. The baby and mother are both saved but what got to me was that House stopped calling the yet unborn human life a “fetus” and started calling it a “baby.”

REO makes no qualms about our position on the unborn and I personally hate that it is a political issue that parties fight about. But I was stunned to tears that anyone in Hollywood would communicate something I as a Bible-believing Christian feel deeply about. In a tornado moment where morality and truth met emotion, the episode showed us why life in the womb is so sacred.

 

4. Lost “The Candidate” (2010) 

Lost could have its own list for me and most of the staff of REO, but I was determined to have a list of variety. Yet Lost affected me emotionally like no other show ever. And of all the moments that caused me to ugly cry today I’ll limit myself to mentioning the scene where Jin refuses to leave Sun and they drown in the submarine together.

Sun and Jin’s marriage was so great precisely because it survived so much. Both of them had issues, but Jin was betrayed far worse. And he sacrificed deeply to stay with her, only to lose her for a long time because of the island. And then promised he’d never leave her again. So for him to not abandon her in the face of death was huge. When he said “I won’t leave you. I will never leave you” in Korean followed by “I love you, Sun” in English…I’m a basket case of emotion just thinking about it. He kept his promise. I bet I cried for 15 minutes the last time I watched it. I bet I would cry just about any time I watched it, even just the two-minute clip on Youtube. It is that powerful. The music that plays behind this moment is called “Life and Death” and it is impeccably written and aptly named. What a show.

 

5. The Office “Goodbye, Michael” (2011) 

Michael Scott is truly one of the great sitcom characters of all time and if pressed I’d probably put him right behind George Costanza on a Top Ten list. And as I’ve written before, he was so outrageous he could be Funny Michael (By the end of 4th grade the lunch lady was whom he hung out with most), Awkward Michael (kissing Oscar), Redeeming Michael (buying Pam’s painting) and even at times all three at the same time (mic dropping and walking out of Ryan’s class).

But there was only one occasion of tear-jerking Michael, to me at least. For his last episode, he took off his microphone at the airport and gave us one last “That’s what she said” and walked away. There was the part with Pam right after, but this moment was pure, quintessential Michael and I could not help but cry as I knew a legend was departing and it was over. No more Michael Scott. The episodes after this proved to me that he was irreplaceable and he will never be replicated. And his goodbye was pure emotional torture.

 

I could have given and looked for more of this from our staff, but we hope to do more of this sort of thing in the future. Feel free to share your TV cry moments below if you’d like. No judgment from us!




Five 20th Century Sports Moments That Would’ve Blown Up Twitter

Imagine @FeuxBoPelini in 1992…

I love Twitter. During big events in the U.S. I’ve discovered (and tweeted) that the worse the event, be it a presidential debate or basketball game, the funnier Twitter is. I’m on Facebook to get people to pay attention to me. I’m on Twitter to pay attention to other people.

So I also love it when a sports moment causes Twitter to explode. Like the LeBron block in the 2016 Finals. Or the last out of the Cubs World Series win. Or when Peyton Manning put Kevin Durant on blast at the ESPYs the other night[1. I don’t know if I’m using this correctly, but I think it is a hilarious idiom that I try to work into every conversation with my wife these days. God bless her.].

And I’ve been thinking about moments before 2008 that would have caused the biggest Twitter meltdowns. Jordan’s “I’m Back” in 1995 would be a huge one. Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception vs. Oakland has been replayed a billion times. Kirk Gibson’s 88 World Series Game 1 home run certainly. And the list could go on and on.

And it would be endless. So instead of trying to narrow down this list, I want to write about a similar but distinct list. I want to write about moments that were not THE story, but were a footnote in reality yet still would have trended on Twitter. For fans like me, they are unforgettable. And just imagining the tweets that would have come from them brings joy to my mind.  Here are five:

 

The Major Story: Dallas destroys Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII 52-17, winning their first since the 70s and handing Buffalo their 3rd straight Super Bowl loss.

The Twitter Moment: Don Beebe chases Leon Lett down from behind to prevent a meaningless TD at the end.

