Category Archives: Man Cave

Staring Fear in the Face

I am not a risk taker.

I am Conservative Guy.  I am Mr. Play it Safe.

It’s to the point that I won’t even try new foods.  The other night someone offered me some asparagus.  I have no idea if I’ve ever had asparagus and I promise you I couldn’t tell you what asparagus tastes like.  I said, “No thanks, I don’t like asparagus.”

Not true.  To dislike something you have to try it first.

When I go to the grocery store I buy the same products every single time.  I even have my routine down.  It begins with the soap and contact lens cleaner, moves on to bread, frozen dinner section, cereal aisle, produce, beverages, meat, see you later.  There is never a variation.

Okay, sometimes I do it backwards, but that’s only if I’m feeling dangerous.

Food is only one example.  Growing up, all I ever wanted was to become a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.  I watched my ‘Boys every Sunday and dreamed of someday catching passes on the Texas Stadium turf.

My first chance to play real football came in seventh grade.  The gear was sweet.  I had never worn actual shoulder pads or buttoned up the chinstrap on my own helmet.  I took it all home, put on the uniform and went straight to the mirror.

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Real Men and Oak Trees

A comment exchange from a previous post got me thinking about an idea I first read in a book by Gordon MacDonald. I don’t remember the exact book and I really don’t even remember if it is, in fact, a quote by him. Nonetheless, the concept obviously stuck with me even if I don’t remember who actually said it.

A real man is, in many ways, a lot like an oak tree.

The wood of an oak tree is more dense than that of just about any other tree in the forest. This quality makes the oak tree one of the strongest and most hardy of all trees. Because oak wood is also high in tannin, it is extremely resistant to insect and fungus attacks as well. Without getting too deep into the science of tree hardiness, the gist of the matter is that oak trees are the mountain men of the tree world.

In its full glory, an oak tree is one of the most impressive looking trees in existence. It provides shade from the sun, shelter from storms, and it’s acorns are not only a great source of food for squirrels but they grow up to be mighty oak trees themselves.

The roots of an oak tree are extremely deep and extensive. A mature oak tree can draw up to 50 gallons of water per day out of the soil around it.

Because of the strength of its wood, the oak tree is one of the most useful types of timber known to man. Since the middle ages, people have been building impressive structures out of oak: palaces, naval ships, fine furniture, treasure chests… just to name a few.

However, despite the great strength of the oak tree and its hardy resistance to attacks from external pests, when an oak tree does fall, it is often sudden and without warning.

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UCO Sisters Beat The Golfing Odds

The game of golf is brutal.  It is a rage-inducing, mind-melting, often pointless endeavor.  The only thing worse than a bad round of golf is hearing about someone else’s good round of golf.

So if you are among the countless ranks of weekend hackers, or if you’re just the jealous type, read no further.

You won’t want to hear about the tale of the Bensch sisters from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Erica Bensch thought she had finally equalled her sister with her hole-in-one. They weren't tied for long. (courtesy bronchosports.com)

Erica and Lindsey Bensch play golf for the University of Central Oklahoma.  On November 9th, during a practice round at Kickingbird Golf Club in Edmond, Erica, a junior, and Lindsey, a freshman, each scored a hole-in-one.  Two sisters, two aces.

It happened for Erica on the 3rd hole, a 124-yard par 3.  The 20-year old stepped to the tee and hit a routine gap wedge.

“When it was in the air, my coach was hollering, ‘That’s in! That’s in!’, but I wasn’t sure,” recalls Erica.

Michael Bond is the UCO women’s golf coach and he is not to be doubted.  The ball landed on the green, took one hop and rolled straight home.

“It was shock,” said Erica. “I wasn’t expecting it.  My heart started racing, and a couple of guys lifted me up in the air.  There were lots of high fives.”

The excitement had barely died down when little sis grabbed her 8-iron on the 11th tee.  Lindsey, who already had a hole-in-one to her credit, remembered exactly what she was thinking as she sent the ball toward her target, 142 yards away.

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Real Men are Philosophers

A real man is a philosopher.

While it’s certainly important to be a man of action, a real man also takes the time to ponder the important questions of life.

Why am I here? What am I accomplishing? What’s important? How will I be remembered? How can we make the world a better place? Why is there suffering in the world? How is the world changing and how should we respond? Why is there a very distinct hierarchy (Taco Cabana, followed by Taco Bueno, followed by Taco Bell, followed by Taco Mayo) among fast food Mexican restaurants? What are the important ideas of my time?

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This Year’s Bedlam Is As Good As It Gets

With a gullet full of turkey and the anticipation of tomorrow’s Bedlam showdown, this weekend is simply the most wonderful time of the year.

The right way to welcome someone to the best day in Oklahoma sports (courtesy sportsgifts.com)

Houses will be divided, trash will be talked, and twelve months of bragging rights will be on the line.

It’s tough to find an Oklahoman who doesn’t care about this game.  But tomorrow, Bedlam will be foremost in the mind of a football crazed nation.  The game has the prime time slot on ABC and ESPN’s College Gameday is setting up shop in Stillwater.  I might make the journey to the land of orange if for no other reason than to give Erin Andrews my phone number.  No doubt, I’m exactly what she’s looking for.

OSU is in unfamiliar territory because there has never been this much at stake for the Pokes.  The program has never played for a Big 12 championship.  Beat the Sooners, and the Cowboys will do just that.  Not to mention OSU can secure the first 11-win season in school history and snap that pesky seven game losing streak to its in-state rival.

Ronnell Lewis and the Sooners crushed the Cowboys 27-0 in 2009 for OU's 7th straight Bedlam victory (courtesy Oklahoma Daily)

Pressure can do funny things to a football team, but the Cowboys have proven themselves in crunch time all year long.  The Sooners?  Well, not so much.  OU still hasn’t figured out how to solve the equation of a road game on prime time TV against a highly ranked opponent.  The win over Baylor was nice, but routing an overrated Bears team doesn’t mean the Sooners’ road issues have suddenly disappeared.

While the Sooners may have been victimized by expectations, the Cowboys came into this season without any.  They’ve been a looser bunch because of it.  When asked on a local sports radio show which of his players were playing over their heads, Mike Gundy named nearly every starter on both sides of the ball.  Can Bob Stoops make that statement about any OU players outside of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles?  I’m not so sure.

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Real Men and Crying

The post below was originally published on my blog on May 7, 2010… the day of my grandpa’s funeral.

"Wedding." Award-winning photo used by permission from Jeff + Jeanie at stu-di-o.com. Click photo to visit their site.

As I get ready for my grandpa’s funeral today, I’m reminded that a real man is not afraid to show his emotions.

As men, when we’re happy or excited about something, most of us will visibly and audibly celebrate. When we’re angry about something, we have no problem letting the world know. And yet, when we’re upset, hurt, or sad about something we often try to “hold it in” for lack of a better description.

