Five Outstanding Westerns that You Should Literally Watch this Very Second (or ASAP)

Hollywood is full, FULL, of outstanding westerns from its beginning to current day. There are many that deserve all too well to be on any list of great western recommendations. This is a Five, so we wanted to highlight five of our personal favorites and a few that may not be so well known but totally should.


1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

My formal education did not include a ton of movies so it is amazing to me that both in Spanish Class in High School as well as History Class my first year at USC, my instructors showed my classes this film. A 1948 classic that has transcended time, it more or less did for me with westerns what Sergeant York did for war movies. I’m not a sincere fan of either genre but I can’t get enough of these movies.

Humphrey Bogart is magnificent and in this role as Dobbs earns the fame still associated his name 70 years later. Yet there is a plethora of other characters that make this movie so memorable, people most Americans have never heard of like Tim Holt, Walter Huston and Alfonso Bedoya has “Gold Hat”. And speaking of him, I would feel amiss not to mention one of the most famous lines in the history of American cinema. A line that has been referenced literally dozens of times in TV, other movies, music and other media. But I cannot mention it without getting it right, because I sense like many other famous lines, it is misquoted. It’s:

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

Note that the word “stinkin” isn’t until the last line. But this movie is way more than a quote. It’s a thrilling adventure of that teaches us a lot about injustice, greed and what it means to trust others when we’re in desperate circumstances. It gets real at times. And it does not have a sentimental Happy Madison type ending. Yet the conclusion still leaves me very satisfied and wanting to watch the whole thing again. Isn’t that the premiere mark of a great film? (Gowdy Cannon)


2. The Big Country

I am a huge fan of the western genre. I love films whether very old or brand new. There are many, many great ones that could be named. While I could list one that is a well known and justly deserved fan favorite, I will lend my praise to a relatively ignored classic: The Big Country. The Big Country is one of the most underappreciated movie treasures out there. The big names to match this Big County and big film include Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, and Jean Simmons. Most of the reviewers I have read seem to think it okay at best. While the musical score is almost universally applauded, the film is supposedly too long, too ambitious, is too pretentious, and contains way too much empty space.

Okay.

I honestly doubt that half the reviewers I read have watched it in its entirety. Many of them contain glaring plot errors in their descriptions. I imagine most of them just watched a few clips and wrote the rest of their reviews based on other reviewers who did the same thing. I will agree that the premise of The Big Country is not all that original. But unoriginality does not always make a bad film. Hollywood history is chock full of classic unoriginal films. Chock full. And The Big Country is part of that “chock.” Filled to the brim with great music, filming, acting, and writing, it’s an unrecognized western classic. (Ben Plunkett)


3. The Shakiest Gun In The West

The Shakiest Gun in the West

Many grew up watching Don Knotts in The Andy Griffith Show. I grew up with Threes Company and watching him and Tim Conway over and over again in a 1980 movie called The Private Eyes. I watched it probably 50 times and for years could quote the whole thing, complete with character accents.

But eventually people started pushing me to broaden my Don Knotts horizons and I did, taking in The Apple Dumpling Gang (also with Conway) and a 1968 Comedy Western called The Shakiest Gun In The West.

And it was quite the addition to his filmography. It’s classic Don Knotts as the bumbling, clueless, lovable almost hero and filled with memorable scenes and lines. My favorite is when Knotts’ character Jesse Heyward is getting ready for a showdown with Arnold the Kid and after practicing five shots he wastes his final bullet putting his gun back in his holster. I can hear my brother Jeremy in my head saying, “Two at the can…two at the sign…one in the skillet…and one in the pants.” We laughed about it dozens of times. I laugh right now just thinking about it.

The supporting cast is great, highlighted by Bad Penny and we even get a glimpse of Pat Morita in the only role I’ve seen him in that didn’t feature the words “Karate Kid” or “Happy Days” in the title. The movie also has an unforgettable song that plays during the opening title sequence and sets the mood for the show you’re about to experience.

So if you’re looking for a western big on laughs and a lead character that bears no resemblance whatsoever to John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, this is a movie worth watching. (Gowdy Cannon)


4. True Grit

To my knowledge, there are only two film versions of True Grit: the 1969 and 2010 versions. While the 1969 version is not bad and is a pretty accurate retelling of the novel, the 2010 version is much, much better in just about every way. The only place where both match in greatness is with their Rooster Cogburn actors: John Wayne and Jeff Bridges. While they may be equal in this manner, Bridges wins out because he is surrounded by excellence in every single other aspect of his film. In my opinion, there is not one thing in the film that is shoddily done. The music, the acting, the film work, the dialogue, the attention to detail, the thorough capturing of the novel’s spirit. Everything. Matt Damon deserves a particularly loud bout of praise for his portrayal of the cocky but goodhearted Texas Ranger, Laboef. Bridges and Damon are accompanied by an amazing cast of characters, some of whom only appear onscreen for a handful of minutes. I’m not sure that I can overstate my love for this movie. I strongly believe that it would belong in a top ten list of the greatest westerns ever made. (Ben Plunkett)


5. Open Range

There is a lot to love about Open Range. First, Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall are a fantastic duo in the film. They have an easy chemistry and are given plenty of room to inhabit their roles. Second, the cinematography is open (no pun intended) and expansive; really giving the viewer an appreciation for the untamed and wild Montana landscape. While the film has plenty of other elements to celebrate, for Open Range, it all comes down to the climactic shoot-out. After a film that unhurriedly moves along, the final gun-fight is bold, shocking, and edge-of-your-seat filmmaking. Kevin Costner, pulling double duty as the director, expertly stages the fight with plenty of moving pieces, a concise and understandable geography, and a fair share of “hero” moments for our main characters. It’s an intense sequence that allows this slow-burn of a film to end with a blaze of glory – classic Western motif and homage all in one. (Phill Lytle)

 

 




Two Tales of One City (The NFL on REO)

Power Rankings

I got some help this week for the NFL Power Rankings from fellow REO contributors Gowdy Cannon and Mike Lytle. I asked them to rank their top 15 teams. I then assigned a point value to each team based on where they were ranked and then added those points together to get the final product – The NFL on REO Top Ten. (Example for the ranking: A 1st place vote receives 15 points, a 2nd place vote receives 14 points, and a 15th place vote receives 1 point.) I’ve listed the total point value for each team so you can see how this all came together. For the tie-breakers, I listed the rationale for why one team was placed above the other.

1. New England – 45
Back when the Patriots were 2-2 with what was by far the last place team in defensive points given up, it looked like the rest of the league may have had a prayer of not having to deal with this constant playoff juggernaut this year. It was a testimony to how incredible the offense is that they were 2-2 since most teams would have been 0-4 giving up 38 points every week.

But as anyone could see coming, the Patriots turned it around on D. They have been the best team in the league on defense as far as giving up points for the last eight weeks and have a chance to do something very few teams have done the last 30 years – go nine straight games giving up 17 or less. They are now solidly a Top Ten defense in the league by this simple yet extremely important criteria. The O still deserves credit though – the Patriots give up a bunch of yards but recently had 94 straight drives by their opponents start in the opponent’s territory. A record for the last 25 years. That is a credit to NE not turning it over and moving the ball when they have it.