This may be the loudest non-TD play in history for a game decided by 35 points. If you watched the game you remember it. Beebe instantaneously became a legend of team pride and hustle. He had no reason to keep running. The game was over. Lett became an instantaneous butt of jokes. He celebrated a few yards too early. The only thing it meant historically was that Dallas didn’t set the record for most points in a Super Bowl. Yet as far as fan reaction, it meant a ton. Beebe’s and Lett’s names would have been at the top of the trending list and I can see the “Hold My Beer” tweets in my head.

 

The Major Story: Larry Bird steals Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals from Detroit and the Celtics go on to win in 7 to set up Celtics vs. Lakers III.

The Twitter Moment: Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas say that Larry Bird would be just another player if he weren’t white.

Racial (and racist) comments are aplenty on social media and with U.S. History being as it is, that will always be the case. So I have little doubt that when Rodman made this comment that Thomas echoed that it would have caused a race war on Twitter the same way politics and athletes like Colin Kaepernick do today. The NBA in the 70s and 80s was a breeding ground for racial strife and I remember when this happened. It blew up. Thomas had to answer for it repeatedly to the national media, including to Bird’s face at an impromptu press conference. Imagine how Twitter would have reacted.

To be honest, while it was not the wisest comment to make I do believe Thomas was joking in some sense and it was completely overblown. You have to hand it to Bird, too. He told the media that he didn’t think anything of the comment and that they shouldn’t either.

 

The Major Story: Hakeem Olajuwon averages 32-11-5, dominates Shaq and Houston sweeps Orlando in the 1995 NBA Finals

The Twitter Moment: With under 10 seconds left in Game One and the score tied, Nick Anderson of the Magic misses 4 consecutive FTs.

Sports can make you a hero and a goat, often within the same time frame. Just a couple of weeks prior, Nick Anderson had a moment of glory, stealing the ball from Michael Jordan in a play that became an image of that series, the only one that Jordan lost as a Bull after 1990[2. Though it was the year he came back near the end.]. But then Anderson had a chance to give Orlando the lead late in the first Finals game and missed two free throws, got his own miss, got fouled again and missed the the next two. My brain tells me not to feel bad for professional athletes but my heart does. I can easily envision a slew of hilarious Michael Scott gifs in response.

 

 

The Big Story: In 1998, rookie Kerry Wood for the Cubs strikes out 20 Houston Astros, an MLB record, and holds them to 1 hit in a dominant pitching performance

The Twitter Moment: The hit could have been ruled an error, giving Wood 20 K’s AND a no-hitter in the same game, a feat that has never been accomplished.

You can watch it below and make your own judgment and you can hear the announcers say it looked like an error. I agree. I was not a Cub fan yet, still 4 years away from moving to Chicago. And at the time I felt the same. I can only imagine the hours and hours of Twitter debate this would have sparked.

 

 

The Big Story: In the 1993 Sugar Bowl, underdog #2 Alabama romps defending champion #1 Miami 34-13.

The Twitter moment: With Bama fully in control, the Tide’s George Teague walks down Miami’s Lamar Thomas and strips the ball.

This is not like the Lett play to me. It is in some ways: the game was a blowout and a player got caught from behind. But it was the inverse of the play above and more than that, it was a statement. Alabama was given very little chance in this game. Miami was a 4-time champ and cocky. And Bama’s defense destroyed them and their Heisman QB Gino Torretta. Here it finally looked like Miami would break the invincible Bama D and score a TD. And then Teague emasculated Thomas. The next we saw of Miami’s trash-talking receiver, he was on the bench with a towel on his head. The play didn’t even count but it absolutely encapsulates what happened that night. It would have brought a feast of tweets in reaction.

 

So, that’s my list. What are some that I missed that you would have included?

 




What About Those Who’ve Never Heard of Jesus?

“You’re in some remote part of the earth and you never heard the name of Jesus, you cannot get to Heaven, you think?” [Oprah Winfrey]

 

According the Joshua Project, there are about 3,000 people groups in the world that have essentially zero Christian contact. It is nearly impossible to determine the exact number, but based on this we can safely assume there are millions, and perhaps billions, of people who have never heard the name of Jesus.

When you juxtapose this with what the Bible teaches about how a person is saved from eternal damnation, it can cause cognitive dissonance to the Christian mind.

