Friday, March 30, 2012

Opportunities abound as Easter approaches

This is an exciting time of year. Though it has felt spring-like since February, spring will hit its stride as we head into April.

All the great aspects of the season will be on display for us. Along with nature’s beauty, we will have lots of options when it comes to filling our time. This is primarily because of the longer days of sunlight, but not everything is tied to that.

However, as April gets started, Christians around the world will have the chance to take part in that religion’s most important holiday. Easter is just around the corner on April 8.

The importance of this holiday cannot be overstated. The holiday commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ following His crucifixion. Simply put, Christians believe this is the most important event in world history.

All aspects of the religion point back to this event. Without it, the religion would collapse like a house of cards. The religion would be just another false faith, and the followers of Jesus would be wasting their time.

While those sound like harsh statements, it is the truth. If Jesus had not been resurrected, He would not have fulfilled what he told His disciples. Jesus told them this would happen, and if it had not, He would have been just another false prophet. Therefore, Christianity without the Resurrection would be like ice cream without the ice or the cream.

Currently, the holiday is a little over a week away. At this point, there has been little build up to it. There have been some observances, but compared to Christmas, the lack of anticipation for Easter is noticeable.

That is not meant as a knock at Christmas. Recognizing the birth of Jesus is very important, but our society has taken the holiday and trivialized it to the point that it is hardly recognizable. The spiritual aspects of it have been ground into a fine powder by many.

This has not happened to Easter, and perhaps this is why the build up to it is not the same. Businesses have not developed a way to make billions of dollars off it so it has been left alone to a certain degree.

Still, the holiday deserves more attention than it receives. Because of this, Christians have a tremendous opportunity. Simply by taking the time to take part in the various commemorations in the coming week, they can shine a bright and positive light on why these events are observed.

Sunday is considered ‘Palm Sunday’ by many. This commemorates Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem when palm branches were strewn before Him. Of course, many of the people who cheered Him that day were likely among the ones who cried for His crucifixion only days later. This is a vivid example of human nature, and how people can turn on others in an instant. In this case, many who viewed Jesus as someone who could liberate Jerusalem from Roman rule turned against Him when the winds of change blew. However, that is a story for another time.

Just taking the time to ponder the circumstances of ‘Palm Sunday’ or ‘The Last Supper’ (later in the week) can cause Easter to have a more meaningful impact for you personally. It really does not take that much effort. We have the world at our fingertips on-line. How difficult is it to at least ‘google’ these events and read about them?

Like most things in life, the next week or so is what we make of it. This time can be just another week for all of us. Or it can be a time when we stop and consider this amazing part of history.

Let’s make a good decision.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My picks for the Final Four (revisited)

Now that we know what teams will be in the Final Four, it is time to compare them to the teams I originally picked back on March 13. Back then, I picked Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri and Kansas. Despite all the bracket-busting upsets, I think I did well.

Three of my picks made the Final Four (Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas). Missouri's upset back in the second round destroyed that bracket for me, but I did pretty well every place else. So, if somebody followed my picks and bet their life savings on it, they are sitting pretty right now. If a person did not listen to me...well, maybe they will listen next time. By the way, I do not advocate gambling. I only advocate listening to me when I make picks.

I like Kentucky to win the title, but their semi-final game against Louisville should be exciting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Backing Pat Summitt

As the basketball season winds down, there has been much speculation about whether this will be Pat Summitt’s last season as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team.

A couple of weeks ago, some members of the media made it sound like a foregone conclusion that she would be stepping down. Summitt recently said that she has not given it much thought, and her immediate goal was to get her team ready to compete for another national championship.

Of course, the reason for this speculation is her health. Prior to the start of the season, she revealed she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Since then, her approach to coaching the team has shifted with her assistant coaches taking additional responsibilities.

Still, coaching a high-level program like Tennessee’s is extremely stressful even if responsibilities get shared more. Because of this, there has been great concern about its impact on her condition. Summitt’s interaction with the media has been greatly reduced so it is difficult to get a close look at her on a day-to-day basis.

The season itself has been something of a rollercoaster. After starting strong, her team wavered and was, at times, frustratingly inconsistent. The team uncharacteristically lost eight games during the regular season before getting it together and winning the Southeastern Conference tournament.

This inconsistency led many to speculate whether this new approach was good for the program. What it really demonstrated was just how high Summitt has set the level of excellence.

As I write this, the team is 26-8, which is a record that many programs would love to have. Despite the inconsistency of the regular season, the team played good enough to earn a number two seed in the NCAA tournament. Considering the circumstances, this should be described as remarkable. However, when a coach wins eight national championships, the expectations of everybody become almost unreasonable and any dip is interpreted as decay.

While there is a lot of interest in this situation, Summitt should be the one who gets to call her shot regarding if or when she will step down. The decision should not come from the media or the fans or the university administration. She has contributed too much to the University of Tennessee for this decision to be treated any other way.

Despite the ups and downs of the school (both athletically and academically), Summitt has been a rock. She has been a constant source of integrity. She has been loyal almost to a fault and has influenced a generation of young people (both female and male) in important ways.