This team is still the champ and the favorite until something major changes. – Gowdy Cannon

2. Pittsburgh – 40 (The Steelers had two number 2 votes while the Eagles only had one.)

3. Philadelphia – 40

4. Minnesota – 36
Just by stats and the eye test this team seems elite and poised to make a run in January. They have a Top 2 defense by the most basic measures and a solid running game and, to this point, excellent quarterback play by Case Keenum and at least for a game or so, Sam Bradford. I know the NFL stereotype is that you have to have an elite QB to win it all and this would cause concern for the Vikings, no matter how well Keenum or Bradford are playing. But seeing as how half the of the last twelve Super Bowls were won by Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, two of Ben Roethlisberger’s most mediocre seasons and a wooden dummy that looked like Peyton Manning, I think the standard belief is often wrong. And while Keenum isn’t anywhere close to Russell Wilson, he could at least be as effective as Wilson was in 2013.

The bigger problem to me is Minnesota’s history. I don’t think it’s by chance that Atlanta and Carolina didn’t get it done the last two years. The NFL is very much the haves and the have-nots historically and it takes either a special QB like John Elway or Drew Brees or a historically great defense like Seattle to cut through years and years of losing and choking. – Gowdy Cannon

5. New Orleans – 33
Giving Drew Brees that running game has been the just what this team needed. Ingram and Kamara have both been impressive this season and they will give the Saints something they have not had in some time – a strong running attack for bad weather games in the playoffs. – Phill Lytle

6. Seattle – 31
The Seattle Seahawks have been one of the top NFL teams for the last several years with two Super Bowl appearances and one win plus several other trips to the playoffs. Most of their recent success has been due to their league best defense and a strong running game. This season that script has been flipped. Their defense is still in the top 10, although much closer to 10 than 1. Their rushing offense ranks 21st in the league and many of those yards are from quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is currently accounting for over 80% of his team’s offense. If he keeps up this pace he will set an all time record. Seattle may not be complete enough to challenge for a title this year, but with Wilson under center we would never count them out. – Mike Lytle

7. LA Rams – 27
I’m not sold. Sorry, I’m just not. I realize their offense has been historically good, but history shows us that great offenses don’t always go far in the playoffs when faced with good defenses and bad playing conditions. Plus, while Goff has been good this season, and much better than his rookie season, this is a guy that has never really played in a big game in his life. His University of California teams were never that great and some of them were terrible. I’m just not convinced he will play up to his regular season standard when faced with a tough opponent in the playoffs. – Phill Lytle

8. Carolina – 21 (There was no difference in voting between these two teams – each had the same votes: 10,9, and 8. I listed them alphabetically.)

9. Jacksonville – 21

10. Tennessee – 20


It’s a good, yet frustrating, time to be a sport’s fan in Nashville

Today, December 6th, 2017, Nashville has a first-place team in two different sports. In the NHL, the Nashville Predators are leading the Western Conference, as well as the Central Division. In the NFL, the Tennessee Titans are in first place in the AFC South. Both fan-bases have a lot to be excited about with the results they are seeing. Both teams are winning at a high percentage. Both teams look poised to make it to the playoffs, though the Predators have a long way to go before that becomes a reality due to the length of the NHL season. But beyond that, the reactions to these two first-place teams could not be any more different. The Nashville Predators are the darlings of the city while the Tennessee Titans seem like the often maligned, step-child. How did we get here?

The 2017-2018 Nashville Predators are one of the best teams in the NHL. They are the defending Western Conference Champions and appear to have improved since their impressive playoff run last season. They play an exciting, action-packed style that leaves the fans happy and satisfied. They win and they win with style. Simply put, they are a joy to watch.

The 2017-2018 Titans have the third-best record in the AFC and are in place as the 3rd seed for the playoffs. They barely missed the playoffs last year, going 9-7 in coach Mike Mularkey’s first full season. They continue to win games even though the product on the field leaves a lot to be desired. They are inconsistent and seem to play down to their competition. Simply put, they are a constant frustration to watch.

I find myself in a weird spot when discussing the Titans with other fans. I acknowledge that the team has been erratic. I realize that this team should not consistently be in close games against many of their opponents. They should be able to handily beat a good number of the teams they have faced this season, but instead, they have struggled to put it all together until very late in many of these games. Their young, star QB, Marcus Mariota has been just as erratic and frustrating with his performance this season. Taken as a whole, the Titans have not made it easy for their fans to feel optimistic about this season.

Except for one thing: They just keep winning.

You can deduct style points all you want, but the truth of the matter is, the Tennessee Titans are 8-4. They are 4-1 in their division. They are one of only a handful of teams this season with a winning record against teams with records over .500. (They beat: 8-4 Seattle, 8-4 Jacksonville, and 7-5 Baltimore. They lost to 10-2 Pittsburgh.) The Titans find ways to win, week after week and at some point, the fans just need to accept them for what they are: A frustrating, erratic, hard-working, and successful team.

For all the fans of both teams out there, enjoy both kinds of winning. Enjoy watching the Nashville Predators dominate the ice. Titans’ fans haven’t seen that kind of dominance in a very long time. It reminds me a lot of the 2000 team that steamrolled through the regular season. Frankly, I have no idea what this year’s Titans’ team reminds me of. (Insert your own joke here.) What I do know is that they are winning and that they have a few more winnable games left this season and a great shot at hosting a playoff game. How awesome is that? So, get on board people. Enjoy the ride, even if it is unpredictable and occasionally bumpy. It’s better than it has been in a very long time




Unpopular Opinion: Christmas Music

“I love Christmas music but I don’t want to hear it on the radio until December.”

“Christmas music before Thanksgiving should be against the law!”

“I hate Christmas, joy, peace, and every good thing all the time because I am a miserable, unhappy, grinchy Scrooge.”

I have heard variations of those statements every year for as long as I can remember. (I will concede the third one is probably just my loose interpretation when I hear people whining about Christmas music.) Each year around Thanksgiving, radio stations begin to play “all Christmas music all the time” and for some people, that is the worst thing ever. They rant and rave about it on social media. They write long Facebook posts about how awful it is to play Christmas music too soon. They bemoan. They complain. Then they pontificate about how it cheapens the season or some such nonsense.

They are wrong.

In their twisted little world, they believe that it is only acceptable to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world for about three and a half weeks in the month of December. Don’t you dare celebrate the SALVATION OF HUMANITY for longer than that! Don’t you dare sing songs to commemorate the incarnation – the coming of the Christ – until after Thanksgiving!

Is that really the world in which we want to live? Do we want to confine our celebration of this most sacred event to only one month of the year?[1. And if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t even get the whole month of December because as soon as the 25th comes and goes, Christmas music disappears again.] Do we want to be the kind of people that would mock and ridicule others for wanting to enjoy this time of year for all that it signifies?