While something could certainly be said about the degree of discipline it takes a man to hold in his tears, I would argue that it takes a lot more discipline to let them out.

Most men, if we’re gut-level honest with ourselves, would say that we typically don’t cry for one of two reasons. The first reason being that we don’t want to appear weak.   And the second? We just can’t make the tears come out no matter how hard we want to.

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The Marriage Crucible: How I Know My Husband Loves Me

Here's Mick in his "other-centered" mode, helping me clean out my summer garden.

The scene: Our little home on Harding Place, eleven years ago.  My muscles were so sore from moving scenery for our Spring musical dress rehearsal I could hardly get out of the car.  I had just pulled into the driveway, bringing the girls home from school.  So intense were my body aches that I asked the girls to manage dinner.  They were 8 and 12 years old; this was an unprecedented request of them and they looked at me like I had suddenly turned into an alien being.

“Uh, okay…” Rachel said, and she turned to Rylee.  “Let’s have macaroni and cheese!”

“I love macaroni and cheese!” Rylee responded.  And they headed toward the kitchen while I walked into my bedroom.  I sighed, took off my shoes, laid down on the bed and waited for Mick to get home.  I had tunnel vision from exhaustion and was concentrating very hard on our bedroom window.  “Get home.  Please…hurry and get here.”  I needed an intense rub-down with Icy Hot, some ibuprofen and a nap.  I looked at my watch while I listened to the girls in the kitchen.  I prayed that there wouldn’t be some sort of accident with the boiling water, and closed my eyes.

A few minutes later I heard the truck pull into our driveway.  I was completely immersed in self-centered thought as I counted the seconds until he opened the front door.  I heard him come in, say something to the girls and hear their report of, “Mom needs to talk to you.”  I saw Mick’s shadow on the wall as he walked into the bedroom, but I didn’t turn around to face him.  Instead I said, “Can you please go get the Icy Hot and work on my back and shoulders?  They’re killing me; I need some help.”

When he returned to begin his task I closed my eyes and winced.  It takes a while until muscles are worked enough to where they can relax and respond to the treatment.  Somewhere in-between “excruciating” and “sore,” I noticed Mick’s hands and arms were shaking.  Surprised, I asked him about it.  He said, “Well, we had to move three aisles of inventory in the warehouse today, all by hand.  I worked almost three hours overtime in order to finish the job, and I’m really tired.”

I began to cry.  I asked him to stop, and to lay down beside me.  I said, “Let’s rest a while together.  By the time we’ve got a little energy back, the girls will have dinner ready.”  I had been so focused on my own needs I hadn’t even assessed where my husband was.  Our universes had intersected with mutually difficult and physically taxing days that had put both of us over our ability-to-manage threshold.  Yet he was willing to help ease my pain without even disclosing what he had just experienced.

A few years later I was reading a book called, “Constructing the Sexual Crucible: An Integration of Sexual and Marital Therapy,” by David M. Schnarch. As I turned through the pages, I thought back to that time when Mick’s arms were shaking from fatigue. Although written about providing therapy for clients with sexual problems, the premise of the book was that a couple is initially immature and “unspiritual” in their relationship, but at some point grows mature and “spiritual;” they pass into a vulnerable and ‘other centered’ relationship that becomes so deep a mystery is revealed –  the mystery of what it means to be intimate with one another, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually.

He quotes Sebastian Moore (1985) frequently when talking about this shift into a deeper intimacy.  I love the passage so much that I’m going to end this post with Moore’s words.  All the best to you as you find those moments of self-exposure, interdependence, hope and spirituality with those you love…~ Red Dirt Kelly

***

…Desire reveals its true nature when it comes into the moment of decision, either for the new initiate of self-exposure that makes possible interdependence, or for the cowardice that overshadows our society.  Love is ‘desire, decided for.’ (emphasis added)

…Desire is most nearly itself when, asserting my own goodness which is its source, I pass from dependence to interdependence whose soul is hope.  Then is desire most itself, so then am I most drawn – no longer by the obvious charm of another, but by the mystery that brings us together enlarging  that desire into hope. (Moore, 1985, p. 30)

Moore, S. (1985). Let this mind be in you: The quest for identity through Oedipus to Christ. New York: Harper & Row.

Real Men Are Fighters

http://www.whitchurchandllandaff.co.uk/News Clippings.htm

A real man is a fighter.

He fights… for what’s right, for the people he cares about, for the power of love, against adversity, to make a difference. He fights… for the cause, for answers, for truth, for honor, for justice. He fights fires. He fights apathy. He fights for his life.

He fights in France and he fights on the oceans and the seas. He fights with growing confidence and growing strength. He fights on the beaches and the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets, and in the hills.

He never surrenders.

The strength of his hands may be required from time to time, but his fight is not physical. He does not fight for bragging rights or to prove someone else wrong. He does not fight for the sake of fighting itself. He does not fight in a fit of rage.

He fights for principles and values. For people, not things. He fights the good fight and though he may be fueled by passion, he’s bridled by experience and tempered with wisdom. He knows that the most powerful weapons in any fight are the ones that no one actually sees him use.

Real men are fighters.

P.S. Fighting in France has nothing to do with being a real man. I just thought this was a good opportunity to paraphrase Winston Churchill.

Stories Written in Blood

by Josh Bottomly

Not long ago my wife, Amy, posted a picture of my night stand on her blog.

It was a picture of the books propped up on my stand.

From left to right.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God.

Abraham Heschel’s God in Search of Man.

C.S. Lewis’s Quotables.

Eugene Petersons translation of the Bible, The Message.

And, N.T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone.

An anonymous blogger saw this picture and posed this question directly to me (and indirectly to all Christians):

Why do so many Christians just read Christian books?

My first mental response was of course immature, arrogant, condescending, and reactionary:

How dare you try and pigeonhole!  I peruse the Fiction and Literature section at Barnes and Noble more frequently than I do the Spiritual Devotion section.

I have a undergraduate and graduate degree in English literature.

You name a classic or contemporary author, and I’ll bet I have studied him or her.  Shakespeare.  Check.  O’ Connor.  Check.  Camus.  Check.  Kerouac.  Check.

But later, after I had calmed down, I sat down to think a bit about that anonymous person’s question.  It’s an appropriate question, really.  And it was probably not meant to stir up conflict. But conversation.

So after some reflection, this is how I responded to this blogger.

Simply put: I’m interested in reading any story that is written in blood.

Take East of Eden by John Steinbeck, for example. Now that’s a book written in blood. Who of us hasn’t felt an acute sense of displacement? It’s not that we are living in the wrong place; just the wrong way. Or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  I’ve got a son now and the thought of dying for Silas – not a iota of fear. But the thought of Silas having to live beyond my dying love – nothing but fear.