And trying to reconcile basic New Testament theology with the practical realty of where the Gospel hasn’t been preached makes for intense discussion and debate. The quote from Oprah above happened during her former show in a lively conversation between her, her guest speaker and a woman in the audience. Oprah presents a “fair” view of those who’ve never heard, that God cares more about their heart than if they’ve heard of Jesus. This is a popular view, even within the evangelical church. But is it correct?

I want to tackle this issue, but not in a “Here is the final and authoritative answer to problem” way. The Bible speaks to this, but not in an expositional manner. In other words, I can’t give you an interpretation of one passage that clears it all up.

No, I think this mystery is better viewed as a puzzle of about ten pieces that have to be seen together in order to see a more complete image. Yet even with the truths I present below, I am still not advocating an answer that ends the discussion. This issue is far too complex. But these truths do help me relieve the dissonance to a great level and help start the discussion. They may leave you with more questions than answers. That will not offend me. I hope it encourages you to add to the dialogue.

But to at least get it started, I offer these as things that I am absolutely convinced the Bible teaches. If I can’t have a final authoritative answer to this issue, I can at least focus on things that are clear and go from there. Here are the ten:

1. Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). 

2. Those who do not follow Jesus end up in Hell (John 3:36).

These two are the basis for why the question of “What about those who’ve never heard?” exists. Without them there is no issue.

3. God is just (Deuteronomy 4:32; Romans 3:5b-6).

Whatever the answer to the question is, I think we have to believe that God is fair. This matters because the issue at its heart is that it is unfair to condemn someone for knowledge they do not have. But the Bible describes God as a just judge.

4. God is not far from anyone (Acts 17:26-27).

This matters because with this topic it appears we are dealing with people who are far from the truth about God, when in reality no one is actually far from God. Note that Paul in these verses is dealing precisely with where people live geographically.

5. God can be known through the created world so men are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).

Even without the Bible and a Christian witness, every person that lives now is accountable to God in some sense because they can see him through creation.

6. God can be known from human morality (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 2:14-15).

Similarly, because we know right from wrong and that a general sense of justice transcends culture and time, we know there has to be a standard of right and wrong we are all accountable to. We know there is a God because His law is ingrained within us.

7. God desires that everyone be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

8. God demands repentance from everyone to be saved (Acts 17:30).

These two are crucial because the first one teaches us about God’s heart on this issue and the second, at least in theory, eliminates exceptions. Like those who’ve never heard. If there is an exception there better be a clear explanation in the Bible.[1. A shout out here to the students at a leadership conference I helped lead in 2014 for asking tough questions in a Q&A after this presentation. This event caused me to add an addendum, footnoted here, to this presentation on the concept of an age of accountability. Logically it is hard to believe God demands repentance from a 3-month old baby. Biblically, we can see in Isaiah God acknowledging that a particular child is not old enough to know right from wrong; we see Nathan telling David he will see his deceased newborn in Heaven one day and that Jesus loved children with qualification. Does this mean, biblically, that there is an age of accountability? I am not 100% convinced this is so. Yet I believe it has to exist for God to be fair. This opens up a can of worms of course about what the age is and I only bring it up here because if it exists, I would guess it is at least possible that children are accountable at a younger age in a culture where they hear the Gospel more often than in a place where Jesus’ name is never even spoken.]

9. God can get a missionary to a searching person (Acts 10:1-48).

If a person is living a God-fearing life with no knowledge of Jesus, God can get a missionary to them. It is true that sometimes people groups do not have missionaries because people do not go, but sometimes they do not because they are hostile to Christianity.

10. God can reveal himself in dreams to lost people (Genesis 41; Daniel 2).

This is huge, especially in the Muslim world. There are many stories I encourage you to read about it if you have not. You can begin here, here and here.

 

So again, without presuming that these ten things tie the issue into a nice little bow, I present them as giving us at least a picture of how we can begin reconciling the tensions of God’s fairness, the necessity of confessing Christ, and the lack of Gospel witness in thousands of people groups. I doubt I will ever feel completely confident in any answer to the question and I confess we may be asking the wrong question here. But at least it catapults us to search the Scriptures to learn more about who God is and what he is like, and fosters discussion on a complex topic that exercises the mind. That is rarely a bad thing.