In the spirit of the season, I am willing to be gracious and concede a minor point to the haters and scoffers. If you are ranting about hearing songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” then I’m with you. Those are flimsy, superficial things. They are the candy to the more spiritually robust songs main course. Mock those type of songs as much as you want – or at least, mock the too-soon playing of them as much as you want. They have a specific time of the year to be played and heard.

However, the same cannot be said about spiritually deep songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Those songs have eternal value far beyond one month of the year. Why is it okay for us to sing and listen to songs about Christ’s death and resurrection any month of the year but we recoil when we hear a theologically rich song like “Joy to the World”?

Stop being joyless Scrooges. Instead, be joyful Ebenezers[1. We used to sing a song in Panama called “Ebenezer – which the chorus translates to “So far the LORD has helped us.” That is what I think of every time I see that name.] recognizing all the wonderful things God has done for you – which includes what He did on that first Christmas two thousand years ago. Don’t confine that celebration to a few weeks of the year. Let it spill over to every time of your life.

 

 




REO Gives Thanks

Thanksgiving.

At its best, this is a day to show our gratitude to God for everything He is and everything He has done. It is also an opportunity to reflect on all the little, seemingly insignificant blessings in our lives. Spiritual or mundane. Eternal or earth-bound – we all have so much for which to say “thank you.” We hope that you have a fantastic Thanksgiving and that you take some time to recognise the Giver of all good things.


Ben Plunkett

Most of the time when you ask someone to say what they are thankful for at Thanksgiving time they will name stuff like God, family, good food, and a warm home. These are very great things to be thankful for and I truly am. However, this Thanksgiving I want to highlight a little something that is usually forgotten: Seasonal changes. That’s right. I’m thankful for seasonal changes. It fights mundaneness. Although I don’t love all four seasons, some more, all of them have unique things to appreciate.

Fall is easily my favorite, so I love it for all four months. There are so many reasons why I love fall. The colors, the increasing coolness, Thanksgiving, and yada, yada, yada.The list rambles on and on. Plus, some of the best parts of the Lord of the Rings takes place during the fall. (I don’t know if that’s true.Totally made it up.)

I do appreciate winter though—for a few hours. No, really, I do think there is beauty in trees without any leaves. And the snow, when and if it comes, as annoying and inconvenient as it can get is also beautiful. It does not take me long to tire of winter, though. Most of it is dreary days of scratch-out-your eyes boredom and stagnancy. Really, I can think of very few things that I really like that come in winter. There’s Christmas, of course, which barely comes in winter. That is one of its few saving graces.

The sunniness and greenness and growth of spring is a welcome change. While I don’t love it with all of my heart like fall, I like it a lot. We like to think that spring is a time of sunny wonder when we prance with happy bunnies through fields of red and blue flowers. Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Ever. There are taxes, though. We can prance with all those forms and stuff. Anyway, I enjoy spring for approximately three and a half months and then I want fall to be here.

But before we can get to that, we have to get through summer, my second least favorite season. Summer is fine and dandy if you can stay inside the majority of the time. But then you have to go outside doing all this “fun stuff” and you just end up getting all tired and sweaty with mosquito bites and sunburn welts and greasy, disheveled hair. However, I do appreciate this seasonal change as well. I give it six weeks and then fall better be getting here soon or else.

This blurb may make it seem like I am only thankful for fall rather than seasonal change in general, but I really am thankful for all of the seasonal changes. It’s all about variety. In Tennessee and in many other parts of the world, all the seasons have defined changes. While I like some of the changes and seasons a lot better than others, I am thankful for the variety of a typical year.

Many of my REO comrades agree with me about fall, by the way, you can see our collective diatribe here.


Phill Lytle

To keep with the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for times of feasting. While I love food (as is evidenced by my profile picture) this is not really about the food. It’s about what happens around a table with friends and loved ones. Some of my favorite memories happened sitting around the table, eating good food, and spending time with people I care about.

One particular moment that comes to mind was when we had most of the active REO writers and contributors to my house for a Christmas party. It was a beautiful and heart-warming time. I mean that seriously. My heart felt warmed and full by the end of the night. I was as content as I have ever been.

Another memory that will never leave me is a visit to a Japanese conversation partner’s host family’s home while I was in college. We ate delicious Japanese cuisine, talked, laughed, and then spent the rest of the evening around the fireplace listening to the host father transfix us with story after story.

This Thanksgiving, my family is coming to my house. My parents will be here. My older brother and his family will be here. And my Chinese “daughter” will be here as well. The food will be great – of this I have no doubt. The time spent together, talking, laughing, and feasting on all that God has done in our lives will be even better. I am and always will be thankful for times like that.


Gowdy Cannon

Something out of the way of faith and family that I am very thankful for is fantasy literature. And notably, I am thankful for my wife and REO for influencing me to read several classic works that turned me into a fan. More than TV and movies, a good fantasy book really stirs my heart and mind at the same time. It goes beyond entertainment to me. I have no doubt I am a better preacher because of fantasy literature. Just this past Sunday I was preaching about how God works in spite of injustice and is going to right all wrongs one day and out of nowhere I blurted out “Aslan is on the move!” And I appreciated a few people in the crowd nodding and smiling in response.

I also have no doubt reading about humans, dwarves, elves, and hobbits becoming a fellowship has very creatively kept a vision in my mind of what a church can be with ethnic diversity. I would love to have a church filled with English, Spanish and Polish speakers together on a spiritual journey with a common goal. And Tolkien ignites my imagination when I read him.

And then there is just the way my wife and I bond over fantasy literature. We’ve talked about books, watched movies and even taken trips to London and Orlando just because J.K. Rowling wrote a fantasy world, good vs. evil epic.

I’m very thankful for the color that these books add to my life, my marriage, and my ministry.


Debbi Atwood Sexton

I am thankful for Starbucks blonde roast, unsweetened, mellow and soft cold brew coffee.

Years ago, I fell in “like” with iced coffee and since then, I’ve spent countless dollars on little glass bottles of Starbucks frappes. After I realized that I had spent about $2,751.00 on those little bottles, I tried making it myself! Not great, but I drank it anyway because of, you know, money. Eventually, I fell off the wagon and started buying the bigger bottles! At this point, I was an addict and figured there was no AA for coffeeholics.

However, God is all-knowing, all-wise, all-seeing and He cares about our life’s crises! Someone, somewhere, with the help of the Holy Spirit, no doubt, had the brilliant idea to stock the shelves with Starbucks cold brew that costs under $5.00 for 6-8 servings!! It has rocked my world. I can now have iced coffee every morning for a fraction of the price of those little bottles of liquid gold. My wallet, my bank account and my husband are extremely happy!!

“The only thing I know for sure about today is coffee. Everything else is just wild speculation.” –  Nanea Hoffman

In case you didn’t know, coffee has a spiritual origin!!