When it comes to athletics, people like her do not come along every day. In an age where we see new scandals constantly, she has run a program above reproach. Schools like Ohio State, Miami, and USC would kill for a coach who could bring such integrity to their schools.

She has single-handedly built her program out of the dirt. Many people can coach, but not many can be creators in the way she has been. She has been a visionary not only in developing her program at Tennessee but for women’s sports in general.

‘Legend’ is an overused word, but it fits here. She is that. As a graduate from Tennessee and a fan of her program, my primary concern is for her health. For all she has accomplished, I would hate to watch her take any unnecessary risks.

She has earned the right to go out on her terms. However, I hope those around her are counseling her in a straightforward and unflinching way.

There is no other way when dealing with this situation.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Quote of the day: John 3:16

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -- John 3:16 in the Holy Bible.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Peyton Manning and the decline of loyalty

Loyalty is a commodity that seems in short supply these days. As our society becomes more and more focused on materialism, we see constant examples of how people can be discarded so somebody else can make a little more money.

I do not want to sound naïve. In the marketplace, the whole point is to make money. The employers we work for will not have a company for long if they do not turn a profit. I understand that.

However, it is still difficult to watch when people have dedicated decades to an organization and then get shown the door simply because the winds of change are blowing.

Perhaps the most ruthless examples of this happen in professional sports. As much as people love the National Football League, we must understand that player contracts are not guaranteed in this brutal sport. Basically, players can be dumped regardless of how many years are left on a contract. A recent example of this was when the Indianapolis Colts released quarterback Peyton Manning, who had been part of the team for 14 years.

Manning missed all of last season because of a neck injury. However, doctors have proclaimed him healthy and in the last few months his rehabilitation has been going smoothly.

The sticking point with him remaining with the team was a $28 million bonus he was set to receive as of March 8. The Colts decided they did not want to abide by the contract that was negotiated in good faith with Manning so they let him go.

I know the question those reading this want to ask: Isn’t $28 million entirely too big a bonus to be paying a football player? I do not believe so. The Colts signed this contract with Manning, and I do not believe it was too much to ask that they abide by it.

Manning is one of the most marketable players in the league, and his value to the team in the last decade and a half allowed the Colts to make tons of money off him. Before Manning went to the Colts, they were a losing franchise that nobody paid attention to outside of Indiana.

I do not believe it is a stretch to state that the Colts multi-billion dollar stadium would not have been built if not for Manning playing for the team. He was that valuable, but now he is gone.

We should not shed many tears for him because he is extremely wealthy and will land on his feet. However, we are all vulnerable to the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude that the Colts showed him.

This is because no matter how much our employer says they need us or how important they say we are to their plans, they will abandon us if it helps their overall goal.

We have seen this repeatedly happen in the last few years as millions lost their jobs and unemployment skyrocketed above nine percent for a while. People with decades of service to employers were booted because their employer needed to restructure.

For better or worse, people derive a lot of their self-worth from the occupation they have or the company for which they work. This makes us especially vulnerable when the economy slows down and many of us are thrown into uncertainty.

More than anything, situations like these remind us that the most meaningful roots we put down probably should not be with who employs us. It should be with things that have lasting value and will stay with us when times are both good and bad.

God and family should be where our focus is. There are not many things more reliable than these.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My picks for the Final Four

It took a lot of sweating and gnashing of teeth, but I have finally arrived at my Final Four picks for the men's tournament. I'm going with Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas, and Missouri.

That's three #2 seeds and one #1 seed. I'm not exactly going out on a limb in picking Kentucky, but I did hesitate a bit after they lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. Still, I can't see a better team in the entire field, and I expect them to win the whole ball of wax.

I've liked Missouri all season, and I'm not going to back off them now. They are in the same regional as Michigan State, but the Tigers should be able to outscore them if they meet.

Ohio State is in the same bracket as Syracuse, but I simply do not trust the Orangemen for some reason. I'm also taking Kansas over North Carolina for the same reason. I don't trust the Tar Heels.

So, there you have them. Read them and weep.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Behold, the glorious screw bean

According to the 'Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary' published in 1969, a screw bean is a tree or shrub of the mimosa family bearing spiral pods used as fodder. It has nothing to do with a screw eye, screw jack, screw pile, screw pine, screw propeller, screw thread, or screwworm fly.

Now, go impress the others in your office or home with this knowledge.

Yes, go do it now while the inspiration is hot. I'll be here when you get back.

The role of The Monkees in pop music history

When pop star Davy Jones recently died, it caused me to pause and ponder the role The Monkees played in the development of modern pop music.

Jones was one-fourth of the pop quartet that had its greatest popularity in the 1960s. Though the group was the vessel through which some memorable music was produced, it was also the object of scorn and ridicule from many in the pop music establishment.