Any story then that struggles with what it means to be human, what it means to walk upright in a bent world, what it means to live within tensions and questions and doubts – that’s a story I want to read and participate in because it is written in the author’s blood. Whether it is written by a Christian. Or agnostic. Or atheist. Or Buddhist. Or Muslim.  Because all truth is God’s truth.  And part of the theology of common grace includes the animating belief that when we tell the truth about our experience of being human, regardless of our “worldview” or religious belief system, somehow, in some mysterious way, a “gleam of the evengelium”, as J.R.R. Tolkien argued, shines through.

J.R.R. Tolkein, smoking his famous pipe.

So I pose this contagion of questions for you to ponder – Christian or not:

What books have you read that are written in blood?

What stories have spoken and resonated with your deepest humanity?

What narratives have shaped the way you understand the narrative we live in?

No doubt, I’m always looking for a good read. And by good, I mean a story where the author simply has the courage as Fredrick Buechner puts it,  to “open a vein.”

Real Men and Picking up the Tab

Men eating dinner while aboard the Atlantic Clipper. (Photo by Bernard Hoffman//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

When dining out at a restaurant with another person or group of people, a real man is just as likely to pick up the tab for the people he’s with as he is to graciously accept someone else’s offer to pay. A real man doesn’t argue over who’s going to pay. He either pays for his own meal, pays for both his and the other party’s, or if the other party attempts to pay for his meal, accepts their offer without making a fuss.

There’s no middle ground here.

There’s nothing masculine about arguing with another person over who gets to pick up the check after dining out. It’s like dancing. When it comes time to settle the check, the first person to speak is the one who gets to lead. If you’re the first to speak, then you get to lead. If not, just go where the other party takes you without stepping on their toes.

This really is a finer (and in many ways lost) art of manhood, I think. To continue with the dancing metaphor, it’s the difference between looking like a couple of junior high kids at the 8th grade sweetheart dance and Gene Kelly. The latter pulls it off with grace and style while the former just fumble around the floor trying not to let their hands fall below the predetermined, chaperone-approved line on their partner’s back.

The next time you’re out to dinner with another person, either pick up the tab, pay for your own meal, or graciously let them pay if they offer before you speak. Don’t try to appear chivalrous by going back and forth with them only to fold a few seconds letter with the same end result.

I learned this from my dad who likes to pick up the tab for other people. I’ve seen him pick up the tab over and over again throughout my life and I’ve rarely seen another man accept it without resorting to the obligatory give and take, back and forth debate before letting him actually pay. I’m not sure, but these types of scenarios may even offend my dad. At the very least, whether it offends him or not, the men who dicker back and forth with him about it just end up looking silly… at least in my humble opinion. And yet, on those occasions where I’ve seen other people offer to pay for my dad’s meal, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed him argue with them. He just rolls with it… usually.

I mean, think about it, what’s at stake here? At most (if you’re at a fancy place like Taco Cabana or some other swanky joint like Sizzler or Jack in the Box) we’re talking $50 to $100 maximum. In the grand scheme of life, being able to pick up a $50 or $100 tab, while generous, is not necessarily some great feat of manhood. In fact, just about any dude with a credit card has the ability to do this at will.

Just as picking up the tab for others doesn’t make a man more masculine, the converse is also true. Letting another man pick up your tab when he asks to does not make you any less of man. It’s not like the man who offers to pay your tab thinks you can’t afford the $50. If he thought you couldn’t afford to pick up your own tab, he wouldn’t have invited you to the Taco Cabana. He would have invited you to Taco Mayo, where even the poorest man can eat like a king.

The man who offers to pick up your tab is doing so out of a spirit of generosity. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my brief stint as a professional raiser of funds, it’s to let people who want to be generous, BE GENEROUS.

Well… now that I’ve beat this issue to a pulp, I only have one other thing to say in relation to picking up the tab. No matter who pays, NEVER EVER skimp on the tip. There’s nothing that screams, “I am not a real man!” any louder than leaving a lame tip.

15% is the standard so unless your waiter or waitress is just a complete jerk, never leave less than that. In fact, in keeping with the generosity theme, if your service is half-way decent and the person serving you is even half-way friendly, why not leave a 20% tip and make their day?

The next time you dine with someone else and they offer to pay for your meal, all you need to do is respond with a simple and authentic THANK YOU. Instead of putting up the obligatory and, in most cases, contrived fight, just make a mental note of the occasion, enjoy the rest of the meal, and the next time you dine with that person, remember to take the lead and offer to pay for their tab before they have a chance to speak.

No Man is an Island Jack

In 1986, Robin Williams starred in a movie of great acclaim, Club Paradise. The title of this post, a line from that movie, is my homage to the film and to the fact that real men need other men.

This line has stuck with me through my life mainly because of its humor. There’s a scene in the movie where one of the characters tells Robin Williams (whose name is Jack) that, “No man is an island, Jack.” Another one of the characters hears this line, doesn’t realize there’s a comma in there or that it’s a famous quote, and immediately makes a song out of it. “No man is an island, Jack.” becomes “No man is an Island Jack” and Island Jack is born.

While the Club Paradise movie may or may not be the best inspiration for a blog post on what constitutes a real man, that famous line from it certainly is.

While times of solitude are certainly important for real men, a real man knows that he is not an island and that he needs friendships with other men if he’s going to make it in this life.

The problem with our culture in the U.S. is that too many of us are caught up in the false notion of independence as a virtue. If you don’t believe me, just take a few minutes and think about the title of the document that kicked off the revolutionary war that started our country. (The funny thing about the Declaration of INDEPENDENCE was that it actually required a great solidarity among men to make it happen and carry it out to fruition… but we forget that today sometimes.)

In today’s world, and for the last couple hundred years, men have been taught to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and to make their own way. It’s the whole, “Go west young man, go west!” idea played out to its worst extremes.

And yet the reality remains that men need other men. The earliest people to inhabit this earth knew this instinctively. As a matter of fact, for most of human history, with the last few hundred years being the exception, people lived together in tribes. In the grand scheme of things, the idea of the independent and self-made man is a relatively new (and largely unproven) idea.

Life is going to be difficult at times and the people who depend on us need us to be strong men who go to bat for them and get us through those times. When life goes to crap, we only have so much inherent strength within us that we can draw from to make it through. When that strength is depleted, where will you go to replenish yours? Don’t put that on the woman in your life. It’s not her burden to bear. No, when life requires more strength than we as individual men can muster, we need to draw from the fellowship of other men who have been through whatever it is that’s depleting our strength.

When life get’s tough, we need other men who know us to the core. We all have friends who know us to some degree, but when life requires great strength, we need men who know our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Men who will call us out when they see us on the verge of making a colossal mistake. Men who will lift us up when we fail and stand beside us in adversity.

Do you have men like that in your life? Does your life look more tribal or more nomadic? If you answered nomadic, I encourage you to find other men who also realize that life is a journey and that journeys are not meant to be taken alone.