C.O.F.F.E.E
Christ Offers Forgiveness to Everyone Everywhere


We are handling the end of the week a little differently. If you are a regular reader, you know that on Fridays we publish The Five. As today and tomorrow most of us at REO, as well as most of our readers, are busy with friends, family, and loved ones, we have opted to combine our Thanksgiving feature with The Five, except it will not be published on Friday. Instead, we are running it today.

As you may have noticed, there are only four blurbs above. This is where you come in. In the comment section below tell us what you are thankful for. It can be something serious or it can be something as simple, yet life-changing, as indoor plumbing. Without you, this is just The Four that was published on the wrong day, and that would not be cool at all. So, lend a hand, help us out, and make this the greatest REO article ever!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 




Random Musings (The NFL on REO)

Goodbye Fitz!

Earlier this year, a few of us from the REO staff worked on a Power Rankings for Nashville Sports Talk Radio. We assigned points to every show in four categories, we took the averages of each of those ratings, and then we used that data to come up with our final rankings. Before we had a chance to finalize the article to present our rankings, one of the major radio stations in Nashville made some major changes to their lineup, which obviously rendered our previous rankings pointless. We decided to go back to the drawing board, allow the new iterations of shows some time to come into their own, and then re-rank everyone. Sadly, that delay is costing us again as one of the local shows – Braden and Fitz on 102.5 The Game is coming to an end. Jason Fitz is moving to a nationally syndicated show with ESPN Radio and Braden Gall will probably be part of whatever show 102.5 The Game puts together once Fitz departs.

I hate this. Not to get too deep into the inner workings of REO, when we conducted our original rankings, Braden and Fitz came out as the number 2 show in Nashville. Braden and Fitz were a new show – they have barely been on the air for a year – and they already were doing a show that was smarter, funnier, and more enjoyable than some of the long-standing local shows. Fitz is very good at keeping the conversation moving and he worked really well with Braden Gall.

So, I am happy for Fitz because this is obviously a huge career opportunity for him but I am sad for our Nashville market because we are losing a good show. I hope that whoever they get to replace Fitz will be able to keep the show as interesting. (On a personal note, I would love for them to move Willy Daunic to mornings but I realize that is probably impossible with his Nashville Predators responsibilities.)


Skycam?

On Thursday Night Football, the NFL Network and NBC decided to use Skycam as the primary camera angle. It was a big deal, as no other game had been purposely covered that way before. From what I can tell, it received a mixed response from fans. There was no mixed response in my house: We all hated it. My sons watch football with me, particularly my two oldest who are fourteen and thirteen. The thirteen-year-old loves to play Madden. He is probably the perfect audience for the Skycam view and he was not particularly thrilled. My fourteen year old has never been a big gamer so his negative response was much more predictable to me.

Though I am no longer a gamer, when I was younger I did play video games a lot. In fact, I spent hours playing video games. I concentrated mostly on sports’ games, with lots of Baseball Stars and Joe Montana Football. (You see, we had the Sega Genesis and never owned any Nintendo after the original, so we were unable to play Madden unless we were at a friend’s house.) Mostly though, we played Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl. And for my money, football video games hit their peak with those two and have been going downhill ever since. So my preferred camera angle is whatever camera angle looks the closest to how Tecmo displayed the action. And that is certainly not Skycam!

What did you, my dear readers, think about Skycam? Would you be okay with more broadcasts using it as the primary camera angle or would it work better if used as part of the rotation?


Three Takes on Marcus Mariota

Mariota has had a very uneven season. Perhaps you are having a hard time figuring out why he seems to have regressed this season. I am here to help. Here are the hater, the homer, and the halfway take. We will start with the hater.

Hater

Marcus Mariota is not a good NFL QB. He cannot play from the pocket, as his stats in 2017 bare out. He has only thrown 8 touchdowns this season and 10 interceptions. The Titans added weapons to the offense and somehow he has gotten worse. He is uncomfortable under pressure, cannot throw to the outside, and has a less-than-average deep throw. In addition, he is not a good leader. He does not talk. He does not rally his team by getting in their faces and pushing them to be better. He is too timid, too quiet, and too mild-mannered to ever be an elite QB in the NFL.

Homer

Marcus Mariota deserves the benefit of the doubt for this season. His critics like to forget that he missed the entire offseason, rehabbing a broken leg. He was unable to do football activities until right before training camp started. Missing all of the offseason work and preparation put him behind from the opening game. Then, to make matters worse, he injured his hamstring the fourth game of the season and has not been anywhere near 100% since that game. In addition, do not forget that many of his interceptions this season have been on his receivers running the wrong route. Yes, the team added weapons this offseason, but becoming familiar with each other takes time and with Mariota missing time due to injury, they have not been able to gel the way the need to. We just need to give it time to work. Mariota is still capable of being an elite QB in the NFL.

Halfway

Marcus Mariota has been inconsistent this season. While he has not been anywhere near as bad as his detractors will claim he has not been blameless in the Titans offensive struggles. He has been less comfortable in the pocket, for a variety of reasons. He has been less decisive and accurate in third down and red zone opportunities. He has made a few throws that were just plain awful. However, he has also had his share of bad luck with multiple touchdowns either dropped or taken off the board due to bad calls. Those things affect his final stat line in ways that critics and national media people simply do not acknowledge or recognize. This will be a frustrating season for Titans fans though because as it stands, it does not appear that Mariota will have enough time to truly heal and feel comfortable with his new offensive weapons. That does not mean this will be a lost season. Even with a less than 100% effective Mariota, the Titans should still be a playoff team which is a huge step forward for a team that has missed the playoffs for nearly a decade. Right now, Mariota is a middle-of-the-pack QB with the ability to take strides to make it close to the top 10 by the time the season ends. Will he do it? I am leaning ever so slightly to yes.


In a couple of weeks, we will be posting the ¾ season Power Rankings. This time around, I hope to be joined by Gowdy Cannon and Mike Lytle in coming up a more definitive Top Ten. The next two weeks are going to be huge for so many teams as far as playoff implications are concerned. People might complain and criticize the quality of teams in the NFL this season, particularly in the AFC, but right now, there are 13 teams in the AFC with legitimate hopes for the playoffs. And the NFC has 13 as well. That is 26 teams out of 32 that are still holding on to hope for a postseason berth. That is insane. I realize the product is a bit watered down this season but at least this is not like some other sports where the outcome seems set in stone two weeks into the regular season. Hope springs eternal in the NFL.

 

See you next week.

 




REO Top Ten: Pies

Thanksgiving may primarily be about a heart attitude, but is there any image we associate more with the day than food?  And is there any food other than turkey that we think about more than dessert? And is there any dessert we love more at Thanksgiving than pie?

With that in mind, REO had another round of voting with abrasive arguments, snide comments and manhood questioning. All over pie. Here are the ten that came out on top, in reverse order:


 10. Apple Pie

Gowdy and I had a hard fought battle over who would write a tribute to the goodly apple pie. In the end, I slew him with my gleaming scimitar and then ate some apple pie. Kidding. I didn’t slay him and I haven’t had apple pie in some time.

