Monday, January 31, 2011

Blessed Be

Here is my sermon from yesterday based on the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12. The audio version can be found here.

It was just about one year ago that I stood up here and read to you what Luke says was Jesus’ first sermon. You may remember it, Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reading from the prophet Isaiah, he says “the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has sent me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Today we have the beginning of Matthew’s version of Jesus’ first sermon, which is of course commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, and today’s passage is, to a degree, based on the same Isaiah passage used in Luke. Jesus’ ministry began when he had previously announced “repent for the kingdom of God has come near,” and then through this sermon we are given a glimpse of what that kingdom looks like, a view that is radically different from what the world considers important.

Jesus gives us a list of people who will be blessed, which is the reason these called the Beatitudes, but these are not the people we would normally consider blessed. If we were to make a list of those in the world who we think are blessed, I don’t think that our list would include those Jesus’ includes, even if we knew we were supposed to think that way, which the original hearers did not. In hearing who was blessed, they would have expected him to name the people everyone thought were blessed, the rich and powerful for example, who have these characteristics because they are blessed by God, and because they are blessed by God they also have these characteristics. It’s a circular argument. But that, of course is not what Jesus’ say, and that is where some of the difficulty of this passage arises.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those persecuted for righteousness and blessed are those who are persecuted because they are followers of Jesus. Are those on any of your lists of those who are blessed? If we were to make a list of those who are blessed in our culture, just like in Jesus’ time, we would probably start with those who are rich and those with power, those who are popular, those seem fairly easy, and certainly the ones who gather the most attention and accolades. From there maybe we add those with an education, maybe heterosexuals, and others would include those who are white, and or males, again groups that have higher social positions, those who often are the ones who get to establish and determine societal structures and rules. Those are the ones that society blesses, but that is not whom we are told that God will necessarily bless.

In the movie version of A Chorus Line, which tells the story of 17 dancers looking to earn a part in a Broadway show. At the end, when the final cut of the dancers is going to be made, the director, played by Michael Douglas, asks the dancers to come to the line and then he calls some of the dancers by name and asks them to step forward. As they do, they begin to smile thinking that they have won the competition. Diana Morales, one of the dancers, is called forward and then sent back and as he sends her back, her face drops and she is crestfallen as she thinks she has been eliminated, but then the twist comes as all those who thought they had been chosen, all those who had heard their name called and who had stepped forward, are told “dancers in the front, thank you very much.” And they are dismissed. They thought that had been chosen only to find out they were not, and those who thought they were the worst found out, instead, that they were the best. They were the ones chosen. They were the ones elevated. Such is it for those lifted up by Jesus.

Now I think one of the problems in hearing what Jesus is trying to say here is that we don’t understand the meaning of blessing. One of the participants in a sermon discussion group I follow said this week “when my father died this fall, I didn’t feel blessed; I just hurt. I woke up on the morning of the funeral and said to my husband, ‘So this is what a broken heart feels like.’ Yet Jesus tells me I was blessed, and still am, even in my mourning, and so I have to ask myself, ‘since when did blessedness and happiness become synonymous?” I think that is part of our problem in hearing the beatitudes, we make the mistake that being blessed and being happy are the same thing. This is actually how some versions have translated the Greek word used here. But there are two problems with this translation.

The first is that happy is a rather subjective state. What makes me happy, like seeing the Yankees win, might make you miserable, and vice versa. Happiness is in the eye of the beholder. Whereas blessed is objective. Either God blesses you or God doesn’t. While we might say someone has clearly been blessed by God, our opinion has nothing to do with the actual blessing. Blessing has nothing to do with what we think about it. The second, and bigger, problem is that the opposite of blessed is not unhappy, which it might be if blessed and happy were synonymous. Instead, the opposite of blessed is cursed. This becomes very clear later in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus issues a series of woe statements, that begin “woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” There are 13 such statements in Matthew. Luke, the only other gospel to include the Beatitudes, has 14 woe statements. To compare this, Mark has two woe statements, and John contains none. So to be blessed is a gift from God and is a statement of relationship with God, it has nothing to do with happiness or unhappiness.

In addition, what separates this giving of a set of laws from the mountain top, like Moses did, is that whereas the Ten Commandments are about doing, or not doing depending on the rule, the beatitudes are about being of who we are in the world. But, the other mistake we often make when we hear the Beatitudes being read is that we begin thinking am I meek enough? am I pure enough in heart? do I thirst and hunger for righteousness? am I merciful? Am I a peacemaker? That too misses the point. While all of these are positive attributes, Jesus is lifting them up after all, but Jesus is not telling us to go out and seek to mourn or to be poor in spirit, nor is he saying to be meek. Have you ever tried to be meek? You either are or you are not.

As one commentator said, “these are not practical advice for successful living, but prophetic declarations made on the conviction of the coming-and-already present kingdom of God.” They are not commands of how we should be living, but statements about how things are already. Notice that each blessing begins in the present tense to the future tense. Blessed are those who are x, for they will y. Blessed are the meek, current, present tense, for they will inherit the earth, future tense. To which Monty Python adds, in their immortal portrayal of the sermon on the mount, “Oh, I'm glad [the meek] are getting something, they have a hell of a time.” Jesus takes the blessings found in the Old Testament, which are located in the prophetic literature, like Isaiah, and in the wisdom literature, like the Psalms, and he combines them into one. They are both wisdom and prophecy.

One final problem we encounter when we hear the beatitudes is that many of us are so familiar with what they say, and the rhythm that they are too familiar. Because we know them we begin to miss entirely what they are saying, so listen to this version from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.
"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble."

Did you hear something different in that reading? The Beatitudes are not about nine individual characteristics or human virtues, in fact they stand in opposition to what we traditionally hold as virtuous. I challenge any politician to adopt these as their platform. They would be destroyed in an election. Instead, they are about the blessing that God gives to us, “contrary to all appearances” in our lives. We cannot look at each statement individually, they must be seen as a collective whole. They build on each other and Matthew, through his literary genius book ends them so that we understand them as a collective piece. This is what a Christian community looks like when they are oriented toward the Kingdom of God.