I think this idea is part of what made the men of the Greatest Generation so great. The men of that generation went to war together. They fought the enemy and the elements together. At times they slept back to back in foxholes at night supporting each other. They never left another man behind. And despite how the horrors of war impacted many of them in negative ways, they developed a great appreciation for the value of fellowship with other men.

I want to be the kind of man who has deep bonds of friendship with other men. I want men in my life who know my struggles, who know my strengths, and who aren’t afraid to run out onto the battlefield and pull me back to safety when they see me wounded. And I want to do the same for them.

No man is an Island Jack but a group of islands is an archipelago… think about it.

*Thank you Jimmy Cliff for the sweet reggae.

You can find more “Finding Manhood” essays here.

Wading Through the Wackiness of College Football

It’s a good thing I don’t gamble on sports.  I’d have better luck picking Powerball numbers than predicting the outcome of college football games much less how the season is going to play out.  This year on the gridiron is like a science experiment gone wrong.  There is no hypothesis to be made, because there are no trends, no consistent data, no rhyme, no reason, only random chaos. 

Baylor QB Robert Griffin has the Bears bowl eligible and in first place in the Big 12 South.

How else can you describe what’s happening in the Big 12?  Baylor, yes Baylor is in first place in the Big 12 South.  This is the same Baylor that’s been a doormat of the conference for more than a decade.  Eight games into the season and the Bears are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.  Right now, Baylor looks every bit as good as Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State.  Maybe better.  I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. 

Try to wrap your brain around this:  Oklahoma blasts Iowa State 52-0; the Cyclones then dominate Texas in Austin, the same Texas team that just came off a convincing road win at previously unbeaten Nebraska.  Those same Huskers that were locked up by the ‘Horns, go to Stillwater and hang 51 on the undefeated Cowboys. 

But the wackiness isn’t limited to the Big 12.  The number one team has now fallen in three straight weeks.  That hasn’t happened since 1960.  Maybe the most bizarre part of it all is the fact that a computer gets to decide how an eventual champion will be determined.  Ever try arguing with a computer?  I’ve yelled at, sworn at, and pleaded with my computer, but it can’t be reasoned with.  The folks at the BCS obviously think computers are smarter than humans.  I won’t win that debate, so let me just make some general comments and predictions that will surely go wrong because they come from my feeble human brain.

WHAT HAPPENED TO OU AND OSU?

Sooner fans, let me be clear.  Your team was badly exposed and outplayed the other night in Columbia.  OU was not, is not, and won’t be the best team in college football this year.  To think otherwise is simply delusional.  The Sooners were not worthy of the number one BCS ranking, and there is a laundry list of reasons. 

Landry Jones and the Sooners got sacked by Mizzou.

First, the best team in the country doesn’t turn the ball over twice inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.  Second, a team that can win a national title is a team that can rush the quarterback effectively and tackle in the secondary.  The Sooners can do neither.  Third, the quarterback for the best team in the country doesn’t continually pull this Jekyll and Hyde act.  Landry Jones is one player at home, and a complete mess on the road.  Staring down your intended receiver is not a trait of the leader of the best team in the land.  Fourth, the last time I checked you are the University of freaking Oklahoma.  With your history and tradition, you are one of the powers in college football.  Why in the name of Bud Wilkinson can’t you find someone who can kick a 30 yard field goal?  Please tell me why the coaching staff isn’t bringing in one of the country’s best high school kickers year after year?  A big time football program like the one in Norman has no excuse for this.  None.  Fifth, and maybe most importantly, the best team in the country doesn’t quit.  How else do you describe what Bob Stoops did when he elected to punt with two minutes left?  No, you’re probably not going to win the game, but what kind of message does punting send to your players and to your fans?  It says we’ve lost, we’re done, let’s get this over with please.  

Nebraska ran away from OSU, piling up 540 yards in a 51-41 victory.

The message to Oklahoma State fans is much simpler.  If your team is ever going to contend for a South title or a conference title, you must have a defense.  The last decade in Stillwater has seen a carousel of coordinators with very limited results.    Right now OSU ranks 97th in the country in total defense, but 3rd in total offense.  Sadly, it’s the same song, different verse for the Cowboys.  Oklahoma State hasn’t had a defensive player drafted in the first round since Kevin Williams in 2003.  There just isn’t enough top-notch talent on that side of the ball coming through Stillwater.  Put a halfway decent defense with the Pokes’ offensive talent, and there’s a team I will believe in.

WHO WINS THE BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP?

Maybe it’s too soon after the weekend, but I have very little confidence in OU being able to run the table.  The Sooners are abysmal on the road and tough tests remain in Waco, College Station, and Stillwater.  On the other hand, I can’t pick OSU because the meat of the Cowboys’ schedule is still ahead, and did I mention their defense?  Texas is done, and Baylor might just be the best team in the South.  I’m going to repeat this sentence three times: “Baylor wins the Big 12 South.”  Every time I say it, it sounds more absurd.  I’m not ready for it.  Sorry Bears, I’ll go with OU by default. 

Is Bo Pelini the man to lead the Huskers back to prominence?

My gut tells me Nebraska is the best team in the conference, and I see a massive let down for Mizzou when the Tigers invade Lincoln this week.  I love Bo Pelini’s coaching style and his intensity, no way the Huskers are dropping two straight at home.  Nebraska takes its first step back to being the program it was in the 90’s by winning the Big 12 championship.

WHICH TEAM IS REALLY THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY?

Not an easy answer, but I believe Alabama is the most complete team I’ve seen.  Sure, the Tide lost to South Carolina, but the loss was early enough in the season for Nick Saban’s team to recover.  Alabama has two of the criteria I’m looking for in a title contender.  Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson makeup the best backfield in the country, and if Saban will just stick with the ground game for four quarters, the Tide can roll all the way to a championship.  ‘Bama also plays great defense, a defense that will be meet it’s toughest test when Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa on November 26th

Auburn won’t get past Alabama, and I don’t see Oregon going unscathed either.  The Ducks go to USC, have to get by Arizona at home, then survive the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvalis.  Chip Kelly has done a phenomenal job with that team, but a one loss Oregon team isn’t going to pass a one loss Alabama team.

I can’t convince myself that Michigan State is for real (maybe if the Spartans win at Iowa this week), and even though Boise State and TCU deserve to be highly ranked, I can’t label them as the best because of the competition they face. 

‘Bama plays Boise for the national championship and the Crimson Tide, improbable as it may sound, finds a way to win back to back titles. 

(I can’t wait to come back to this column after the season and see just how far off I was!)

WHO WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY?

Sadly this award has become a trophy for the best player on a front running team.  The number in the loss column matters more than all the other stats combined.  That said, right now it’s Cam Newton’s to lose.  If the Auburn quarterback leads his team to victory in Tuscaloosa, there’s no way he’s not hoisting that bronze statue.

WHICH TEAM IS MOST OVERRATED?