I have never made an apple pie, but I have had the honor and privilege of being on the receiving end of masters of the art of apple pie cookery. In my mind, there are few pies as American as apple pie. Maybe pumpkin, pecan, or cherry. For my money, though, apple pie beats out these worthy opponents as far as U.S. citizenship. The apple pie can be deserved in a variety of different and very delicious ways. I have personally had so many superb types and styles that it is difficult to say an apple pie absolutely has to be in such and such a way to be a work of art. Two things, however, I do consider crucial in all varieties of apple pie: 1) A good, substantial crust and 2) a side helping of vanilla ice cream. This second is an extremely important issue. There is no adequate substitute. Anything else is uncivilized and un-American. (Ben Plunkett)


9. Key Lime Pie

I will be the first to admit that Key Lime pie is not for everyone. Unfortunately, all great people and even great foods have their detractors. After all, many are called, but few are chosen. If you like a bit of sour with all that sweet then this is the dessert for you. That delicious graham cracker crust puts it over the top. If Key Lime pie is wrong then I don’t want to be right. (Mike Lytle)


8. Cherry Pie

Maybe apple pie is more “all American” but cherry pie tastes so much better that it should be the pie that represents our great nation in all international pie competitions. Nothing says THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA better than a homemade cherry pie with lattice crust cooling on the window sill of a little house out in the country. Topped with vanilla ice cream or even whipped cream cherry pie never disappoints. The awful 80s rock band Warrant named a terrible song (and album) after this great dessert but even that travesty could not ruin it for me. My only regret is that I did not fight harder to move this higher up on our list.  (Mike Lytle)


7. Snickers Pie

Snickers won our best candy bracket so the built-in taste of Snickers in anything is going to be gold. I didn’t grow up with it in pie form so for the last few years I have had to make up for decades of no Snickers pie. I often look for Snickers flavored anything when going to a place that offers deserts and I am often rewarded. So putting the best candy with one of the best forms of a dessert is a can’t miss. And it didn’t miss, landing in our Top Ten. (Gowdy Cannon)


6. Cheesecake

Back in 2016 I did a March Madness bracket on best dessert and cheesecake won. By a landslide. It dominated the field like the ’98 Yankees. The final score of the championship was 74-43. It was like watching Reagan vs. Mondale.

I heartily concurred with the result. Candy excluded, I don’t know that there is anything I enjoy more for the old sweet tooth than a well-done cheesecake. Having Eli’s and the Cheesecake Factory close to my Chicago address is sublime. Heck, I’ll even take the $8.99 version from Aldi. Cheesecake is that good.

True story: one of my friends that used to live in Chicago wept the first time she saw a cheesecake at Eli’s. Literally cried. I mean real tears, streaming down the face as if watching the Friends episode where Ross and Rachel break up. What more can you say for this dessert?  (Gowdy Cannon)


5. Peanut Butter Pie

I’ve always enjoyed Peanut Butter pie. I’m a big fan of pie and of peanut butter, so the combination of the two is right in my wheelhouse. That said, a few years ago, I was at my mother’s house and she had baked a pie earlier that day from a new recipe. It was a peanut butter pie with around half the sugar as the typical peanut butter pie. My mom is a great cook but I doubted that a pie with half the sugar would be something I would enjoy. I also was pretty confident it was another of my mother’s attempts to help me to do something about some of my baby fat that had proven dreadfully difficult to get rid of. [1. Side note: When baby fat hangs around for nearly 40 years, can we honestly still call it baby fat? I contend that’s a bit of a gray area.] My love of pie overruled my suspicion of my mother’s true motives and I ate the pie. After two pieces, I pushed away from the table with complete confidence that it was the best peanut butter pie I had ever tasted. (Phill Lytle)


4. Fudge

 

We were unable to find a volunteer to write the blurb for Fudge Pie, even though it finished in our top five. So, in place of another well-written, witty, and intelligent blurb, we are going to peel back the curtain and let you see how the sausage is made at REO. Here is a sampling of our discussion about who should write the blurb:

 

Mike Lytle: I like fudge pie alright but not enough to write a blurb for it. Who was pushing it during the bracket?

Ben Plunkett: Good question. I don’t even remember ever eating it.

Phill Lytle: Fudge beat out:

Banana Cream (1st round)
Strawberry (2nd round)
Peanut Butter (3rd round)

It lost to Pecan in the Final Four.

I’m pretty sure I voted for it in the first two rounds as I don’t like those other pies. I know I voted for Peanut Butter over it. (I was the only one evidently as PB lost 1-5 against Fudge in the elite 8.)

Ben Plunkett: What in the world was I thinking? Not only haven’t I tried Fudge Pie, I love Peanut Butter Pie.

after a few minutes of doing a bit more research on how the vote went down…

Phill Lytle: I was wrong. I voted for Fudge. I know why. At that time, I hadn’t tasted my mom’s Peanut Butter pie – which is far superior to any Fudge pie I have ever had. Ben, you voted for PB over fudge. You were the lone PB supporter.

Nathan Patton: FWIW (I don’t know if it’s already been mentioned, but I’m too lazy to check) today is National Peanut Butter Fudge Day… also National Absurdity Day, though that’s not as relevant… though maybe it is…

 

And there’s your blurb for Fudge Pie.


3. Chess Pie

Chess pie is above all the tired and mealy-mouthed protestations made by foodies, elitists, and health conscious. They decry its simplicity. They denounce its unashamed reliance on ingredients we have been told are no longer acceptable to a refined and mature palate. Chess pie hears their high-pitched, meddlesome squawking and rises above the fray. Chess pie hears the noise and responds with silence. Chess pie is itself the answer. Before its face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

Check mate. (Phill Lytle)


2. Pumpkin Pie

This remains by far my favorite kind of pie. My love affair with this slice of lusciousness began with my mom’s masterpieces. These have yet to be beat in mine eyes. However, (and this an incredibly strong “however.”) there is something about any pumpkin pie when capably done that earns it this elite place on our list. That flawless blend of pumpkin and spices. That sweet, sweet ooze in the mouth. That harnessing in pie form of the fall and Thanksgiving spirit. Perfection. (Ben Plunkett)

1. Pecan Pie

A great pecan pie can be difficult to make.  Actually, I don’t know this to be true from first-hand experience.  I’ve learned it’s best to only be involved in the of eating of pies and not the process of making pies.  Which is fortunate for me because I get to reap the delicious rewards from excellent bakers like my wife and mother.  It’s also fortunate for the world because they are not subjected to my pitiful culinary creations.  Some of my baking attempts ended up as twisted monstrosities.  I’ve yet to see masses brandishing pitchforks and torches gathered outside my house, though the sight wouldn’t surprise me.  But I digress!  My taste buds tell me that not all pies are created equal.  Some varieties are better than others.  And even among a specific variety like pecan, some turn out superior to others.  They also inform me that when a pecan pie has just the right balance of taste, consistency, and sweetness then it’s the pie which all others look up to in envy!  Like so many things in life balance is the key.  “I am one with the Pie and the Pie is with me.”  “May the Pie be with you… always.” (Mark Sass)




Rambling Ever On Presents: Overrated/Underrated

We’re back with more infallible opinions on those things in our culture that are a little too respected and things that need more love.