 

 




Does God Have a Specific Will for My Life?

I know O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own, that it is not for him to direct his steps[Jeremiah 10:23]

 

I graduated college in May of 2002. By January of that year I knew I was going to move to Chicago.

And I have zero doubt that I can say it this way and not be presumptuous or pious: I knew it was God’s will for my life.

I don’t think I even thought of it in terms of “God’s specific will”. I don’t think I would have said, “If I don’t go to Chicago I will be disobeying.” But I knew it was in some sense the right thing to do. And I was so convinced of this that no other option was even considered.

And I suppose I thought at the time that God worked with everyone similarly. So it was surely a God thing that my first roommate in Chicago was Joshua Crowe, who felt pretty much the opposite as me in his approach to God’s will. He felt that upon graduating college he had choices. He could have moved to Japan or France or up the road a few miles and still been perfectly within God’s plan for his life. He chose Chicago because it was, to him, a wise next step to do an internship in an international city before eventually moving to a different country.

And being the young and passionate guys we were, we argued about it. We discussed specific will vs. general will so much that it soon became a joke and we laugh about it to this day and rib each other subtly via text messages and social media. But I owe it to Josh for helping me think through this biblically and changing my mind about a lot of this topic.

I still, to this day, believe God’s will for my life was Chicago and I would even say it was specific. Any belief about God in my worldview must be backed up by Scripture and I can easily see God in both Old (Jonah 1:1-2) and New Testaments (Acts 20:22) telling people to go somewhere specifically and even on occasion God saying to not go somewhere (Acts 16:6-7). That sounds similar to how God led me to where I have been for the last 15 years.

For discussion’s sake, I would even say this is how God worked in leading me to marriage. While I do not believe for one second that God only has one person for every person, it is crazy to look back on my time as a single person where I could have easily ended up with someone before I met Kayla and things beyond the realm of logic kept it from happening. It was confusing to go through, but now I can see that God wanted me to wait and to marry Kayla. She feels the same, about our marriage and God’s will in general.

Yet, I now understand that God does not deal with everyone this way. Biblically and in my conversations with dozens of Christians, I have seen over and over that God often gives people choices and using wisdom to make decisions is how God operates in their lives. Josh and I eventually came to the conclusion that God is far too complex to work with every person the same way. Some people may be similar to Jonah in that God says, “Go to this place” or Isaac in that God says, “This is whom I want you to marry” and others like Nehemiah see a need somewhere and go to help fix it without some great call of God, or David marrying Abigail simply because she was a woman of God[1. This is somewhat off topic, so I’ll relegate it to a footnote. It is supremely interesting to me how little the Bible says about finding a mate in the matter of specifics. The Bible’s narratives feature cultures so different than ours that trying to glean anything about dating vs courting, or whatever method we may consider to be best, is nearly impossible. The doctrinal parts of the Bible are equally as silent on specifics, as far as I know. So I am incredibly hesitant to endorse any one view on how to find a mate. Whatever you want to call the time of getting to know a person before marriage should be selfless and God-honoring and I am convinced there are many terms we could use to describe it.].

Josh also helped me see issues in this debate that really moved me towards a more reasonable middle ground that I described above and by this point I’ve discovered many wise Christians have experienced the same frustrations when this topic comes up. First, he told me it is maddening to think that there are needs all over the world and that some Christians are so busy waiting on a great sign from God to go that they wait and wait and wait and never go. Mission works struggle and churches go without help because everyone is waiting for God to call them specifically and this becomes a seemingly spiritual yet potentially lame excuse for why people do not go.

Trust me, I get this complaint and find it valid.

Secondly, and equally as relevant, Josh told me that if you see God’s will as something specific, then it become a gigantic point of stress when you have to make a major decision, be it marriage, a college major, job or location. What if you get it wrong?