Missouri.  Major props for beating a mistake prone and highly overrated Oklahoma team on your home field, but I’m not ready to buy in to the Tigers just yet.  Mizzou’s non-conference schedule featured a long list of puff pastries, and again the toughest game to date was at home.  I’ll maintain that OU lost that game more than Mizzou won it.  I’d also like to see Blaine Gabbert complete a pass over 15 yards.  The Tigers have a chance to prove me wrong this weekend at Nebraska.  Win in Lincoln and you’ll get rid of the overrated tag in a hurry.  But for now, I’m not a believer.

WHICH TEAM IS MOST UNDERRATED?

Utah.  Nobody is talking about the Utes even though they’re undefeated.  Kyle Whittingham’s team is 14th in the country in total offense and 5th in total defense.  In other words, the Utes are getting it done on both sides of the ball.  You want style points?  Utah is beating up the opposition by an average of 35 points per game.  This team shouldn’t be under the radar because of what its accomplished over the last few years.  The Utes haven’t lost a bowl game under Whittingham and have two BCS bowl victories to their credit.  If the Utes get through this current gauntlet of games (at Air Force, vs. TCU, at Notre Dame), there’s no way they should be ignored.

Take that computers.

6’4″, 29, 220

Editor’s Note: For two months now, we’ve featured “Finding Manhood” on our Man Cave page as one of our partnership blogs we recommend.  We’re pleased to announce that beginning each Wednesday, we’ll now have a feature from their “Best Of” archives to share with our community.  Finally…regular Man Cave stuff AND Sports stuff!  I loved this post, and am glad it was chosen to kick off this weekly segment – Red Dirt Kelly

***

It could be said that I am a big college football fan. It could also be said that I’m an even bigger University of Oklahoma (OU) college football fan.

My dad started taking me to games in Norman when I was a little kid and that tradition has continued into adulthood. In those rare occasions when I’ve been unable to make it to Norman for a game that is not televised, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to be a part of Bob Barry’s play-by-play color commentary on the radio for the better part of my life.

While there’s a lot I could say about Bob Barry and his style of radio announcing, the one thing that has stood out to me over the years is the way he introduces the players at both the beginning of the game and as they check into the huddle. After saying a player’s name and usually his hometown, Bob most always follows it with three numbers. For years I had no idea what the numbers were until one day a good friend cleared it up for me.

Each time a new player comes on the field, Bob says their height, age, and weight after announcing their name and the town they are from. Because I didn’t realize what that was until later in life, I always find it really amusing anytime I hear it now. For example, if I were walking out to the huddle for my debut as the starting left tackle for the University of Oklahoma, those listening to 107.7 KRXO FM in the greater Oklahoma City area would hear: “Michael Mitchell subbing in for the Sooners from Oklahoma City. 6’4″, 29, 220.”

Amusing though I find it, those 3 numbers really do matter in the game of college football… sometimes (see story about Darren Sproles below). If you tell me a guy’s age, his height, and his weight, you’ve told me a lot about him as a football player. I can generally gauge by his age the level of maturity and in-game instinct he’s going to have on the field. Obviously, his height and weight tell me a lot about his physical development and strength… how much power he’s going to pack. I like Bob Barry’s system because I like making snap judgments and it gives me a very quick, very simple shortcut to size a guy up.

As men, many of us are a lot like Bob Barry in that respect. We carry around numbers in our heads that are important to us and that we compare to the numbers of other men we know.

As we get older, the numbers we carry around in our heads are no longer our height, age, and weight…though for some men all three of Bob Barry’s numbers remain a big part of their identity.

And while it’s likely that you probably don’t care too much about your own height, age, and weight (unless you’re extreme in any of them to the point of medical danger), you probably carry around other numbers that you think ARE important.

For some men, it’s our salary. The more zeros at the end, the better, right? For other men, the number that matters is the number of letters we have after our names. For some of us, it’s the square footage of our homes or the number of toys our kids get on their birthdays. For others, it’s our golf handicap. And for some of us, it’s the dollar amount of our retirement account. (I do enjoy a good rhyme.)

No matter what numbers you carry around in your head, the fact remains that as men a lot of us have a hard time being comfortable in our own skin without comparing ourselves to others. We place way too much value on numbers that really don’t matter.

The problem with the numbers we carry around is at least two-fold.

First, much like the game of football, no matter what number we use from which to base our evaluations of ourselves and comparisons to other men, there’s always going to be someone with a better number than us. In football, it’s usually the left tackle.  But even the biggest left tackle always has someone coming up behind him that is: A) younger; B) probably taller; and, 3) heavier.

Maybe my income has 6 zeroes in it. (It doesn’t), but if it did, there’d be someone else out there who has 7. The same goes for my golf score (I don’t play), the number of fish I caught the last time I fished (less than my limit), the size of my home, the value of my investments, the horsepower of my car, my kid’s IQ, etc. etc. etc. The list could go on forever. And just like in the game of college football, there will always be someone with a better number.

The second way our numbers as men are similar to Bob Barry’s college football numbers is that often times they are both misleading and flat-out DON’T MATTER. While age, height, and weight are a quick way of sizing up a college football player, often times they are actually not the most important factors. We’ve all seen those guys who dominated the game of college football despite seemingly meager numbers. As an OU football fan, the name Darren Sproles comes to my mind. Sproles, who now plays on Sundays for the San Diego Chargers, is listed at 5′ 6″ and 185 pounds. He’s beefed up since his college days.

In 2003, despite his tiny stature, Sproles (who played for Kansas State) shredded the undefeated and highly touted OU defense in the Big Twelve Championship game leading to a 35-7 upset. Since then, he’s gone on to have a pretty good career in the National Football League. And yet, if you look at the guy on paper, his numbers betray him. And while I’ve never met the guy, I get the feeling that the one thing that REALLY sets him apart is a number that is impossible (at least for us non-medical professionals) to judge… that is, the size of his heart.

As men it’s really tempting to get caught up in the game of evaluating and comparing ourselves to other men based on whatever numbers we, or they, have deemed important. However I’ve recently started to meet and read about men that don’t fit the mold in this area. Men who may or may not have impressive numbers, but who just flat-out don’t give a damn.

These are men who evaluate themselves on intrinsic things that can’t easily be sized up with a quick number. Things like the amount of passion with which they face life, the way they treat other people, their own level of self-discipline, etc. These men have a sort of strength that draws other people to them. Call it resiliency, call it the mountain man persona, call it whatever you want to call it – but men like this don’t need numbers.

Despite the fact that these men probably have impressive numbers to boast, they find their value in simply being what they were created to be. Living life with gusto. Holding doors for little old ladies. Trying risky things even if it means failing more than they succeed. Taking care of their physical, mental, and emotional health. Taking care of their families. Making the decision to live a life of discipline. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day just because it’s difficult.

That’s the kind of man I want to be. Until then, I’m 6’4″ 29 220.