Ben Plunkett

Overrated – Big Toe
Everyone thinks he’s the cool guy on the foot campus because he’s this big old Hoss fella and he’s the only piggy that actually does any work by going to market. All that is well and good, but he is also the only piggy that gets hurt. You ever think about that? So you’re getting up in the middle of the night. Nine times out of ten, you are going to stub a toe and every single one of those times it the big toe and his bulbous ways.

Underrated – Pinky Toe
This is the dude that went wee, wee, wee all the way home. Okay, that does seem pretty lame, but people aren’t asking about the context. It’s all because all the other toes are so mean and stuff. So really, it all comes down to his sorry family life: His miserable brothers. There’s the hifalutin biggest brother, the second eldest who stays at home all day playing video games, the third oldest who always eats all the food, and the pretentious fourth brother who constantly preaches on the many excellences of veganism. All in all, the poor guy has sorry role models and therefore has good reason to wee, wee, wee all time. Bless his heart.


Mike Lytle

Overrated – Funyuns. I am not a fan of these artificial, processed, disgusting things that are made to look like the letter “o”. They are a disgrace to the chip family as well as the onion ring family. It is really hard to bring shame to two different types of food, but Funyuns pull it off easily. The fact that the word “fun” is in their name when they are opposite of fun is the cherry on top of this failure sundae. When most of your main ingredients sound like the names of villains in Harry Potter[2. Ferrous Sulfate would be exhibit A] then you have a problem.

Underrated – Pork Rinds. NOW WE ARE TALKING! Sorry about yelling, but I get excited about frying pork skin. They are natural, they are low in carbs, they are a great source of protein, but most importantly they are delicious. Whether you prefer plain, bbq, or hot and spicy, there is a pork rind for you. They are great served fresh at a state or county fair, but they are also great in a bag from your local Walmart or gas station convenience store. Sure they are high in sodium and fat, but most of us need more sodium and fat in our diet anyway so that is not necessarily a negative[3. This is completely false as most of us do NOT need more fat or sodium in our diets.]. In Spanish, they are called chicharrones which makes them sound even more scrumptious.


Gowdy Cannon

Overrated: Deep Dish Pizza from anywhere
Underrated: Frozen $2.29 Pizza from Aldi

Oh, do I get made fun of for this in my church in Chicago. But I must keep it since the movie Creed taught me to. For pizza, I prefer a balance of ingredients. Deep dish has far too much sauce, which I assume is the point. The tomato sauce is a role player on a good pizza to me, not the Allen Iverson of tastes. Hogging the ball.

I can, and have, eaten the big frozen Aldi pizzas five times in a week. They are simple yet thoroughly satisfying. I still remember when they raised the price from $1.99 to $2.29 at my local store. I wept for days. Because 30 cents over thousands of pizzas really adds up.


Phill Lytle

Overrated: Candy Corn
In 2016, USA Today conducted a survey to determine the favorite candy for each state. The people of the great state of Tennessee, my state, picked Candy Corn as their favorite.

Candy Corn.

I don’t want to speak ill of my state, but this might be the dumbest thing Tennessee has ever done. Candy Corn is vile. It is a disgrace to candy. It is a disgrace to corn. It is sickly-sweet with the consistency and texture of hardened ear wax.

Underrated: Corn
Corn is the most underrated of all vegetables[1. I realize there is a lot of debate on this point. Some consider corn a vegetable, a fruit, and a grain. Basically, it’s the holy trinity of food.]. It is versatile: you can put corn in just about anything and it makes that dish better. Corn on the cob – particularly grilled corn on the cob – is about the tastiest thing in the world. Other great examples of corn usage: Corn Casserole. Cornbread. Corn tortillas. Corn chowder. Cornhole!!!

Corn is king.


Ben Plunkett

Overrated – White Coffee (Overcreamed coffee)
This is what I call cups of creamer/milk with a little bit of coffee added. A lot of people apparently consider this the greatest thing since the invention of goat yoga. I have no problem with milk. I love milk. Milk is good people. But when I drink milk, I drink milk. When I drink coffee, I drink coffee. A wise coffee drinker once told me that you should never trust coffee drinkers who corrupt their coffee. I think there might be something to that.

Underrated – Black Coffee
And that brings me to the underrated king of coffees. It ain’t just me, folks. There are dozens of us! Dozens! I’m thinking about starting a Black Coffee Matters movement. I think such a group has potential to make a true difference in the Java world. Who’s with me?!


Phill Lytle

Overrated: Sleeping in
Sleeping in was fun when I was 13. Sleeping in stopped being fun when I became a man. Sleeping in is painful now that I am nearly 40. If I sleep in (basically any time after 9:00 AM) I feel like death the rest of the day. Plus, I feel like I wasted a good portion of my day.

Underrated: Naps
Naps were awful when I was a kid. Naps were essential when I was in college. Naps are glorious retreats to the world of slumber now that I am nearly 40! As much as it drives my wife crazy, I am able to take a nap every day at work on my lunch break. As a teacher, she is unable to do that, and so she resents my happiness and sleep.[1. She doesn’t resent it. That was a joke. Or maybe she does resent it a little. I don’t know. I’m too relaxed and rested to really notice or care…due to all the naps.]

 


Mike Lytle

Overrated – Day old sushi. I am going to get very personal with this one. I once ate day old sushi that I purchased at a grocery store. I ate half of it the day I bought it and it was fine. I ate the other half the next day and it was not fine. Or perhaps I should say I was not fine. I have a pretty impressive record of stomach issues during my lifetime. This was especially true when I was younger. The sushi I ate that day messed me up for over a month. Most every topic covered in this article is a matter of personal opinion, but this one is fact – DON’T EAT DAY OLD SUSHI!

Underrated – Day old chili. I love fresh chili. I have had the honor and privilege of being judge/scorekeeper for several chili cook-offs and have tasted hundreds of chili varieties that were entered for competition. I have savored every moment. That being said, there is just something about eating chili the day after (or even a couple days after) it was first prepared. The flavors have more time to coalesce. The spices and seasonings have much needed time to meld with all the other ingredients and produce something truly special. Take your time, don’t rush…you will thank me later.