The Beatitudes are about the foolishness that Paul is talking about in the passage that we heard from 1 Corinthians this morning. “For God’s foolishness,” Paul says, “is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Consider your own call,” Paul says. Consider your call, “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” But God chose you.

Matthew says that Jesus sat down and taught the disciples, but he cannot mean the twelve, because he has only just before this selected his first four disciples. So who is Jesus teaching? We should hear Matthew saying, he is teaching us, the called disciples of Jesus the Christ. God has called us and blesses us, even us the broken and foolish, the meek, the mourning, and the poor in spirit. God blesses us. I want you to turn to the person next to you, or on both sides of you, and say “You are blessed.” No matter where you are in your life, no matter what is going on, God is there with you and wants you, even you, to participate in the Kingdom. God’s blessing is available for each and every one of us, not just the people that people think God should be blessing, but even us. May it be so. Amen.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Twenty-five years ago today, I was in the 8th grade and standing in a computer room waiting for the class that I assisted to come in when the librarian came in and told us that the Challenger had just exploded. I, and the other student in the room with me, rushed to the next room where she had a TV going to watch the coverage. We were the first students in our class to know about the tragedy, and when we got back to class we proceeded to tell everyone what we had just seen.

In my memory we spent the rest of that school day doing nothing but watching the coverage of the event. I don't know if that's actually what happened, but that's what I remember. It is one of those events where most people can answer the question "where were you when you first heard the news?"

My brother and I loved the whole idea of space and space travel. Our mom would even allow us to stay home from school in order to watch the shuttle launches. We would always go later in the day, but there was something special about those events for us. But like the rest of America, shuttle launches had become routine. There was nothing special about them anymore, and so we were not at home watching that morning, we were in class with everyone else.

For some reason this event was seared into my mind, and the fact that Christa McAullife was there was not terribly important to me. I actually think that I was more struck by the fact that there were multiple races and both men and women that made it important. I created a little shrine of sorts to the astronauts in my room featuring newspaper articles, a patch for that mission and a cartoon by Benson, the political cartoonist of the Arizona Republic. It featured a drawing of that iconic image of the explosion and the two plumes of smoke from the rockets continuing into the air, and the caption read "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for." Even thinking of it now it brings tears to my eyes.

When I was doing public relations work I met a photographer who was there that day covering the launch because one of the astronauts was an alum of the college he worked for. He was the one who took the picture of McAullife's mother with the sort of stunned, bewildered look on her face, knowing what she had just witnessed and praying that she hadn't just witnessed it all at the same time. I also dated someone who's father, who was a rocket scientist, was fired because before the O rings were found to have been the cause, it was believed that he and his team were responsible. He could not get a job in the aerospace industry for more than a year, and ended up driving a garbage truck.

Twenty-five years later, it is still one of the touch points of my life. It is an image and a time that is seared into my mind, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families of those astronauts today. For a good book on NASA at the time from an astronaut who was there I recommend Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane.

Where were you 25 years ago today?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Speed Linking

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ridiculous Salaries

Dan Mullen, who I am sure most of you have never heard of, is the head football coach at Mississippi State. In 2009, he went 5-7, 3-5 in the SEC. This year his team went 9-4, although only 4-4 in the SEC, and capped the season by destroying Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Before that victory over the Big Blue, he was awarded a four year extension worth 10.5 million. That works out to 2.65 million a year. This is the head coach of Mississippi State we're talking about here.

Let's put this in some perspective. Huston Nutt, the head coach at Ole Miss, a much better known coach and school makes 2.5 million a year (although I'm thinking he's going to be asking for a raise). The president of Miss. State only makes 220,000 a year (this figure could be wrong because all I could find was this number which is a couple of years old. This should be easier to find that it is). Is Mullen really 10 times more important to the university than the president of the university? That's certainly what this would indicate.

I know that some of Mullen's salary is being paid by sports boosters, but couldn't the school still better use that money elsewhere? But here's the biggest kicker. Miss. State is, of course, a state school, which means that tax payers’ dollars are being used to pay this exorbitant salary. A state which continually rates near the bottom in educational attainment is paying, between just these two schools, in excess of five million dollars a year for their football coaches.

The average teacher salary in Mississippi is $41,500, which rates them 47th in the country. (I found some lower figures, but want to give them the highest reported figure I could find.) That means for what they are paying Dan Mullen they could hire about 60 teachers. (I don't know the actual number because I don't know what the benefits packages for teachers in Mississippi is in order to figure out the specifics). I'm sure the state could use 60 more teachers more than paying their football coach a lot of money.

This figure does not include the raise that Mullen also negotiated for all of his assistant coached or the discussions currently taking place about "improving the facilities." In addition to Mullen there are 13 other coaches/administrators on the football staff, for 108 players. That gives them a student:coach ratio of 7.7:1. The schools student:faculty ratio is 14:1. So the football coach is ten times more important than the president based on salary, and football players are twice as important as the average student based on people responsible for them.

Now I'm not picking on Mullen or Miss. State, I'm just using them as an example of how out of whack we have gotten in the importance we have given to college athletics, and in particular the insane salaries we are paying coaches and their staffs. If a private institution wants to pay their coaches millions of dollars they have a little more leeway as it's mostly private dollars, although they do accept federal student loans so it's not completely free. But there is no reason why a person on the public payroll should be receiving millions of dollars a year to do what they do, especially not to coach football. (Miss. State. graduates 63% of its players)

Just as an aside story on the state of education in Mississippi. In April, a federal judge ordered Walthall County to follow a 1970 desegregation order. That was April of 2010, not April of 1971. They were still segregating their classes deliberately and also de facto, by allowing white students to transfer to white schools.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Is Our Time

Here is my sermon from yesterday. The scripture passage was 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, although I really did not use Paul's writings. An audio copy of the sermon will be available here after Tuesday.