***

Michael Mitchell is a new daddy and the husband of a friend.  I’ll let him introduce more of himself as he sees fit.  Afterall, I don’t want to be puttin’ up some wrong “numbers,” yo! – RDK

Laying Blame for College Sports Scandals

As a sports fan, I am no longer shocked or surprised by anything.  I’m guessing I’m not alone here.  Athletes get arrested at an alarming rate.  Rarely does a day go by without hearing of some sort of cheating, whether its performance enhancing drugs or marital infidelity.  Suspensions, violations, and probations are now expected during the course of any professional or college sports season.

Manny Ramirez got busted for taking a female fertility drug.  Yawn.  Brett Favre allegedly sent pictures of his privates to a woman while playing with the Jets.  Whatever.  Ben Roethlisberger had an “encounter” with a college student in the bathroom of a bar.  Double yawn.  Tiger Woods led a secret life, and slept with who knows how many women in who knows how many states.  I give it a shoulder shrug and a raised eyebrow.  Even if Lance Armstrong, the last hope for integrity and truth in sports, is proven guilty of doping, will we really be blown away?  I might bat an eyelash, but I’m not going to be floored.  In fact, my initial thought will probably be something along the lines of, “that took longer than I expected.”  Sad but true.

Scandal has become synonymous with sports.  It’s like acne on a teenager, it’s assumed.  We’re not nearly as appalled at the sports landscape as we used to be.  When was the last time you really gasped at a scandal?  It’s been a while hasn’t it?  There’s no more surprise, no more shock, no more asking “how can this be!?”  American sports fans are desensitized and apathetic toward all of it.

Former NFL agent Josh Luchs confessed to paying players (photo courtesy of SI.com)

 The latest example came this week when Josh Luchs, a former NFL agent, admitted to Sports Illustrated that he broke NCAA rules and regularly paid college football players.  In his first person article, Luchs says he gave hand outs to players in hopes they would sign with him.  I appreciate Luchs’ candor and the glimpse behind the scenes of what really goes on between agents and college players, but am I stunned by any of his revelations?  No. 

This is simply another kind of behavior that has come to be expected in the world of college athletics.  At this point, if you’re like me, you’re almost completely numb to any kind of NCAA violation.  Big schools cheat.  Small schools cheat.  Coaches have impermissible contact with recruits.  Players take money.  And the world turns.

Sure, there have always been schools out there breaking the rules, but today these violations are so pervasive it’s hard to find a university that doesn’t have a blemish on its record.  Our alma mater may cheat, but as long as we’re winning, it’s pretty easy to look the other way. 

I think I’m ready to come out of my scandal induced coma, and propose some real changes.  Not because I’m angry or disappointed or betrayed, but because I’m just so sick and tired of hearing about it.

There is plenty of blame to go around here, but a good chunk of it lands right in the lap of the NCAA.  It’s an archaic, poorly run bureaucracy that needs to be fixed.  When I think of the leaders of the NCAA, I think of a group of old men sitting around a table in a dimly lit room.  They are wearing glasses, suspenders, and bow ties, and they’re churning out new rules so quickly that their typewriters are smoking.  They are so far removed from what life is actually like on a college campus.  They know nothing of what a coach has to deal with or what it’s really like to be a “student-athlete.”  And they don’t care.

Listen up NCAA…there are TOO MANY rules.  How much time, effort, and money do you spend as an organization just investigating infractions?  I’m willing to bet it’s a bunch.  Why?  Because you’re creating rules faster than you can enforce them. 

Why not lighten up on the recruiting rules?  There are hundreds of rules coaches are expected to follow, and I can’t blame them for slipping up from time to time.  There is a limit to the number of phone calls and number of texts a coach can send.  There are only certain times of the year when recruiting is “open.”  It’s kind of like deer season.  There are certain periods when the recruit can sign a letter of intent.  There are rules for how a coach can recruit a high school junior and different rules for a high school senior.  There are rules for when and how a recruit can take a visit to a campus, and there are rules for what can and cannot happen during that visit.  Try reading the NCAA recruiting guidelines for division one football.  Go ahead try it.  It will make your head spin. 

A simple logo for a complex organization (courtesy ncaa.org)

The NCAA could do away with most of these rules.  The NCAA will tell you there must be a level playing field, and the kids have to be protected.  Remember the NCAA really cares about the kids.  Since when is a high school kid incapable of turning off his phone or throwing away his mail?  Let coaches pursue the kids, and let the kids decide when and how they want to.  Less red tape would mean fewer violations, fewer probations, and maybe coaches could get back to coaching.

Not only do these silly rules cost the NCAA money to enact and enforce, they cost the universities millions of dollars every year.  Every school now has to hire a compliance staff to keep up with the ever-changing NCAA legislation.  These compliance officers are paid to make sure players are eligible, see that no violations are occurring, and educate the coaching staffs to the new rules.  Have these compliance staffs solved the problems?  Are there fewer violations now than there used to be?  No and not even close.

This isn’t to say that some rules are needed.  I don’t think players should be allowed to take money from agents or have contact with agents.  But it’s the agents who deserve the brunt of the punishment, not the players, and certainly not the entire program.  Should the current players on the USC football team really suffer because Reggie Bush accepted benefits from an agent?  It’s absurd.

Why should current Trojans be punished for Reggie Bush's transgressions? (courtesy renovomedia.com)

The NCAA seems to think more regulations will equal cleaner programs.  It’s a nice concept, but it’s wrong.  There are more regulations than ever, and there’s more cheating than ever before.  Everyday brings a new headline.

UConn Men’s Basketball Team Admits Major Violations, Florida Football Misuses Facebook Commits Four Minor NCAA Violations, NCAA Accuses Michigan Coach of Violations, Memphis Forced to Vacate Wins from Final Four Season, NCAA places Alabama football on Probation, Trojans Hammered for Lack of Institutional Control…

And on, and on, and on we go.

I’m not naive enough to think that cheating can be eradicated from college sports or any sport for that matter.   Coaches and players will continue to come up with ways to cut corners and gain a competitive edge.  Those that do should be punished.  However, I’m exasperated by the callous nature of the NCAA and the complete refusal of this institution to look inward and recognize that widespread changes need to be made.  I don’t think we have to be so far away from cleaning up the landscape of college athletics.  I’m frustrated by the stubborn refusal of an organization to change.

I think I will remain mostly numb but I don’t want to feel this way anymore.  So please NCAA, please help me change.  Help me to see violations as the exception, not the norm.  Help me to care, help me get rid of the cynical sports fan inside of me.  That way if I am shocked, it will mean that scandal is rare instead of prevalent.  I want to feel again, I want to care, I want to be the sports fan of my youth.  Please NCAA, look deep into the blackness that is your soul, and try to change so I can change.