Gowdy Cannon

Overrated: Pronouncing ‘gif’ with a Hard G
Underrated: Pronouncing ‘gif’ with a Soft G

“Gift” is an exception to an English pronunciation rule. “Giraffe” is the rule. I’m not even going to argue this. As a Level 1 ESL teacher I already spend way too much time trying to explain why OU has six pronunciations, why “both” and “bother” have completely different O and TH sounds and why “February” and “Wednesday” have the most random, ridiculous silent Rs and Ds (and if you think about it, the second E in Wednesday is silent as well…you can’t make this stuff up). All words we add henceforth need to be consistent. Think of the children! (And the immigrants)

 

 

 




All Roads Lead to Nashville (The NFL on REO)

I’m too hyped about tomorrow’s game between the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers to get any real work done this week. It is easily one of the best matchups of the season with two division leaders squaring off in prime-time. If you have read this column before you know that I am a die-hard Titans fan. Have been since 1999. More on that in a bit. For today’s edition of The NFL on REO, my brain naturally turned to all things Titans – even in ways that probably won’t make much sense to anyone else. But, as I have said before, it’s my article and I will do whatever I want.


The worst game of the week, even though it went to overtime and on the surface seemed exciting, was between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. I am still struggling to understand how the Jaguars won that game. Down by three points, they turned the ball over twice in the final two minutes of the 4th quarter…and they still won. The Chargers had one simple job to do: run out the clock, and they could not do it. (Blake Bortles continues to prove that he is terrible and will be the downfall of an otherwise talented team.) How does this relate to the Titans you ask? Easy, the Jags are fighting for the AFC South crown and are Tennessee’s only real competition at this point. A loss against the Chargers would have been huge for the Titans. Also, Ken Wisenhunt is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers and I blame him completely for being unable to run out the clock at the end of the game. If you have already removed all memories of Wisenhunt from your mind I don’t blame you. Even so, he was the head coach for the Titans for one and a half horrible, awful, terrible season. Somehow, his ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory for the Titans has stayed with him even though he is now coaching on the West coast. Thanks a lot, Ken!


Peter King is Sports Illustrated’s lead NFL writer. He writes a column every week called Monday Morning Quarterback. These are massive, thousands of words articles. Unless I missed it, his most recent column had ZERO mentions of the Titans beating the Bengals. (He did mention Bengals player Vontaze Burfict getting ejected, though that had everything to do with Bufict being a moron and nothing to do with the Titans.) I realize the Titans are not a glamorous team. I realize they are not a great team at this point. But, they have won four games in a row and are leading their division over half-way through the season. Not to mention, Marcus Mariota has led the team on last-minute, game-winning drives in three of the last four games. But yeah, don’t write one word about them in your NFL column. That seems logical.


This is the story of how the Tennessee Titans won my heart

I am confident that my story is not that unique. The 1999-2000 season was a magical one for those of us living in Nashville. The Houston/Tennessee Oilers finally had a home and a name. The Tennessee Titans captured the imagination of an entire city that first season. They moved into their new home, Adelphia Coliseum, and proceeded to shock the NFL and the world with their improbable run to the Super Bowl.

I do have a confession to make though: I was not a fully formed fanatic until the end of that season. I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan. (I know…) I lost that team to an awful, greedy move by an awful, greedy owner. When Cleveland was awarded a new franchise and created the Browns once again, it was too late for me. I no longer cared. I had moved on. So, the 1999-2000 season found me as more of a football fan and less of a fan of any particular team.

The first call to my heart occurred on January 8, 2000 – the fittingly named “Music City Miracle” game. At that time, I was working as a security guard to help pay for college. I had the sleep-depriving graveyard shift – 11 PM to 7 AM. I worked that Saturday, got home, and opted to try to sleep for a few hours before the game started. I overslept. I remember waking up, turning on the television and watching the Buffalo Bills’ kicker, Steve Christie drive a 41-yard field goal through the uprights to give his team a 16-15 lead. There were only seconds left in the game, enough time for either a crazy kickoff return attempt or some sort of Hail Mary after the kickoff. Neither of those options seemed especially hopeful. I’ll admit, I was depressed and frustrated. I hated to see the 13-3 season end like this. I hated that I had missed the entire game, only to watch them lose. I hated that they were losing to an inferior Buffalo team.

Then it happened. The short kick. Lorenzo Neal catching it and handing it to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck throwing a perfect lateral to Kevin Dyson. Dyson running down the sideline with an escort of blockers. I sat there in my bed with my arms above my head in celebration. To this day, I am so thankful that I woke up in time to see it.

But even that didn’t completely win me over. I know, how could that play not win me over? I can’t explain it, but I guess my only excuse is that I was being overly selective and careful with my next choice. I wanted to be sure that the team I picked to be MY team was worthy of my fandom.

The Titans became worthy, and then some, at Super Bowl XXXIV. The first half was an ugly one for the Titans and did little to bring me around to their cause. But once the second half started, and Steve McNair and Eddie George willed their team to tie the game, I found myself buying in. The final drive by the Titans, with impossible play after impossible play by McNair broke down all my other defenses. I was hooked. I was sold. I was a Tennessee Titans’ fan. I realize they lost that game, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to root for a team that had to work hard for success. I wanted to root for a team that played tough, physical football. I wanted to root for a team that left it all out on the field.

The Titans were that team.


So that’s it for today. What stood out to you in Week 10? What is the story for how you came to love your favorite team? Comment below. We love to hear from our readers.




We Have This Hope

Another day, another mass shooting.

Another day, another senseless act of violence and unspeakable evil.

How do we respond when the world around us feels like it is collapsing in front of our eyes? How do react when evil seems to triumph every day? Every hour? Every minute?

We are confronted with an almost unrelenting surge of evil – a tidal wave of horror stories and despicable acts. Acts that pierce our hearts with a bone-wearying sadness. Acts that just keep coming, over and over. We feel so overwhelmed, so broken, and so alone, that we feel nothing at all.

Or maybe that is just my response. I hesitate to speak for anyone else because we all process things differently, but based on conversations I have had, most of us fall somewhere within that range of emotions. We are horrified, sad, angry, and confused. We feel the onslaught of evil and we grieve. We grieve for those suffering the fullest effects of these profound demonstrations of depravity. We grieve because we feel helpless in all of it. We grieve because we know this level of wickedness is not something that can be contained by laws, regulations, or rhetoric. We grieve because our ability to grieve is slowly dying.

Where does this leave us? As the church, what should our answer be to the question of this great evil? From what I can see, we feel so very small in all of this. We feel alone and isolated. We are islands surrounded by darkness and death. To paraphrase one of my favorite films, The Two Towers, “What can we do against such reckless hate?”

I have many more questions than I have answers. I have no perfectly crafted words that will allow any of this to make sense, to hurt less, or to move us more. What I have is likely insufficient, but as I have thought about all this over the past few days, and at various times prior to the most recent tragedy, I keep coming back to a few truths that have helped me. Perhaps they can help others as well.


I should seek the heart of God and respond as He responds.

I never want to tell someone how they should react to anything and I hope I am not doing that now. That said, when the next random act of wanton violence occurs, even if I am numb from all the previous atrocities, I know I should be moved in some manner. Now, that will likely look different for me than it does for anyone else, but as a child of the King, it is my call to be like my Father and my Father is deeply moved when evil seems to rule the day. God grieves for the broken, the hurting, and the neglected. He champions the orphan and the widow (Psalm 147:3, Psalm 34:18). His example should move me to care, to respond, and to grieve, even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I have been desensitized to the evil in our midst. I should seek the heart of God and respond as He responds.

