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State of the Blogger Address

Most blogs tend to be personal in nature. While this blog’s focus is usually not on me or my life, the fact that I have aimed this blog at friends and associates means that it’s reasonable to assume at least a few might want to know how my bride and I are doing.

If, on the other hand, you’ve stumbled onto this blog and know / care nothing about me and my personhood, then feel free to skip on to something more interesting. I’m not so pretentious to think that someone who doesn’t know me already would naturally be interested to hear all the details of my life.

* * *


For those of you who haven’t heard, in July of ’05, my wife Holly and I made the difficult decision to follow what we felt to be God’s leading to move across the country from Chicago to Portland, Oregon.

It was a pretty difficult decision, for a lot of reasons. Fundamentally, we just didn’t want to do something that monumental unless we were sure that God was calling us to do it. And on the practical tip, we really weren’t trynna move again.

‘Cause when you’re in your mid-twenties, you end up moving a bunch of times, in and out of dorms, in and out of parents and relatives, in and out of apartments with friends. And after a while, it gets old.

Plus, the last time I had moved it was into Holly’s apartment, which was in a nice cozy brick building a few blocks away from where I worked. And having just gotten married in October of last year, it was the first time I had lived in a fully-furnished apartment with nice things. For most of my adult life, my furniture consisted of janky borrowed couches, cement blocks, my computer, and a bunch of books and CDs.

So it was somewhat reluctantly that we began, in August, the process of packing our things into boxes so that they could be carried by strangers and put into a storage facility, while we drove our ’96 Dodge Intrepid 2500 miles across ten different states. Good times, lemme tell ya.

I’m now the vocal director for Irvington Covenant Church, the church my father started about 17 years ago. (Hard to believe it’s been that long.) Right now I’m working a corporate temp job that might become more permanant, and Holly is in transition between jobs, although this newest one she’s excited about because it’s part time, so she gets to spend more time holding things down on the home front. Which is definitely good for both of us.

Holly and I aren’t completely settled in yet, because this fall has been the busiest fall in the history of my family. A funeral, two weddings, new church, new jobs, and a host of other dramatic subplots have meant precious little downtime at home to do things like open boxes and hang curtains.

Anyway, now we’re enjoying life in Portland. It’s a great change of pace from what we experienced in Chicago. Even though there are things we miss terribly about Chicago (go White Sox!), we’re glad to be in the right place at the right time. We’ve got a cozy apartment across the street from a city park that features a rose garden so beautiful it’s hard to believe it’s actually in the hood.
And Holly still can’t believe that these low-30s temps are the coldest it’s probably going to get in Portland. She keeps asking me, “So… when do we get winter around here?” We both miss the snow, but only in a nostalgic, aesthetic sense. We don’t really miss bitter cold, howling winds, or the nasty traffic snarls that Chicagoans have to endure every year.
Rain we do get plenty of, but when I think of it as a free car wash every few days, I enjoy it a little better.


Anyway, I guess that’s enough for now. For more details, email me or give me a call at five oh three, seven five four, seven four eight zero.

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Legacy is the measure of life’s impact

Kerrion, Carrington, and Kennedy are children. Blessed children. Blessed because they are primary beneficiaries of a powerful legacy.

Yes, they receive the benefits of economic affluence and exposure to A-list celebrities on a regular basis. And yes, they’re in a prime position to have any musical ability nurtured and developed in a way most young musicians could only dream of. But those things are tiny compared to the legacy of honesty and integrity demonstrated by their father, gospel superstar Kirk Franklin.

Franklin was a guest of world-famous TV talk guru Oprah Winfrey recently. But instead of promoting his new album, Hero, or engaging in some other fluff story, Kirk Franklin appeared to discuss his freedom from addiction. Which, in and of itself is not newsworthy, since just about every legendary performer has had to struggle with some obsession that got out of control. But Franklin’s struggle was not with drugs or alcohol, but with a subject many consider to be taboo in the church: pornography.


Porn in the U.S.A.

Porn has gone so mainstream that most celebrities either laugh it off and pretend it’s not a big deal or deny any knowledge or involvement. And statistically, Christians are just as susceptible (if not more so) to the lure of porn, because sexuality in the church is always so hush-hush. Even though it’s been a cancerous scourge for so long, people in the church are slow to talk about it.