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.” That was what Robert Kennedy said on the night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. “You can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge,” he said. “We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - … filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love…. We have to make an effort…,” Kennedy said, “We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times. What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another…. We can do well in this country,” Kennedy said. “We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder. But the vast majority of… people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” And then Kennedy concluded, “Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

The events of the past week have had me thinking about the evil that has struck our country and about what our response should be. How do we respond as individuals? How do we respond as Americans? And more importantly, how do we respond as Christians? This was not the theme I was going to preach on this week. I was going to talk about Paul’s letters, how they were constructed, what to watch for and pay attention to, and in particular what Paul is doing in his salutation to the Corninthians, a community which he is rebuking and will be covered in the lectionary over the next eight weeks.

But, every time I tried to write that sermon I got pulled in a different direction. I kept going back to the tragic events of a week ago and the blood spilled in my home state of Arizona, and so I scrapped everything I had written and started over again. Sometimes the best laid plans have to be laid aside in order to hear something different, in order to respond to the Spirit and listen to what the Spirit has to say to her church, and I believe that we as a church, we as a people are being called to hear and to do something different, to go a different direction.

Now I know that there are some people who don’t want to hear about this, who don’t want these things discussed from the pulpit who want to keep their religion and their politics separate. But here’s the problem with that: it’s impossible to do for the simple fact that to proclaim Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior is to make a political statement. That is a statement of allegiance and it is inherently political. It was political nearly two thousand years ago when making the statement could, and sometimes would, get you killed, and it is a political statement today. It is a political statement which says that our allegiance lies not with our commonwealth, or with our country, or even our political party, but that our allegiance is to God. And the church has something to say about these events. The scriptures have something to say about these events. Paul has something to say about these events. God has something to say about these events.

We find ourselves in a time in which our rhetoric, our words and even our actions have become full of hatred and vileness. This is not limited to one political party or group of people; this is true across the spectrum. It’s being done by everyone. There are no innocent parties in this game. We are all responsible, because we have all tolerated it, and it’s about more than just politics.

Watch television on just about any night of the week and you’ll find similar behavior, from American Idol in which Simon Cowell was allowed to be as nasty to people as he wants to be, to American Chopper in which the father and son routinely yell, curse and throw things at each other, to Judge Judy to even cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen in which the lead chef routinely belittles the contestants, and that’s just four of the many programs we could reference. When did this become acceptable behavior? When did we as a society decide that behavior that I would consider abhorrent was going to become the norm? Now the response is often made that they are just telling the truth, or keeping it real as the case may be, but when did honesty become brutal and violent? When did we move from telling the truth in love to telling the truth in vicious, sadistic, cruel and aggressive ways? Is this the type of world we want to live in or to raise our children in, and if not then what type of world do we want to live in?

Now there are some who are quick to say that the rhetoric we find surrounding us every day had nothing to do with the actions that took place in Tucson, that this was simply the work of a psychopath and it had nothing to do with anything else. I reject that argument for the same reason that I reject the argument that Loughner acted out only because of the political rhetoric. Both of these seek to find the easy solution, to assign the assign blame and the quick fix to what happened, so that we can move on without having to examine ourselves or our culture. But life is never that simple.

But let’s say for a moment that Loughner was not influenced by anything that is going on in society, that the level or vitriol that surrounds us every day had nothing to do with what happened, that it was just the single solitary act of a deranged individual. Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that we still would not be better off if we were to stop and tone down our verbal assaults on each other? That we would not be better off as people and as a country if we were to treat each other differently? Can you honestly say that we cannot use this as an opportunity to reflect on what we have been doing and the road we are going down and do a little “soul searching” as the Pima County Sheriff said?

One of our biggest problems at the moment is that we are so inundated with ratcheted-up rhetoric that we can no longer properly identify things – if everyone with whom we disagree is said to be Hitler or a Nazi or a socialist or out to destroy the very fabric of our society, then how do we distinguish them with those are truly are evil. Those who truly are a threat. When pundits on TV and politicians and even preachers sound just like Jared Loughner’s rants on YouTube how do we see the difference? How do we identify those who are truly mentally unstable with those who are just trying to get good ratings? There are times when vitriol is needed. The scriptures are full of people using extreme language, including Jesus. We get the term Jeremiad, which is an angry harangue or complaint, as a takeoff of the prophet Jeremiah’s name.

There is a famous Supreme Court free speech case, Cohen v. California, in which Paul Cohen was arrested for wearing a jacket into the Los Angeles court building which said “F%$* the draft” on the back. Today that probably wouldn’t even cause a stir because everyone uses the F-bomb now. Just watch today’s Patriots-Jets game and you’ll see it used a lot. If Mr. Cohen wanted to draw our attention to his feelings about the draft today, he would have to come up with something a lot better than what he did, because no one would notice him in all of the din. He would be just one more crude or rude voice. Sometimes vitriol is necessary to make a point, but when everything is vitriol there is no way to compare it to anything else, and we lose the primary understanding that words matter. That rhetoric matters. It misses the point that words do mean something, that words do create actions and words do create realities. Words matter.

For Christians there can be no argument on this point. If we do not believe that words matter then we might as well shut the doors and go home. If words don’t matter, if words don’t lead to action, if words have no import then there is certainly no point for me to be standing up here speaking to you. If words don’t matter than there is certainly no reason for us to be reading scripture. If words don’t matter then there is absolutely no reason for us to be offering up our prayers to God, there just meaningless words. But we know that words do matter.
Words matter. God said let there be light, and there was light. Words create, words challenge, words form, words matter. John says “and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” The Word became flesh. Words matter. Words become flesh. Words create. Words corrupt. Words make realities. If all we ever hear are words of hate, or fear, or rage or animosity or wrath, then we are swimming in a toxic pool which can only corrupt us and fill us with the poisons which surround us.