A Kairos Moment at Culp’s Hill

by Josh Bottomly

Down through the centuries, theologians and mystics have spoken of divine experiences in human time as kairos moments.  By definition, a kairos moment is an event used by God to impact one’s life.  It involves an intersection of sorts between the horizontal and vertical, the humdrum and holy, where, for a fleeting moment, one experiences God’s nearness in his life and God’s hereness in his world.

Kairos moments have happened infrequently in my life.  But none was more pivotal and life changing than the karios moment on an obscure battlefield at Gettysburg.

The months leading up to this event had been colored by deep darkness.   It had been almost two years since my wife and I first visited the fertility clinic.  Now the “I” word was not some distant and remote diagnosis.  It was a sobering reality.  By this time, my prayer life had been reduced to a whimper of faith.  The silence of despair grew firm within my chest.  On the brink of a spiritual breakdown, I prayed as a desperate man for a break through.  Little did I know how God would answer my prayer.

Culp's Hill

While attending a leadership conference at Gettysburg, one night I was approached by Marty, a conference leader.  He asked me if I wanted a personal tour of Culp’s Hill, a famous battle during the Gettysburg campaign.  I grabbed my Mountain Gear fleece;  I was definitely up for it.

After snaking our way up through hills exploding with green April foliage, we stopped at a tiny knot of cedars surrounded by large boulders and scattered tree logs.  “This was the Union army’s extreme right position,” Marty exclaimed as he pointed to a breastwork of cobbled stone covered in moss and dirt.  “It was here that the fate of the Union army largely hung in the balance.”

As Marty began to lead me around the markers that jutted up around the hill, the whole scene suddenly transformed before my eyes into a dramatic amphitheatre of war.

The main battle commenced at dusk on July 2, 1864.

As darkness moved in amongst the thick trees at Culp’s Hill, the NY 137th disbanded in a thin line from the saddle down to the lower hill.  Below the hill, gathering in a swale, and quickly filling up many trenches was a Confederate brigade led by General Steuart.

About that time, General Meade of the Union Army sent orders to Colonel David Ireland, the twenty-five-year-old commander of the NY 137th.  General Meade’s orders were short and exacting.

“Colonel Ireland, hold the line at all costs.”

Soon Steuart’s men moved into position behind the low stonewall in rear of the 137th.
They quickly unleashed a staccato of gunfire.  Before they knew it, the 137th was taking heat from front, right flank, and rear.  Their position, as Marty described it, was “like a finger, surrounded on three sides.”

At about that time the 71st Pennsylvania regiment showed up.  They were backups sent by General Hancock to assist the 137th.  But seeing Ireland’s men taking heavy musket fire from all directions, the 71st fired off a volley or two at Steuart’s men and quickly withdrew from the line.  Their position was untenable.

Union fortifications built to ward off the Confederates.

With half his infantry dead, resources depleted, and reinforcements in retreat, Ireland decided to order one final defensive tactic:  commanding his regiment to stack up granite rocks to form a stone wall.  There, entrenched on the saddle back between the hills, Ireland waited with his men.

As Marty showed me where Ireland had burrowed in with his men, I tried to put myself in the young colonel’s shoes.  I got down on my knees behind the stonewall and peered out into the thick darkness with only the silhouette of the overhanging limbs visible.  I wondered how Ireland held his men together as trees splintered from canon fire, bullets pinged off granite rocks, and hot metal tore through sinewy flesh.  I suddenly felt like I could hear the shrieks of young men as they breathed their last breath and their souls slid out of their bodies.

Effects of Union shot and shell on Culp's Hill - photo by William H. Tipton.

Somehow through the long and unrelenting night, Ireland and his men found the strength and fortitude to stymie every Confederate charge up the hill.

At around three a.m., Steuart’s men suspended their attack due to complete lack of visibility and thus an inability to determine who was who.  They feared they were shooting and killing their own men.  As their attack subsided, the 137th found renewed strength and hope as the 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin showed up with reinforcements.

Had the Confederates known the 137th was the end of the line, they could have advanced toward the Baltimore Pike and overrun the Union army, changing the outcome of the battle at Gettysburg, probably turning the tide of the whole Civil War.

But the line never broke.

After Marty finished telling the story, I stood in complete silence, as I suddenly felt like Culp’s Hill was becoming holy ground.  I didn’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice.  But as the wind rustled through the Pennsylvania birch trees and I stood against the cobbled traverse, I sensed somehow that God was near.

A scripture came to mind, one that I had memorized early in my life.

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

~Isaiah 50:10a

For two years I had endured what St. John of the Cross called the oscura noche, the dark night of the soul.  During that time, I felt like Job—confused, doubtful, and befuddled by God’s seeming absence and deafening silence.  My prayers were punctuated by sighs and groans.  I came closest to God in my questions.  I wondered not whether God existed but if God knew I existed.  Did he know my pain?  Did he see my suffering?  Would he respond to my cry?

As I walked the hallowed grounds at Culp’s Hill, I began to pray.  Specifically, I echoed Peter’s prayer: ‘I do believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).  I confessed to him that I felt like I was living within a precarious space between two parenthetical opposites: one being faith, the other being doubt.  The bitterest pill I felt I had been forced to swallow involved watching Amy suffer and hurt and not knowing how to palliate her pain in any way.

In that moment, though, as the moon rose high into the starless sky and the leaves turned silver, I felt that God was near.  For so long, God had seemed distant and remote, like a satellite.  Sensing God’s closeness now, I cupped my ear and leaned into the silence.  What I heard filled me with a renewed trust that the night would give way to the day.  And somehow, in some way, against all odds, pressed in on all sides, he would hold the line.  Like Col. Ireland and the NY 137th, Amy and I would see the first gleam of dawn burst through the darkness.  We would feel the sun on our faces again.  We would hear a new word heralded through the clouds:  a new day had arrived!

~~Note:  Josh and his wife Amy documented their journey, struggles and resolution to travel to Africa and adopt a child in their book, “From Ashes to Africa.”  This post is a revised piece from that book.  For more information visit http://fromashestoafrica.com/

From a White-Skinned Father to a Black-Skinned Son

Josh and Silas, November 2009

I am a white-skinned father with a black-skinned son.

A little over a year ago, my wife, Amy, and I adopted our son, Silas, from Ethiopia.

Silas turned two in December.

Today our conversations tend to revolve around our favorite snacks – yogurt and lemon pound cake at Starbucks – and favorite TV characters and movies – Elmo and Ratatouille. We also squabble very little these days. Sometimes Silas will take a swing at me when I take away the Wii joystick. And other times he’ll treat the cheese sandwich I made him for dinner like a Frisbee.

One day, though, Silas will want to talk about other things.  Like the color of his skin. And my skin.   And his mother’s skin.   And pictures and events and people and dates he finds in his history textbook.

There are some historical dates I don’t want to broach with Silas then. August 12th, 1955, for example.  That’s the day Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy, was brutally lynched in Mississippi by white, southern, “Christian” men.