Even with guys like Craig Gross and Mike Foster, creators of XXXChurch.com (tagline: “The #1 Christian porn site”), who have made it their mission to go around and talk about porn and its effects on society, it’s still a touchy thing. XXXChurch has been denounced by many conservative Christians, probably for no other reason than the idea of putting “XXX” in front of the word “church.” These Southern Californian believers have been at it since 2002, traveling to porn trade shows (with their wives, of course) with a message that God offers something better. The very idea of two Christian men having a porn outreach is somewhat jarring, so instead of hammering their morals home with fire and brimstone, they use subversive humor to lower defenses. And it seems to be working, because they’ve gotten a lot of exposure. Just last week, they were featured on a CNN broadcast.

But even with all that exposure, the XXXChurch guys don’t have even close to the same level of Q-rating star power that Kirk Franklin has. So for Kirk and his wife Tammy to appear on Oprah’s show and discuss the toll that pornography took on their marriage… well, it made for more than mesmerizing television. It made a difference. Because of that broadcast, millions of men, particularly Black men, will be inspired to take a step and make themselves vulnerable to criticism by admitting that they have a problem. After all, if Kirk doesn’t care about people looking down at him, then why should they feel any different?

That’s why Kirk Franklin’s legacy will be found not only in record sales and music awards, but in modeling what a stable marriage looks like. His children will grow up seeing a father who can honor his wife by admitting his wrongdoing. More than popularity or fame, a reputation for honesty and integrity is a powerful legacy to leave.

That can be a hard lesson to learn.

In this life, people who take a stand for honesty and integrity don’t always get kudos on a national stage.

Sometimes, they get the shaft.

‘Everybody Pays’

This was one of the lessons I gleaned from a great book I read recently. It’s called Everybody Pays: Two Men, One Murder, and the Price of Truth. It’s the story of Harry Aleman, a notorious hitman for the Chicago Outfit, and Bob Lowe, the lone witness to one of his murders. In 1972, organized crime thrived on intimidation and the unspoken code of silence from people who didn’t want to get involved. So when federal investigators uncovered Bob Lowe, an eyewitness to a crime that was actually willing to testify, they were thrilled. Finally they had a chance to take Harry Aleman down for good.

Only, it didn’t exactly happen that way. Corruption inside the Chicago criminal court system made it possible for the judge presiding over the case to be bribed with $10,000 in exchange for an acquittal. So Lowe, who had to uproot his family and move several times for fear of retaliation, had sacrificed it all — and lost.

Or so it seemed, anyway. So distraught from the acquittal, Lowe’s life began to spiral as he moved from dead-end job to dead-end job, drowning in Jack Daniels and dabbling in cocaine. Eventually he served some time on his own for a few robberies he committed in a drunken stupor. It wasn’t until after he had served a few years and gotten himself sober again that he could look back and see where he had gone wrong.

Even so, Lowe was eager to put the whole ordeal behind him after he was released from prison. So when authorities re-indicted Harry Aleman for the same murder, after having already proven that the first trial in 1976 was fixed, Lowe was, let’s say, less than enthusiastic to participate. “Go to hell,” he told one of the investigators.

Nevertheless, in September of 1997 Aleman was tried again, and the defense again called Bob Lowe to testify. The first time around, Aleman’s defense team had shredded his credibility with a series of questions designed to leave him confused and unsure of himself. This time, Bob Lowe was unshakeable. With all he and his family had gone through, he was determined to prevail. He told the truth, kept his head up, and came out looking like a hero.

Which Legacy Is it?

As the book comes to a close, it’s natural to examine the legacies that both men will leave. Any good story has a protagonist and an antagonist, but these two men provide a rounded portrait of both sides of humanity. Neither man can claim a spotless resumé. In the book, the authors Possley and Kogan depict Bob Lowe as the hero, and in many ways he was. But to members of his family, his brand of heroism was tragic. Lowe was so fixated on the injustice that he suffered as a result of Aleman’s acquittal, letting his alcoholic desires have the best of him.

Even more fascinating, however, is Aleman himself. If you read the transcript of his plea for release from custody in 1990, you’ll read the words of love and devotion he has for his family. And I’m sure in many Chicago neighborhoods, even today, you’ll find plenty of people willing to put in a good word for Harry Aleman. “He was a good man,” they’ll say. His wife Ruth, who died in 2000, insisted that he was always a model father. He showered his children with gifts, always made sure to have dinner with them, and treasured spending time with them.