We as the church have been silent for too long. We have something to say on these matters, because we understand that words matter and we understand the damage we are doing not only to ourselves and our country, but the damage we are doing to our souls. There is no one who is innocent in where we find ourselves. We are all responsible, for we have committed sins of commission and sins of omission, when we have been silent. We are all guilty and it will take all of us to pause, to reflect and to decide to go down another path, to repent, which means to turn around.

Jim Wallis said this week, “Many of us who would never consider violence of the fist have been guilty of violence in our hearts and with our tongues.” And that has certainly been true for me. I have been forced to look at my own behavior in the past week, both what I say and what I think, and have found myself lacking. The church has something to say and we have been silent for too long. It is time for us to stand together and say that words matter and we demand a change, and that change begins with us.

Each night when I’m making dinner, I watch two of my favorite shows on TV. But the problem is that the girls are also in the kitchen with me, playing and talking and laughing and screaming and so I find that I can’t hear what the people on TV are saying and so I turn up the TV, and in response the girls have to talk louder, and in response I have to turn up the TV even more. It becomes a continuing escalation of noise and chaos until finally Linda comes home and asks “Is it loud enough in here?” and that causes us all to pause and to realize how loud everything has become and then turn our volumes down.

As I said in my Chronicle letter this week, this is not about left or right, liberal conservative, democrat or republican, red state of blue state, this is about decency, this is about respect, this is about civility, this is about deciding that this is not the environment that we want to live in nor raise or children or grandchildren in. This is a moment in time in which we can stop and pause, and then turn around, repent, and begin to go another way. This is not about caving in or giving up the right to voice our opinion or our dissent. This is about saying there are appropriate ways of doing things and there are inappropriate ways.

The competing sides are never going to turn down their volume because they don’t think they can; to do so is to give the other side, even for a brief moment, the ability to be the loudest in the room, and so what needs to happen is that we all need to say “It’s too loud in here,” and it will only happen if we do it collectively. One or two of us turning off our TVs or radios, no longer subscribing to some publication, or not voting for someone won’t make much of a difference. It will probably help us and make us feel better, but society won’t be changed as a result, but if we all do it and ask five other people to do it, and they in turn ask five other people, then things will happen and a difference will be made, because if people stop tuning in then they will change, if people don’t vote for a candidate because of their behavior they will change. We can make a difference. We can make a difference and we as Christians have something to say because we understand the power of words to create realities, to change realities, to transform lives, and to revolutionize the world. The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Words matter.

Let us not let this tragedy pass us by, instead let us allow this tragedy to change us, to alter the way we live our lives, to alter the way we talk, and to alter the way we interact with our neighbors and all those with whom we come into contact. Words can inspire and words can tear down. Words can build up and words can destroy. Words can offer love and words can offer hate. Words can offer hope and words can bring despair. The words we use reflect the values we hold dear. Jesus said “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Words create realities, words shape lives. Words matter.

Let us not let this be just another tragedy that quickly passes us by but which does not fundamentally change who we are and what we do. This is our moment. This is our opportunity. This is our time. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “When evil people plot, good people plan. When evil people burn and bomb, good people must build and bind. When evil people shout ugly words of hatred, good people commit themselves to the glories of love.” He also said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

This is our time. The time is up for those who only want to spew hate and division. Their fifteen minutes are over. This is our time. This is our time to declare that words matter. This is our time to declare that we are tired of everyone trying to tear each other down. This is our time to say that the good news is for all people. This is our time to show the world a new way of being, a new way of living, a new way of speaking, a new way of interacting. This is our time, the time of hate and division are over. This is our time. This is the time for love and reconciliation, peace and understanding.

Confucius said it is better to light a candle than rant against the darkness. We have that candle; we have the light of the world, we have that light in the person of Jesus Christ, the word made flesh. This is our time. We have been silent for too long, but no more. The church has something to say about this. God has something to say about this. We have something to say about this. Words matter. Let us pledge that together we are going to make a difference in the world. St. Francis said, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” May it be so in our lives. Amen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Prayer for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

God of our forebears and our God, who has summoned women and men throughout the ages to be thy witnesses and sometimes martyrs for thee, we bow before thee this day in remembrance and thanksgiving for the life and legacy of thy servant, witness and martyr, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We thank thee for his time among us, for his words and for his deeds, and for the quality of his living witness which eases the pain of recalling the brevity of his years. We rejoice in his example of obedient faith and the scenes and stations of his life which inform and enrich our own faith journeys. And we beseech thee this day for the strength, steadfastness and courage not only to remember but also to obey.

We remember the footsteps of Dr. King: walking everywhere in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott; sidestepping snarling dogs, swinging billy clubs, and torrential fire hoses in Birmingham; charting a King's highway in the desert wastelands of bigotry and hatred from Selma to Montgomery, from Memphis to Jackson, from Chicago to Cicero; walking ever and always where Jesus walked among the lonely and the lost; the downtrodden and the outcast; those denied their dignity and robbed of their rights. Lord, guide and enable us to follow his footsteps that we too may be found in those places of danger, division, discord and sorrow where love is so desperately needed but so painfully absent. Let us hear and feel anew the words of the old freedom song beckoning us to faith commitment in community with our fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, saying, "Walk together children, and don't get weary."

We remember the gentle, patient courage of Dr. King, as he made the teachings of Jesus the literal rule for loving: refusing the temptation to render an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth but rendering instead good for evil; nonviolently offering the other cheek to those who, blinded by hate, taunted and loving those who chose to be his enemies and persecutors; following his Lord in showing the greatest love of all by laying down his life for others. Lord, give us the courage to live by what we say we believe and to accept the teachings of Christ as codes of conduct rather than mere words of inspiration.

We remember the restless and unrelenting commitment of Dr. King, as he refused to barter justice or compromise thy Word; insisting that the demand for justice, freedom and human dignity applies to all thy children in Southeast Asia as well as the South Bronx, and throughout the two-thirds of thy creation where injustice and oppression preserve the privilege of the other third. Lord, save us from the temptation to be satisfied with partial fulfillment and limited expression of thy truth. Help us both to love our neighbors and also to see the whole world as our neighborhood.