So these Josh-Gowdy conversations in the early 2000s revolutionized my counsel to young people on this topic. By God’s grace I have had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of young adults in my life on the cusp of making major life decisions. And my advice has been much more balanced, and hence, biblical. I tell them it may be that God calls you to some place or person specifically and if he does it will not be ambiguous. If God works the way he has with me, there will be zero doubt about His will. If he does not and you do not sense any specific leading, you should use wisdom from the Bible and godly counselors to go out and do something that fulfills the biblical mandates of serving, evangelizing and discipling people while in Christian community. I would venture to guess that God far more often works the second way and I recommend a book by Kevin DeYoung called Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. In either case, knowing God’s will should not be stressful at all. Actually doing it may cause anguish, but knowing it should be simple.

So I will wrap up my thoughts on this with something I learned from Nehemiah 1 this past Spring as I prepared to give devotions to visiting mission groups to my church this summer. Nehemiah saw a need in Jerusalem and he spent time fasting, weeping and praying before he did anything else. When he prayed, his heart was so filled with Scripture it overflowed from him as he prayed. Let me assure anyone reading this: if Christians at any point in their lives are so in tune with the Bible they can pray it naturally and are so moved by the injustice around them that they fast, weep and pray “day and night” (Nehemiah 1:6, see also Luke 18:1-8) for a period of time in response, then knowing God’s will be the easiest thing there is. Knowing God is primary. Being broken over the things that break his heart is a result. God’s will should absolutely come out of that and if it does, I doubt words like “specific” and “general” will matter to any significant level.

So my views on this matter are constantly developing and we at REO welcome feedback so please comment below if you so desire.

 

 




My Irrational Love For the Karate Kid Franchise

Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have? 

Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like? 

Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant… 

Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants. Daniel-san… [taps his headKarate here. [taps his heartKarate here. [points to his beltKarate never here. Understand?

 

 

Nearly everyone loves the sports underdog. Nearly everyone loves it when a bully gets his comeuppance. Nearly everyone loves a sage mentor teaching a protege about life and skill.

So it’s no wonder that the 1984 movie The Karate Kid was so well received in the U.S. that it spawned three sequels and a remake that all together earned well over $400 million at the American box office.

But even with that success, I still sometimes feel like I love theses movies a tad too much. Well, most of them. They were a cultural phenomena in the 80s and to many I am sure have not aged well. But to me, I adore them more now than back then. And in honor of the 33rd anniversary of the release of the original this week, I wanted to give my thoughts on each of the five movies in the franchise.

 

The Karate Kid (1984) 

Karate Kid PosterAmerican moviegoers in the 80s had a ton of martial arts exposure thanks to still legendary names like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. By that time we already had a pantheon of movies about a sports underdog overcoming great odds to win. Yet we had not seen the two put together quite like this.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that Daniel comes across as a whiner for much of the movie and his love interest isn’t interesting at all to me, yet the aforementioned tropes are so good they overcome the lesser aspects.

Most notably, Pat Morita gave the world a gift with his performance as Mr. Miyagi. He is utterly quotable: “Lie become truth only if person want to believe it.” His broken English is insanely endearing. The scene where we learn that this humble, easy-to-overlook maintenance man can kick major hindquarters in karate makes me ridiculously giddy.

But the star moment of the movie to me is the way he teaches Daniel-San karate. He makes him wax his cars and stain his fence and other menial, backbreaking chores. And of course Daniel eventually gets upset by it and threatens to break their pact and quit. So in one of the truly special moments to me in movie history, Mr. Miyagi shows him that everything he is doing is subconsciously teaching him karate. He is teaching Daniel his way with Far Eastern methodology and without the dojo mentality. Mr. Miyagi in this scene does an epic mic drop before that was even a thing. “Wax on, Wax off” was a huge part of the 80s American movie vernacular.

Make no mistake, this movie hinges on how good Mr. Miyagi is. Beyond the karate, we feel for him deeply when we learn about the death of his wife. And his excellence in bringing this unique character to life overwhelms the weaknesses of the other two main characters to me.

Kreese, Johnny and the Cobra Kai are excellent villains and perfectly easy to hate. The climactic fight in the tournament is superbly dramatic and the music compliments it well. There is so much to love in this movie that how poorly it has aged has not affected my fan hood in the least.

 

The Karate Kid II 

Is it possible that I love this sequel more than the original? This is something that rarely happens, especially if you take out Top 1% movies like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather 2. Yes, yes it is possible.