With all the love that Harry Aleman received from his loyal supporters, it’s hard to remember that this is the same man that was one of the most feared men in Chicago. He was wanted for countless mob-related murders spanning over twelve years. Yet here he is, somehow being cast as a family man. Which portrait is right? Depends on who you ask. As a man of advanced years, Harry Aleman doesn’t appear fit the role of celebrity hitman anymore. But as for whether he’s had a change of heart, none except God and Aleman himself can truly answer that question.

Do Gangsters Change?

That’s an essential question in what is becoming a similar controversy in Los Angeles. Hollywood personalities and other left-leaning activists are lobbying for Gov. Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to Stanley “Tookie” Williams. The West Coast’s “Crips” co-founder was convicted of four murders in 1979 and was, during the penalty phase of his trial, sentenced to death. Since then, his advocates say, he has undergone an extraordinary transformation from gang leader to peacemaker.

Charles L. Lindner, former president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Association, had this to say about Tookie Williams in an L.A. times editorial pleading for his life:

Schwarzenegger should seriously consider the mitigating evidence that has arisen since Williams was sentenced to death. If Ingber could have presented evidence that Williams would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times, that he would write anti-gang children’s books and negotiate the end to a gang war, it is reasonable to believe that the jury might have found sufficient value in Williams’ life to spare him death.

Advocates of Tookie Williams believe that his goodwill efforts outweigh the heinous crimes he committed as a young adult.

Not so, says Joshua Marquis, a Clatsop County, Ore. district attorney and vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. In an opposing editorial, he proclaimed that Williams is a murderer that should die for his crimes:

So what makes Williams deserving of the extraordinary benefit of commutation? We are asked to believe that because he has coauthored some children’s books he has “reformed.” Yet he refuses to do what we morally and legally expect even from shoplifters: to express remorse for his actions. His true legacy may lie with his children. His namesake, Stanley Williams Jr., is doing time in another California prison for second-degree murder. Williams claims he discourages kids from getting involved in gang life, yet a San Quentin official recently suggested that he still orchestrates gang activity outside the prison, according to an Associated Press story.

The AP story Marquis is referring to is a claim by San Quentin prison officials to discredit Tookie’s claims of redemptive conversion. If Williams really wanted to make restitution for his crimes, they say, then he would agree to submit to what they call a “debriefing” process, wherein he is expected to inform on his old Crip compadres. His refusal to do so, combined with his substantial prison bank account and an informal association with other incarcerated Crips has led authorities to believe that he may still have a controlling voice in current gang operations.

Both sides of this argument have compelling arguments, and I can understand why this is such a heated argument. Death-penalty opponents have been waiting for a case like this for years to illustrate just how flawed our system is. On the other end of it, many victim-advocate groups are decrying this outcry of support, saying that it justifies gang violence and ignores the suffering of the families of victims who don’t have the liberal P.R. machine on their side.

But question of whether Tookie’s execution will be commuted to a life sentence is, in the grand scheme of things, somewhat irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what Gov. Schwarzenegger decides, Tookie Williams is going to die in custody of the state of California. If he is pardoned and given clemency, then — by all means — it’s a victory for his cause. Hopefully he will be able to continue his efforts at redirecting young lives away from gang activity and thug life. But if not, if Tookie is required by the state to atone for his crime by relinquishing his life on earth to a poisonous needle, then his example of redemption and peacemaking will live on. He will become a cultural, socio-political martyr, a sort of Tupac-meets-Che-Guevara figure.

In other words, the good causes that Williams’ latter years have come to represent should only be advanced more fully in his death. If Williams is executed, and the cadres of leftist advocates fail to pick up the ball and run with his message of hope and redemption, then they’ll be exposed as opportunists that cared more about a political agenda then they did about making a difference in the community.

But hopefully that won’t happen. It’s my sincere hope that, live or die, the life of Tookie Williams will be celebrated as an example of someone who chose to alter his destiny and pass on a greater legacy.

Project Clean Slate

I imagine the example of Tookie Williams and others like him must have inspired Portland civic leader Roy Jay.