O God, fashion and mold our memories into a guiding vision for active discipleship, so that we may not only long and yearn for thy coming kingdom but may also recognize its arrival and presence in the risen Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, in whose blessed name we pray. Amen.

The Reverend Dr. Randolph Nugent
General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries

Friday, January 14, 2011

Speed Linking

  • As we approach the 150 year anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, here are some common myths about why the south seceded. I particularly like myth number one as this is something we still argue over.
  • Poor Tom Delay, he was tried in "the most liberal county in the country," although somehow it's located in Texas, and found guilty of a crime he committed but doesn't feel was wrong. He could have been sentenced to life in prison, but instead got only three years, and he won't start serving it until his appeals are heard. Do you think he realizes that he is being dealt with differently then the vast majority of people who serve their time while their appeals are being heard?
  • If you think credit being given out freely to anyone is a thing of the past, a three-year-old just got an offer letter for a credit card from American Express.
  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court just overturned two bank foreclosures because the banks did not prove, or even check, that they in fact owned the mortgages.
  • Don't like the government involved in health care? Simple fact is we already have "socialized" health care, and not just in Medicare and Medicaid, but in the military. Sec. Def. Gates is going after the $50 Billion a year spent on the military health care program. This could be a very interesting congressional fight. Where will each side come down?
  • Finally, a moment to warm your heart. When the microphone being used by a little girl singing the national anthem stopped working, the crowd stepped up and finished the song for her. There is goodness in the world.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Football Graduation Rates

Last night was the national championship game between Auburn and Oregon which represents the end of the college football season. In one of my rants I addressed the graduation rates of division 1 football programs, which I will address more in the future, but I thought I would take a look at the graduation rate of the football teams who participated in BCS Bowl Games.

As you can see some teams do very well, others not so much. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that participation in post season athletics should be tied to graduation rates. He was referring to basketball, but for arguments sake lets also apply it to football. What would be an acceptable rate?

I think the bottom has to be 50%. Graduating half of your athletes should be the minimum expectation. By that standard both Oklahoma and Oregon would be eliminated. But, is that really a good standard? Is 60% better? At that cutoff we begin losing more. What about 2/3 of athletes graduating (66%)? That seems to me like a reasonable expectation, but that would mean that only Stanford, UConn and Virginia Tech would remain

Now in some ways comparing these numbers to each other is tough because sometimes we are comparing apples to oranges, so what if we tied it to the graduation rates of the institutions were the students were attending. After all, if the school is only graduating 40% of its students then we should see that 60% of athletes graduating is really good. So let's look at football player graduation rates in comparison.

Now we could say that athletes should be graduating at or above the general population, but by that standard only UConn would qualify. It would also be unfair to Stanford which would have to graduate 95% of its players versus 58% for Arkansas.

Personally I would set a limit somewhere in the 60s as an acceptable target, although obviously I would not be opposed to going higher. In fact, maybe a formula derived on a running average every five years is better, so that as schools do better the expectation also goes up.

Making post season appearances tied to graduation rates would make sure that coaches and athletic departments start paying attention to what their kids are doing. It would also try to eliminate some of the hypocrisy in the claim that these players are "student-athletes." In the big programs at the big schools they are often students in name only. Let's change that.

The vast majority of these athletes will never play professional sports, and of those that do, only a very small portion will remain for more than a couple of years and make enough money to support themselves for the rest of their lives. That means that the only other thing they will have to fall back on is their education and their diploma so let's do everything we can to make sure they at least have that.

The current free for all simply doesn't benefit the student, although it certainly benefits the coaches, universities and the NCAA who make millions of dollars off of these athletes.

I got the information on athlete graduation rates here, and school graduation rates here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Words Matter

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is the phrase we always said when we were kids. It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. I think one of the reasons we said it was because we knew it wasn’t true but hoped against all hope that it might be. We know that words can in fact hurt, that’s why we teach our kids that saying some things is just inappropriate, and there are words we just don’t ever use. Why? Because we know they can hurt.

What we sometimes forget is that not only can our words hurt directly, but they can also hurt indirectly. When we spew anger and hate against other people, others can take those words as probable cause for action. We have seen this repeatedly in the shooting of abortion doctors. People’s rhetoric will say that these people need to be “taken care of” or even occasionally that they need to be killed, although the later is rarer. But even describing them as murderers and then also having as part of your rhetoric that murderers should be executed, gives some people enough justification in their mind to actually undertake violence.

Now when this has happened, those whose rhetoric has all along pushed this boundary have always said one of two things. First is that they, of course, never intended for this to happen that anyone who is reasonable understands it’s just rhetoric (although sometimes they also say they aren’t necessarily upset because, after all, “they were asking for it.”)

The second thing always said is, “I have the first amendment right to say what I think,” and that is certainly true. I am a staunch defender of the right to free speech, but normally what people forget is that with that right also comes responsibilities and consequences. It’s ironic that lately the right, which are normally the ones so strongly in support of “responsibilities”, are the ones pushing rights without responsibilities.

We do have the right to say what we want, but there are consequences. If I use the N-word I should expect that there are going to be repercussions to this, including being punched in the face or even losing my job. Just because I can say it doesn’t mean others have to like it, and if they don’t like it they have the right to voice their opinion on it as well.

In addition, the courts have continually ruled that there are limits to free speech. We do not have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. In addition, although I don’t know that the courts have ruled on this, we also don’t have the right to say to someone in a crowded theater, “You should yell fire” if we believe there is a reasonable chance that they might yell fire. I suspect that if that happened we might be held as an accessory to the crime.

Words matter. Rhetoric matters. As a minister perhaps I understand this better than most. I deal in words all the time, that is the primary way I communicate the gospel message. Indeed we are communicating “the word made flesh.” Every Sunday when I stand up to preach, or when I’m teaching a class, I hope that my words will make a difference in people’s lives and that they will act on my words and make changes in their lives. I try and choose my words carefully in order to be able to affect this change.