The circumstances of the group’s creation fed into this ridicule. ‘The Monkees’ was a television show that followed the ups and downs of a struggling musical group. The show was clearly developed as an extension of The Beatles’ film ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’

Unlike The Beatles, The Monkees were not a real group. They were four actor/musicians who were cast in roles for the show. They were hatched in a laboratory on a Hollywood soundstage and clearly had no musical credentials as a band.

When the show hit the air, demand for the music on it went through the roof, and according to one source, The Monkees eventually sold 65 million records during their career.

This instant success created resentment from some, and the group received the ultimate insult of that time. They were labeled as ‘plastic.’

At the time, it was quite a controversy, but with the benefit of 45 years of hindsight, it really should not have been that big a thing. If something like this happened today, it likely would not cause most people to raise an eyebrow.

The Monkees were a triumph of marketing, and today, marketing is often the king bee when presenting music to the public. The Monkees were attractive and charismatic young people who connected big time with their target audience. Isn’t that the normal approach these days? It certainly seems that way with most of the music coming out of Nashville.

The Monkees music was harmless and lightweight. It was not in the same universe as other bands of that era. However, this does not mean it was bad.

The group used songs written by some of the best songwriters at that time. Songwriters such as Carole King and Neil Diamond contributed several songs to the group, some of which were big hits.

Diamond wrote ‘I’m a Believer’ which is probably the group’s biggest hit and most well-known song. King co-wrote ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ with Gerry Goffin, and it was also a big success.

The bottom line is that if The Monkees are taken in the proper context in which they were meant, we quickly see they were good entertainment. If The Beatles and Bob Dylan represent the meat of the 1960s music scene, then The Monkees were sugary sweet pastry like a doughnut.

While a steady diet of doughnuts is not always good for us, they do have their place. In the same sense, The Monkees have their own place. Their music was pleasant and satisfying.

While many view music as art that must be taken with the utmost seriousness, it does not have to be that way all the time. The band’s critics back in the 1960s lost sight of this fact.

This is understandable in some way. Pop music was fighting for its credibility back then to be taken seriously as an art form. Therefore, the pre-packaged approached Hollywood used to create The Monkees had to have been horrifying to them in many ways.

Still, we have to be sure not to take ourselves too seriously, and The Monkees music helps us not to do that.

As for Davy Jones, I am sorry for his family’s loss, but I am glad he played a role in leaving us a lot of good music.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gas price anger will cause President Obama big problems

It is only the early days of March, but gas prices are already hovering around $3.60 a gallon. We often associate price spikes like this with the summer vacation season, but this is not the case this year.

There are many words I would like to use to describe this situation, but unfortunately, this is a family-based blog and profanity is not used.

And, believe me, I would really like to use those words. Every time I fill up my tank, I get dizzy as I watch the numbers spin on the gas pump. It is like watching some weird kind of slot machine that I know always stops with me being the loser.

For those expecting an analysis of the situation, prepare to be disappointed. I am not interested in digging at the root cause for these high prices. This column is only about expressing frustration.

We have heard all the excuses. Some say the high prices are because of tensions in the Middle East caused by Iran. Others say it is the fault of speculators. Others say it is the greedy oil companies.

The fault probably lies in all those excuses. However, the bottom line is experts do not expect the prices to come down soon. Actually, the worst is yet to come as prices are expected to surge above four dollars a gallon. There are some who predict prices could reach as high as five dollars.

For a culture that depends so much on automobiles, the coming months could be grizzly for most of us. Transportation costs will continue to take a big wet bite out of our budgets, and money that could be better used elsewhere will continue to go into our cars.

For all the losers in a situation like this, the biggest loser could be President Barack Obama. At times like this, the public tends to take its frustration out on the person living in the White House.

Like George W. Bush before him, many have been looking toward Obama for direction on this issue, and so far, many have been disappointed. However, how much impact can a president have on gas prices?

Based on my knowledge, not a lot. Still, a president is like the quarterback of a football team. When the team wins, the quarterback gets too much of the credit. When the team loses, he gets too much of the blame. The same goes for a president.

Well, our team is currently losing on this issue so the president should expect criticism of him to continue. Unfortunately for him, this is a presidential election year. Because of this, the Republican nominee is guaranteed to have an issue in which to criticize him that will resonate with the public.

High gas prices impact everybody. It impacts citizens, but also companies see higher transportation costs. They will not just eat those costs; they will pass them along to you and me. Expect higher grocery prices because of this.

Also, people will not travel as far if they get to take a vacation this year. Even simple pleasures could take a pounding if gas prices continue to climb.

Basically, we have nobody but ourselves to blame for this situation. We have set our culture up to be heavily dependent on gas, and when others play hardball with a resource like this, all we can do is smile and pay.

Of course, it is a forced smile. By the end of the summer, we will all be masters when it comes to sarcastically smiling.

We will be smiling, but we will not mean it. It is nothing to be happy about.

Contraceptiongate hijacking important political debate

Our nation has a thousand political and economic problems, but the most passionate debate in Washington right now centers around birth control. Nice job, everybody. Rome is burning, but our primary focus is on this? Special kudos to professional gas bag Rush Limbaugh for throwing way too much gas on this fire. I don't like his style.