Besides presiding over Portland’s African-American Chamber of Commerce and cementing his status as one of P-town’s biggest movers and shakers, Jay masterminded the overwhelmingly successful initiative Project Clean Slate. The first of its kind, the project allows citizens to clear minor criminal convictions from their records, exchanging the requisite fines for community service.

Projects like these are important in urban communities. Inequalities in our criminal justice system sometimes result in hardworking, productive citizens being arrested unfairly. Once you add an unhealthy fear of police and ignorance of legal protocol into the mix, there can be thousands of poor ethnic minorites with minor blemishes on their record. These convictions can prevent them from capitalizing on better job opportunities or adequate housing options.

It’s no wonder, then, that the project was a success , with over 2,500 Oregonians who lined up to make a new start. Roy Jay understands a basic truth that sometimes eludes hard-liners: wiping away minor criminal convictions can help people in the margins to avoid major ones. It’s an anthropological extension of the broken-window theory , which says that more serious crimes can be deterred by constant, vigilant upkeep of urban environments. In this way, the broken windows are emblematic of broken lives. But just as the windows can be restored, so can people. Even the darkest chapters in a person’s life can be followed by redemption.

What Does It All Mean?

There are many lessons we can learn from these stories.

First, life on this earth is not merely a series of linear progressions. People are complex creatures, equally capable of both benevolence and brutality. That’s why stereotyping isn’t a fail-safe way to evaluate people. People change. Situations change. As Hume teaches us, the past is not a reliable way to predict the future.

So as we look toward the future, it may pay dividends to remain flexible in your alliances with people and ideas. The heroes and villains of today could end up changing sides in five years, like free agent sports heroes in the offseason.

At the same time, though, we must cling to the things we value most. And in these stories, those qualities were hope and integrity.

For in the same way that vandalism and broken windows detract from the general quality of life, sometimes failures of the past can rob us of our confidence and dignity. If you experience enough of them, you may eventually come to the conclusion that you’re better off embracing your dysfunction instead of trying to get a handle on it.

But that’s where hope and integrity come in and make a difference. It’s why Kirk Franklin was able to repair his marriage, why Bob Lowe got paroled and Harry Aleman got convicted. It’s the integrity to admit when you need help. It’s the hope that no matter how dark a chapter of life we’ve endured, we get a chance to write another.

In the final analysis, our lives will be a composite of all those life chapters. The main question that will shape our future biographies will not be whether or not we left a legacy, but what our legacy consisted of.

‘Cause that’s what we’ll be known for.

That’s what will make a difference.

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Cable controversy misses point

Man, I would not want to be a cable-TV exec these days.

Well, I mean, aside from the six-figure salary, massive national influence, and — oh yeah — free cable. Those things would be nice.

But in terms of the actual business end of things, being a cable operator isn’t the plum gig it used to be. Not only are you facing stiff competition with satellite TV, but now the FCC is reversing its position on a la carte programming.

A la carte programming, as you may know, has been trumpeted by consumer groups for years. It’s a very common-sense idea, when you get right down to it. Every time there is a decency scandal involving cable TV, industry lobbyists are quick to point out that parents can always have certain channels blocked if they find their programs to be offensive. But parental-advocacy groups tend to fire back with this — why should I have to pay for channels I don’t want?

Under Michael Powell’s reign as chairman in 2004, the FCC came to the conclusion that this would ultimately hurt subscribers in the long run, because changing the system would require a costly equipment and a system redesign that would drive subscription costs skyward.

But now, FCC chairman Kevin Martin is ready to turn the tide. And if I was a cable operator, I’d be getting a little nervous. Especially since my main competitor (satellite TV) is claiming it can make this whole a la carte thing work.

But the people who are most nervous are the smaller, niche-based cable stations, many of which are religious in nature. Which, according to the LA Times, can make for strange bedfellows. In this case, it’s TBN and other religious broadcasters opposing the proposed a la carte system.

It’s ironic, really, that TBN is finally ending up on the other end of a censorship debate. They’re guessing that the general populace wouldn’t, on its own, pay for religion programming — and they don’t want to be shut out of the marketplace. A good source (read: my gut) believes it’s probably the result of a deeply-honed defense mechanism designed to maintain viewership at any cost, even when the thing that is threatening viewership has a perceived benefit to citizens of organized religion. It’s almost like they’re saying, hey, stop doing things to help people spiritually — that’s what we’re for.