If someone goes out and sells all their possessions in order to work with the poor, because I have said that Jesus calls us to do that, I cannot later say “I didn’t mean for you to actually do that” nor can I say “I have the right to say whatever I want, what happens has nothing to do with me.” Of course it has something to do with me. A lot of this has to do with my position.

I have a position of power and authority and am therefore held to a higher standard. If one of the ushers were to say to you as you were leaving, “sell everything and go work with the poor” you would not take it as seriously as if I were to say it from the pulpit. Why? Because it is my job to tell you how you should be applying Jesus’ teachings in your lives. While the usher is certainly also a disciple and might have something to say, we just don’t look at them or listen to their pronouncements in the same way we do to preachers.

The same is true of politicians and pundits on TV. They have positions of authority and respect, whether they deserve it or not, and therefore people take what they say more seriously then others. Again, a grocery store clerk saying we need to “target” members of Congress and to “reload” is going to be taken very differently than when Sarah Palin says exactly the same thing. It takes on a different meaning because of her position.

After Saturday’s shooting, Palin is now quickly trying to backpedal away from her map and her comments. The map, which “targeted” Rep. Giffords has been taken off of her website, but through the magic of the internet is still available, a copy of which is poster here. Now Palin says the marks are not gun sight marks, which is certainly how I see them, but instead “surveying marks.”

Now that might be true. I have never used surveying equipment so I would never know, which is the point. If you are going to use language that can be very easily misinterpreted then you shouldn’t use it. Again, I have to be aware of this all the time because of my position and what I do, and politicians and pundits should be as well. What we say matters. The rhetoric we use matters and is important.

Now do I think that Sarah Palin is culpable for what happened? Yes and no. She is merely one of the hundreds of people whose rhetoric is over the top on both the right and the left. It is not that one side is clean and that it is the other side that is dirty (although that is what both sides will claim). They are both wrong.

Keith Olbermann is just as wrong as Bill O’Reilly, and I'm sure they will both be over the top in vitriol with what is wrong with everyone else today. We have come to a place where we are so saturated with ideas and opinions that in order to be heard over the chaos people need to be more and more extreme and give greater and greater vitriol to their speech, and I believe we are reaping the whirlwind.

I pray that if anything good is to come out of this event it might be that rather than everyone pointing fingers and saying how everyone else is wrong, that instead we might take the time to calm everything down and to seriously and honestly take a look at what is going on and decide to stop, to tone down our arguments, to begin to say that even if we have disagreements that we can get along. That just because we have different understandings and beliefs about the role of government or of the people, that does not mean that those who disagree with us are evil and out to destroy everything that is good.

We are not all communists, fascists, socialists or Hitler. We simpy have differences of opinion. We have to learn to agree to disagree and then find the common ground. We have to move past the position that we are 100% right and the other side is 100% wrong because when we are in that position then no comprise can ever be reached, and we need to do everything we can to stop the other side because they are evil, and evil must be stopped any way possible, up to and including by ending their lives.

Rhetoric matters. Words matter. I pray that we will take this as an opportunity as an entire culture to stop and reflect on what is going on, what we have been doing and to change. Let's tone everything down a notch, agree to disagree and return some civility to life, in the words of Jon Stewart, “for the good of America.”

Friday, January 7, 2011

Speed Linking

  • 1 in 7 seven residents in nursing homes are under the age of 65. Up 22 percent in the past ten years. As medical advances allow younger people to survive traumatic injuries these numbers are going to increase, causing stress on nursing homes and on their young patients.
  • Just made a visit to welcome Morgan, who was born on Monday, into the world. Here are a list of things that Morgan will never know.
  • Generation Y is expected to reshape the workforce in new ways.
  • Texas has exonerated more people using DNA samples than any other state. This week Cornelius Dupree was freed after serving 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Kudos go out to the DA's office for supporting this move and trying to overturn, in the DA's words, a "convict at all cost mentality." How do you transition back to life after losing 30 years?
  • A constant problem at most professional sporting events is drunk, belligerent fans. A couple from Kentucky are suing the Cincinnati Bengals, their vending company and the stadium for injuries sustained when two drunk fans, who continued to be served long after they were intoxicated, fell on them. Hopefully this is a shot across the bow to teams that something needs to be done. More lawsuits will inevitably follow.
  • When the initial claims were made that Brett Favre sexually harassed a Jets employee I said that we should be prepared to see more claims made as these were rarely isolated incidents. Turns out that is true, as two former employees of the Jets have filed suit that they lost their jobs when the complained about advances made by Favre via text.
  • Apparently the end of days are upon us. Apparently they aren't really good at reading scripture either.
  • The study linking Autism to vaccines has been discounted at every stage, including having 10 of its 13 doctors repudiate it because of where the money was coming from, but now it's been found it was fraudulent as the lead doctor falsified the data. He has been stripped of his medical license in the UK.
  • The US Constitution was read on the floor of the House this week. But they didn't read the entire document. If we want to recapture what the founders actually wanted shouldn't we deal with all parts, like the fact that slaves were only 2/3 of a person and that women couldn't vote? After all, it has to be judicial or legislative activism that undid the will of these very wise men.
  • A cross at site now designated as a war memorial has been found to be unconstitutional. The court did not yet say it has to be taken down. When are Christians going to realize that we shouldn't be turning our message over to others to control? It is our job to proclaim the good news, not the governments.
  • Ted Koppel writes that Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly represent the death of real news. I couldn't agree more.
  • Here are ten ways to get more out of your techonology. I have tried a couple of them myself.
  • Judy Miller, former reporter for the NY Times, who helped lead us to war by writing stories with false information, is attacking Wikileaks head Julian Assange for not verifying that the information he is releasing is true. Do you think she gets the irony?
  • After much fighting on the Hill, President Obama has signed into law a bill which helps pay for medical treatment for 9/11 first responders. Credit must go to Jon Stewart who used his bully pulpit to push this issue. Can you possibly tell me how you can be opposed to this bill? (and yes there were those opposed)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sports Rant, Part 3

Now it turns out that the players were told they had to recommit to play for Ohio State next year so that they could be punished for their transgression. The NCAA wouldn’t do it this year because too much money would be lost, but they can’t let them get off scot free can they? Apparently not, so they were pressured to come back for their final year of eligibility and leave, literally, millions of dollars on the table by not going to the NFL at the end of this year. Of course it helps that Ohio State plays a soft schedule for the first five games. Although they will miss the Michigan State game, the players will be back right for the beginning of the Big 10 schedule, so Ohio State, the NCAA and whatever bowl game they go to next year will still be sure to make a lot of money of these players.