Then there is September 15th, 1963. That’s the day when four little girls were killed by a white supremacist bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Or April 4th, 1968. That’s the fateful day Dr. King had his hope-filled voice silenced by a sniper’s gun.

But then there are days in America’s history I can’t wait to explain to Silas.

Days like December 1st, 1955, for example.  The day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. That small, defiant “no” reverberated out into a large, defiant “no more.”

There are other days, too. Like August 28th, 1963. The day Dr. King delivered his famous message, “I Have a Dream.” It was a day unlike any other day. It was a day of dreaming of another kind of America.

And then there was November 4th, 2008.  Obama’s presidential victory.  And then there was January 20th, 2009.  Obama’s inauguration.

These are dates I look forward to telling Silas about – not as a student of history, but as a participator in making history.

Baby silas
Baby Silas

And I will tell Silas this: whether one voted for Obama or not, one could not argue that it was a significant symbolic moment.  And a storied moment with deep biblical resonances.  From hundreds of years wandering in the wilderness of prejudice and oppression.  To now the new days of exploring the “milk and honey” land of equality and opportunity.

Undoubtedly, MLK glimpsed the Promised Land from a distance.  Like Moses.  Like a dream just beyond his grasp.  But Silas, you, and others of your skin color will experience this land as a blessed reality.  Like Joshua.  And the nation of Israel.

I can only pray that this new land for you will shimmer with the topsoil of fresh possibility, and contain in its seedbed the promise of renewed dignity.  But, Silas, there are still weeds trying to choke out these verdant seeds.  For though the “color line” W.B. Dubois spoke of has been broken in America’s political establishment, it still exists in America’s religious establishment.  95% of the evangelical church, for example, still remains divided along the color line.  Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr.’s truism stills rings true today:  11 am on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.  Perhaps, though, Silas, by the time you come of age, that small, subversive 5% of the American church will have grown and spread through the body of Christ like a lush vine.

Voting though won’t bring this change.

Only Spirit-led repentance will.

I can only pray that you discover these seeds pods of repentance bursting within my heart.  And your mom’s heart.  And your grandparents’ hearts.  And in the hearts of all of those who you know that call themselves Christ followers.

I am reminded of observing MLK Day last year.  You, your mom, and I celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with our adoption community at the Queen of Sheba, a local Ethiopian restaurant.  On that special day, our dear friends, Eric and Tara, received their referral picture from Ethiopia of their soon-to-be-adopted baby boy, Malak. That night we laughed and cried over Malak’s picture, ooing and awing at his large black eyes and his luminous smile.

Later that night as I lay awake in bed and reflected on that festive evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if in fact Dr. King were alive today, would he approve of couples like us and the Silvestres adopting black children. I also thought about how far we have come, from an age of colonialism, where Africans were our slaves, to this new post colonial age, where Africans are now our sons. And I wondered if Dr. King could have even dreamed of such a day when such transformation was possible. Who knows really? But it makes me wonder if at the Queen of Sheba, if just for a fleeting moment, with our bellies full of freshly baked bread, and sweet Ethiopian wine on our tongues, and with you in our arms, and Malak’s picture in front of our faces, if we did not glimpse even if for a moment, the future community of God, the eschatological days when the old age of hatred and racial division will be truly over, and a new age of love and racial harmony will have begun.

As I closed my eyes to sleep, I suddenly recalled Dr. King’s words spoken days before he was assassinated.

“The end is reconciliation;

the end is redemption;

the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

And remembering these words, Silas, I thought to myself, Perhaps the end has already begun.

-Josh Bottomly

Editor’s Note – this article is reprinted from Relevant, an online magazine. It was published as a Martin Luther King Day feature dated Monday, January 19, 2009.  Josh is the Director of College Counseling at Casady High School in Oklahoma City.  He coaches basketball, is a husband and now a father of TWO children from Ethiopia. Silas has a little sister.  She joined the family in June of this year.

Beyond Red

by The Howard

*Disclaimer: All facts reported in this article may only be facts to me and could have nothing at all to do with actual history.

You could say that I grew up in the red hills of northwest Oklahoma between Buffalo and May.  I never actually lived there, but have spent a lot of time in the area and have occasional, random opportunities to go back.  Not as often as in the past, but on occasion I get, or take, the opportunity to go.

Take last Memorial Day for instance.  My brother and I took off the Thursday prior and ran the gauntlet of Waynoka, Buffalo and Laverne leaving silk petals behind as we went.  We had a great time – took along my tattered Atlas & Gazetteer in an effort to get from place to place and back home again without straying onto a highway.

We weren’t completely successful missing the highways but we sure killed a lot of time!

My latest northwestern jaunt was for business to an area south of Gate, Oklahoma.  I’m assuming Gate is so-named because it is just inside the Oklahoma Panhandle, serving as the gate to “No Man’s Land.”

You have to love a place called “No Man’s Land.”  Texas didn’t want this 38-mile wide, narrow strip of land.  Kansas was restricted by geography and treaty from claiming it.  So, it was pinned onto the collective of unassigned lands fated to become Oklahoma.

What I found south of Gate was surprising and a little irritating. At least for a while.

You see, for at least 120 feet below the ground surface there is nothing red.  No “redbed” as the old-timers like to call the red shales and sandstones.  No red silts or sands such as what comprises the red hills outside Buffalo.  No red clays like those that cover much of the state.  Just light brown sand, gravel and a little bit of gray clay.

This geological footprint makes for an interesting drive; it’s like the undiscovered Little Sahara.  There are what appear to be hills but on closer inspection are discovered to be sand dunes rolling right into the Beaver River.  And the visage of these sage covered sand dunes…I couldn’t help but be reminded of Teletubby Land.  My son loves it when I sing the Teletubby song.  He’s now twelve years old, and was never as big a fan of the Tubbies as I.

I didn’t actually see a child’s face in the blazing hot sun (as in Teletubby Land), but after prolonged exposure I’m sure I heard giggling!

Laurie's Cafe in Gate, Oklahoma

By the way, if you ever go through Gate, stop for a cheeseburger at the local café.  They’re pretty good; I’ve had several over the course of two weeks.  And the special on Thursdays is fried chicken.  It must be good because it’s the only building within, say, thirty miles that has more than four people in it.  Every table is filled on Thursdays!

Driving home from these sage-covered dunes, I began to ponder red dirt and the Red Dirt Chronicles.  Oklahoma isn’t all red dirt but red dirt is a common bond.  It is a bond that’s unites us in this geopolitical jigsaw puzzle called Oklahoma.

I think about all the eco-diversity in Oklahoma…I believe we have six distinct eco-regions, depending upon which source you read.  Beyond red, we are a diverse mixture of urban and rural cultures and backgrounds.  But we are united by the wind and the red dirt carried upon it.

It’s good to explore Oklahoma!