Perhaps you are like many I have spoken to who feel so battered by the constant stream that you cannot seem to really care anymore. I’ve been there and in some ways, I am still there. One thing that I have noticed with my response, is that it is much more spiritually rewarding to avoid finger-pointing in the wake of a tragedy. I feel less and internalize less when I spend all of my energy blaming this person or that, this group or that, this worldview or that. I’m not saying there are no people, groups, or worldviews responsible for many of the most heinous acts we are witnessing. I’m simply stating that when I only point fingers at the monsters outside of my gate, I cloak myself in self-delusion and self-righteousness. For each of us, “there but for the grace of God go I” should be a constant refrain. We are all capable of great evil. We are all susceptible to giving in to our fallen nature. That knowledge should spur us to repentance, thanksgiving, and grace. We shouldn’t hate those that do evil. We should mourn that sin has disfigured the image of God in their lives almost beyond recognition. We should long for renewal – of those that do this great evil but also of the world itself. These tragedies are stark reminders how far from the Kingdom the fallen world truly is and it should be our ever-present mission to bridge that gap.


Prayer should be our first response.

Secondly, we need to pray. In today’s culture, that sounds so weak and inadequate and there are many who have responded with animosity and derision to calls for prayer. To the world at large, prayer is synonymous with naïveté and inaction, when the opposite is actually true. To a believer, prayer should be our first response. Our first defense. Our greatest and most powerful weapon. (I Chronicles 16:11, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Jeremiah 29:12, Matthew 5:44)

Prayer does not always come easily to me. Or better said, my prayer life is too self-focused and too limited. If you are like me and are active in your local church, you hear prayer requests often. I commit to pray for these requests and I almost always follow through. But my prayers are usually quick, little, one-and-done affairs. I fail, time and again, to go boldly to the throne of God with those requests. These times of tragedy remind me how flawed and undisciplined my prayer life usually is. I am convinced that if the body of Christ would commit to seeking the face of the Lord in an intense and focused manner, we would see God move in ways we cannot imagine. I am also convinced that we don’t pray that way. If anything good can come from a tragedy like a mass shooting (and if you believe in an Omniscient and Omnipotent God you have to believe that He can use it for good) then perhaps believers falling on their knees in committed and fervent supplication will be the first step towards that.


We are never alone.

Finally, we are never alone. A few paragraphs back, I mentioned how isolated these events can make us feel. We see example after example of humanity hurting, killing, and destroying and it convinces us that we are alone. That there is no remnant in the land to stem the tide. That is a lie from hell itself. A dangerous and powerful lie. Do not believe it. Regardless how you feel, how things appear, you are never alone.

I Kings 19 tells us the aftermath of the Mount Carmel story. The prophet Elijah has just experienced one of the most amazing and powerful displays of God’s power. Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal and the LORD answered by sending fire from heaven to show the land who the true King of Israel was. A short time later, Elijah is by himself, hiding in a cave, and he prays to God, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” He was convinced that he was the only faithful person left. Without reading too much into the passage, I’ve always wondered why Elijah felt this way. The Lord responds to him and tells him that there are 7,000 others that never bowed the knee to Baal. 7,000! I don’t want to sound flippant, but it sounds like Elijah needed to find himself a good church home! He felt isolated in part because he had isolated himself. There are too many in our society that do this as well. They do not connect with a local body of believers. They do not feel the need or importance of putting roots down in a local faith community. So when tragedy strikes, of course they feel alone.

But even bigger than that, when we are disconnected from the worldwide church, we do not see how God is moving outside of our small sphere of living. We might be plugged into our local body, but we still feel cut off from the larger body of Christ. In some ways we are islands, but each of our small islands are joined together by the life-stream of the blood of Christ. These horrific acts should spur us to stronger connections, clearer focus, and more passionate action. Our light should shine brighter. Our prayers should be bolder. The importance of building the Kingdom should stand in stark contrast to the darkness surrounding us. Our lives should be a constant and unified declaration of grace, hope, and love to a broken and fallen world.


That’s all I have so far. I wish I could write something that would help make sense of things. I can’t. I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to the constant barrage myself. But these few things have helped me, so hopefully, they can help you. I’ll leave you with the words from the writer of Hebrews. It’s a powerful reassurance of our position and value to God. When life is chaos we have hope – a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. Let that be a comfort to you.

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. Hebrews 6:18 -19 




Midseason NFL Superlatives (The NFL on REO)

It has been a long week and I don’t have the time or the desire to churn out another 1,500 words on the NFL. Instead, I have opted for the lazy man’s way out of this problem and have decided to do a list of superlatives at the half-way point of the 2017 season. I realize that we just watched Week 9 and it sounds weird to say this is the half-way point, but if you actually look at the records and how many games teams have played, this is a much more natural mid-way point than the end of Week 8. Plus, it’s my article and I can do whatever I want.


Most improved team

The Los Angeles Rams. There is no other answer here. If you said anything else, go to the end of the line and take a long, hard look at your life. Bonus points to the Rams for being coached by a former Boy Band Member!

 

 

Most disappointing team

The New York Giants. They were 11-5 last season. They might actually be the worst team in the league this season. They are bad from top to bottom. I think they are in for a clean-sweep this offseason.

 

Most annoying storyline that just won’t go away

Colin Kaepernick. Every time I read another Kaepernick story, positive or negative, this is my response:

 

Player that needs to stop doing interviews or press conferences

Cam Newton. First, he makes derogatory remarks towards female reporters and then most recently, he makes some strange Titanic allusion that leaves everyone pretty sure that he doesn’t really know that the Titanic sank.

 

Worst Pre-Game Speech

There will be no topping the infamous Jameis Winston “W” speech that happened this past Sunday. I’ll let it speak for itself.

Worst Roger

Roger Goodell. Fire him.

 

Worst Uniforms

Still the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Best Career Move

Tony Romo retiring to work in the booth for CBS. I’ve said it before, but Romo has been a complete revelation. He even makes Jim Nance better and I thought that was impossible.

 

Worst Career Move

A.J. Green repeatedly punching Jalen Ramsey’s helmet. He didn’t get hurt but it’s about the dumbest thing anyone can do on the football field. Helmet is harder than hand. Every time.

 

Most likely to have the worst record

I think this will be a toss up between Cleveland and San Francisco with Cleveland “winning” out in the end. The Browns are the textbook example of incompetence and dysfunction – you only need to look at how they botched the trade deadline.

 

Most likely to win it all

I am not a gambler. If I were, I would probably put my money on the Patriots. No, they have not looked like the best team in the NFL this season, but they have still been a top 5 team for most of it and we all know what their tract record is in the post-season. How can you bet against them at this point? Doesn’t mean I have to like it though. If I can’t experience the Patriots failing, then at least I have this:

 


What about you? What superlatives would you hand out for this season? Use the comment section below to chime in.