Maybe it is the fact it takes place in Okinawa. And the stakes become more real. This installment definitely captures the magic of Rocky in that it finds a new, fresh way to keep our champion in the underdog role. Mr. Miyagi’s telling Daniel near the end, “This not tournament, this for real” pretty much captures how they were able to take a great idea and two years later make it even better. Beating Johnny the Cobra Kai in a city tournament was classic. Facing Chozen in a theoretical fight to the death is just terrifying. And intense, even if it is a tad over the top. I pretty much stop breathing during this scene every time I watch.

But the movie scores big to me as well because it develops Mr. Miyagi even more, teaching us more about his past and his failures and his reason for leaving. These scenes are not cheesy at all.

But at its heart, the story is the Miyagi/Daniel relationship. Even as Daniel is getting throttled by Chozen, Miyagi is shouting out instructions that help Daniel. And even though I’ll never understand how Daniel merely swinging his arms back and forth turned the tide in the fight, no one can deny the music, the choreography and the cinematography of this scene come together for a chill bump-inducing masterpiece.

And for it to end with Peter Cetera singing The Glory of Love…well that is just the cherry on the captivating movie conclusion sundae.

 

The Karate Kid Part III 

Karate Kid III Whereas the second one masterfully kept us interested in Daniel-San as the underdog, this one absolutely fails in every way. This movie is an abomination. It’s horrible in every way it can be. It is tired, boring and unnecessary and the fact the first two made $200 million in the US between them and that this one tanked at $38 million is proof.

When I showed my wife this franchise early this year I refused to show her this one. I will tackle her if she ever tries (since we own all of them). The fact that this movie exists and it doesn’t cause me to feel any less passionately about the whole series is a testimony to how good the others are. I saw this movie a couple of times in the 80s and tried to give it one more chance about ten years ago. Nope. I am surprised I have not just thrown it in the garbage yet.

 

The Next Karate Kid 

The Next Karate KidAs far as quality we find this reprisal of sorts in the franchise between the magic of the first two and the dumpster fire of the third one, released in 1994. It was obvious that Daniel was done as a character so to add some spice they make Mr. Miyagi’s new project a female. And not just any female: Hiilary Swank several years before she shocked the world with two Best Actress Oscar wins.

So the fact that you have such an acting talent alongside the iconic Mr. Miyagi means this movie has some redeeming value. The story itself is retread and does not capture the imagination of the beginning of the franchise. But at least it brings the novelty of a girl, Julie-San, being the one who needs to overcome demons and bullying. Not a necessary movie but I don’t mind watching it if someone wants to see all of the “Karate Kid” movies.

And we get to see Mr. Miyagi light somebody up one more time before retiring the character forever so that alone almost makes it worth watching.

 

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate KidFirst, let me be clear that there is no doubt this movie belongs to this franchise. The title, as well as the obvious and subtle references to the plot of the original manifest its strong connection to the 1984 version.

And I had little faith they could redo the original in a modern way and not destroy it. They did the opposite. It exceeds the original in my mind and competes with KK2 for the best of the franchise.

First, Mr. Han is an incredible updated version of Mr. Miyagi. I had never seen Jackie Chan like this. He absolutely knocks this role out of the park.

This can be seen best in the re-imagining of the “menial task is teaching kung fu” scene. As memorable as this moment is in the first one, I think this movie improves upon it. Dre doesn’t hang up his jacket like his mother wants him to. So Mr. Han uses that as the basis for developing his muscles and reactive instincts, by having him take off and hang up his jacket for hours at a time. Which is a small but powerful difference from “wax on, wax off”. And the mic drop speech given by Mr. Han at the end of this scene is even more potent: “Kung Fu lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.” Please note that as a Christian I don’t believe this in real life but I cannot deny it makes amazing cinema. I stood up and clapped in the theater at this moment.

Jayden Smith is pretty good in his role but just as with the originals, it rises and falls on the mentor. I could not love Mr. Han any more and I refuse to try to pick who is better out of him and Miyagi.

 

So as summer heats up and Hollywood makes the news with regularity, we at REO take time to remember the summer blockbusters of yesteryear. For me, almost nothing tops The Karate Kid, or three variations at least. I love them, indeed, far beyond logic.