I really, really hope that there is someone these players trust who will tell them to just go ahead and go to the draft and hire an agent (as that is the breaking point for the NCAA) and then let the NCAA come after them. What are they going to do? Honestly, what could the NCAA possibly do? They are never going to want to take anything to court, which they would have to do if they wanted to fine them or sue them in some way, because there is absolutely no way the NCAA wants to have anyone testify in court about how and why decisions are made the way they are. They simply cannot allow that to happen.

As much as I want these athletes to stay in school to get their degrees, let me say to them: Don’t let the university and the NCAA blackmail you into doing something that helps them immensely but will only hurt you financially if you have a career ending injury next year. They are not going to support you for the rest of your life. make a commitment to yourself that you will go back to school and complete your degree and then follow the example of the NCAA and Ohio State and take the money and run.

Here is a great story by Dan Wetzel on this issue. Pay particular attention to the contradictory quotes from the NCAA and the head of the Sugar Bowl.

But as long as I'm on the subject of students graduating versus the emphasis on winning, let’s talk about Miami firing their coach Randy Shannon. Shannon took a program mired in scandal (although this was nothing new) and also losing and returned them to winning, and more importantly winning cleanly. Compare their program to the University of Florida. Shannon was also graduating his players. ESPN said at the time that he had the third highest graduation rate of any program, behind Army and Navy.

Now I could not substantiate that claim. What I found was a 75% graduation rate, which isn't great, but is a lot better than many schools. In my search I found that it’s actually hard to find graduation rates in a really usable source. The NCAA does release this information, but to say that it is not user friendly would be an understatement. Of course they don’t want it to be user friendly because the truth is often not pretty. I did, however, find this breakdown from a Stanford blog of graduation rates. I strongly encourage you to take a look. This will be something I come back to at some future point, because the stats are pretty ugly. (Here are older numbers also from the same blog)

But, even though Shannon was graduating his players and also running a clean program, he was not winning national championships which is what they expect. It doesn’t matter if the players are getting arrested and not attending class, as long as they are winning then everything is fine. I really hope that he ends up someplace that respects what he can bring, but I believe those places are getting scarcer every day.

Ralph Friedgen of Maryland was also fired because he was not winning enough and also wasn’t courting those who buy up luxury suites. (He was also only graduating 60% of his players, although that had nothing to do with his firing.) When are we going to say that enough is enough?

Now if you want something to fire Friedgen for it should be for the fact that he was still throwing long passes when his team was up 43-13 in the fourth quarter of the Military Bowl. That is just plain and simple poor sportsmanship. If you want to fire someone, don’t do it because he’s not sucking up to your wealthy boosters, do it because he is not teaching his players good sportsmanship.

Each year the Big 10 is exposed when forced to play the best competition from the other conferences in bowl games, and yet year after year their teams continue to be ranked highly. Why is that? Is it simply based on history? At some point you would think this would end, but so far it hasn’t. It's time to realize that the Big 10 is not that great of a conference and begin to rank them accordingly. When they prove that they can play against the other conferences then they can get their "legends" and "leaders" status back.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sports Rant, Part 2

The recent decisions by the NCAA regarding players receiving unfair benefits have strained any sense that they have any credibility what-so-ever. First there was Georgia player AJ Green being suspended four games for selling his game worn jersey from last year’s bowl game. A jersey which he was given. Now Georgia sells replica jersey’s bearing Green’s number, and many universities also sell game worn jerseys, so the problem appeared to be that Green was cutting in on their take. After all, it was Green’s jersey, shouldn’t he be able to do with it what he wants? Apparently not, because that money belongs to Georgia and the NCAA.

Then there was Reggie Bush deciding to return his Heisman trophy because his parents had received material rewards for his time at USC, which is what the majority of the charges surrounded. Then Cam Newton was implicated in several issues, the main one being his father supposedly requesting $180,000 from Mississippi State for him to play there. The NCAA found his father guilty, but said they had no evidence “at this time” that Cam Newton knew anything about it and so he was going to remain eligible to play.

Now personally I find that story a little hard to believe, but let’s assume that Cam did in fact not know anything about it, can’t the NCAA still punish the father? Colleges have the right to deny people entry to college athletic events, but the NCAA did absolutely nothing. Apparently it’s fine if parents do these things as long as the athletes don’t. But wait, that was not the rule applied to Reggie Bush, so maybe there is something else going on here.

Had the NCAA stripped Cam Newton of eligibility then Auburn’s season would have fallen apart and they would have lost a lot of money, especially for what they will get for playing in the national championship game. The television networks also would have lost a lot of money. Now by keeping him eligible everyone stands to do very well for themselves, except for most of the “student” athletes involved.

One person has speculated that he would not be surprised if the NCAA were later to come out and find that Cam Newton did know and strip him of his eligibility, but here’s the thing. It won’t matter later because everyone will still have made all their money. USC and ABC did not have to give any of the money they made off of the 2006 Rose Bowl back to anyone. They got to keep it all, even with Bush stripped of his records. So keep that in mind as we move forward with this story.

Now we get into complete insanity. The NCAA found that five players at Ohio State were selling or trading some of their memorabilia, in particular in trading it, and their signatures, for tattoos. Again, by rules, this is a violation of NCAA policy. What the players told the institution and the investigators is that they did not think they were doing anything wrong because the items, such as rings and bowl paraphernalia was given to them and it belonged to them and so they should be able to do with it what they wanted. It is their property after all.

The NCAA disagreed because they said that by selling it they were clearly getting something that would not be available to other students. No one remarked about them getting these items in the first place. Weren’t they already violating at least the spirit, if not the letter of the law, by receiving these items? If I as a regular student wasn’t also being given a Big 10 Champion ring, then the players are already getting something not available to the average student, which is what the rule is about.

To show you the shear hypocrisy and absurdity of the situation, here is a list of the items being given to players who participate in this year’s bowl games. As you will see IPods and game systems, along with sunglasses, are pretty prevalent. Doesn’t this also constitute athletes receiving things not available to normal students? How is this different? And, if players were to take these items and to sell them, since they probably already have them anyways, would that be a violation? I’m sure the NCAA would think so, although if the coaches or boosters who might also receive some souvenir items would do the same thing they would not get into trouble. How does this make any sense?

Now the most ludicrous part of this whole thing is the penalty enforced by the NCAA. Rather than being suspended this year, when they actually did the “crime,” and being kept out of the Sugar Bowl, instead they will be suspended for five games next year. This is clearly about the money. If the NCAA had suspended five of Ohio State’s best players for the bowl game, including their quarterback, you can be assured that the Sugar Bowl would have paid the price in attendance and ratings, and that is not good for anyone with a financial investment in this game. And so instead the NCAA let them play.

This is so blatant that I am honestly surprised that more reporters are not doing their jobs and calling the NCAA out about this. The only one I have seen is Michael Wilbon who is consistently on the NCAA for the stupidity of their rules and their enforcement. What is even more shocking about this decision is how it compares to the Cam Newton ruling. Apparently asking for $180,000 to play is okay, but getting a free $100 tattoo is not. Or as one tweeter said, what the players should have done was to give the items to their father, or to Cam Newton’s father, and had them sell it because then it would have been fine.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sports Rant, Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to comment on sports and miscellaneous, so with the beginning of the New Year, now might be a good time. As it turns out as I was writing this I have a lot to get off my chest, so this will come in several installments. Some of these issues go quite a ways back.

It appears as if Brett Favre will be able to end his career without being suspended, although based on Jen Sterger’s attorney’s comments I would not be surprised to see a lawsuit come down the pike shortly. Apparently while Favre was not cooperative with the NFL the “forensic evidence” could not prove that the photos of the hoo-ha that Sterger had on her phone were from Favre. The biggest problem with this decision for the NFL is that Roger Goodell has now said, “if you don’t want to cooperate with our investigations you don’t have to. You can lie to us and be obstructionist, and the worst that will happen to you is that you will be fined.” That is not a great example to set up. Officially the case for the NFL is now closed.

Of course the NFL also said they were done with the Jets and the sideline tripping incident against the Dolphins, but have now stepped in and leveled a $100,000 fine. (Does anyone know where the fine money goes? I hope it is to a charity.) So I think it’s also possible that after Favre officially retires for the 50th time that the NFL might step in and do something so that it actually does not impact his playing career. Although Gregg Easterbrook notes in his column this week that in 7 or Favre’s last 10 years his last play has been an interception, fumble or sack. Not good stats.

Felix Hernandez won this year's American League Cy Young Award despite only having a record of 13-12. Now there is little doubt that King Felix is a great pitcher and that he pitched for a terrible team. There is also little question that I would love to have him pitching for the Yankees as he destroys us every time we see him. But doesn't winning mean anything anymore? I understand sabermetrics and what they bring to the game, but what about the simple fact that sports is about winning and losing?

Now many writers and fans said the win-loss record is overblown because he had such a historically bad team behind him and so they were not going to use that against them. But, by the same argument they were willing to say that what CC Sabathia and David Price did was not as impressive because they had good teams behind them. You cannot have it both ways. You can't hold a good team against a pitcher if you are not going to hold a bad team against him.

We certainly are not going to do the same thing for a manager. Don Wakamatsu was not considered for manager of the year. Instead he was fired before the season ended. Many people have said, "Imagine how bad their record would have been if Hernandez hadn't won them those 13 games." Well, maybe Wakamatsu, who was dealing with the same incredibly bad team, also contributed 13 more wins then they might otherwise have had. We still aren't going to name him manager of the year. Why? Because winning is important and it means something.

Now the other thing is that you cannot say the caliber of the teams or the pressure to perform were anywhere close to the same for these three pitchers. CC Sabathia and David Price both pitch in the toughest division in baseball. I believe the five teams in the American League East could be in contention for the title in every other division in baseball, and in most divisions they would win. That means that the competition they face on a day-to-day basis is much better than what Hernandez faced, which helps him with his other numbers.

CC also pitches is a hitter friendly park, and both Sabathia and Price were pitching in the heart of a pennant race. Pitching when your team's season is on the line is a lot harder to do then pitching when nothing is on the line, which is how Hernandez pitched most of the year. Like I said, Hernandez is a great pitcher, easily in the top five, and he destroys the Yankees when he faces them, but winning has to account for something. Is it a travesty that he won the Cy Young? No, and the world won't end, but reporters need to begin to swing the pendulum back away from the extreme end of sabermetrics and begin looking at what is actually happening on the field again.

As just one more example that winning is important. This year the San Diego Chargers are ranked first in the league in defense, and second in the league in offense. You would think this would get them a long way, but last week they were eliminated from the playoffs. The best the will finish is 9-7, and for a while when they were first in both categories they were under .500.

If it was only about stats, which is what fantasy sports has emphasized, then we should go ahead and award them the Lombardi trophy, which normally goes to the Super Bowl winner, name Norv Turner the coach of the year and name Philip Rivers MVP. We are not going to do that, however, because we realize that winning is important and if all we focus on is stats then we are truly creating a fantasy, it is not reality.