Of course, the key phrase is “perceived benefit,” because while a la carte programming is a boon for cost-conscious viewers like myself, it’s not exactly going to lead the masses into a spiritual revival. After all, trying to blame media channels for the poor morals that children internalize is a little bit like trying to blame the local sanitation department for the fact that your kids are eating dirt out of the gutter. If a child develops a habit eating dirt, then — yes, absolutely — that’s a problem. But the bigger issues are these: How did dirt end up on their plate? How is their sense of discernment so warped that they can’t tell the difference between a meal and a molehill?

Those are the types of questions parents need to be asking. You can’t get too angry at the industry for giving people what they want. What people need is to change what they want. And that’s the point that most people miss in this debate. For parents concerned about their children’s media habits, changing the TV programming options is just one step in the right direction.

There are many other steps that can be made, and they don’t take million-dollar lobbyists and carefully-worded press-releases. They take, love, discipline, and initiative.

Too bad those aren’t available on an a la carte basis.

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Natural Selection: Do Jump!

I am, by no means, an expert — or even really an aficionado — of dance. As performing arts go, most of my exposure has been to music, and to a lesser extent, theater. As a matter of fact, the last time I had more than a passing interest in following dance as a performing art was in middle school. This interest was fueled, in part, by a friendship I forged with a lanky White guy named Aaron Wheeler-Kay, who ended up being one of my enduring homies over the years.

So it was with great pleasure that I watched him in a production of “Do Jump! For the Holidays” a few weeks back. For he and the other members of the Do Jump! dance troupe awakened something in me that I hadn’t felt since I saw a production of “Stomp” at the Lyric Opera House in downtown Chicago. It was a sense of wonder and admiration, mixed with… what’s the word I’m looking for…oh yes:

Fun.

“Do Jump For the Holidays!” is, besides being a kinetic marvel and theatrical experience, a big, bubbly ball of fun. It’s full of dancers, contorting and flinging themselves around the stage, using all manner of props and costumes to create scenes of of alternating beauty, poignance, and gleeful silliness. Sitting there, taking it all in, I couldn’t help but be amazed.

And a little jealous.

Not because I ever wanted to be a dancer. I learned early on that the good Lord blessed me with many attributes, but physical grace and dexterity wasn’t part of the package.

No, I couldn’t help but be jealous of the dancers because it was evident just how much fun they were having with the whole thing. One cannot appreciate the full extent of just how grueling a workout they get from sitting in the seats, because it just looks like they’re having a ball out there, bending and swinging and jumping and floating and kicking and sliding and doing other -ings that I can’t think of.

And it’s not just in the troupe itself, but it’s also in Klezmocracy, the live klezmer band that accompanies them. The three-piece outfit provides a kaleidoscopic backdrop of rhythm and melody that transcends culture and ethnicity. They take the form of traditional klezmer, Jewish wedding dance music, and morph it bit by bit. A little bit of jazz, a little bit of funk, a little bit of polka, a little bit of this and that, and pretty soon you can’t really tell what’s going on except that people are moving around and having a lot of fun.

I don’t mean to demean the artistic quality of this show, because it’s just as much of an artistic achievement as it is an entertaining diversion. But art is meant to be appreciated, not just by critics and artsy people, but by average folk. And by that standard, it was a rousing sucess.

So if you’re looking for something to do that’s beyond your average holiday fare, go check it out.

Do Jump! For the Holidays runs at the Echo Theater until December 23. For more information, call 503-231-1232 or visit the website.

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Natural Selection: Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin
Hero
Gospocentric/Fo Yo Soul Entertainment
2005

To be excellent at something, you can’t just be good in one area. You must completely master all facets of the craft. A great basketball player isn’t just a good shooter, he or she must be able to handle the ball and distribute the ball well. Excellent surgeons shouldn’t just be proficient with their scalpel, they also need to be able to communicate well with people and help them deal with the tensions or fears that may accompany a necessary surgical procedure.

For a work of contemporary gospel music to be excellent, it must achieve excellence in the three ways that correspond to the three words that define the genre — it must be contemporary, it must represent the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it must be musical. Kirk Franklin’s latest release, entitled Hero, is excellent. As a matter of fact, I was surprised — no, shocked — by how good it is. Being the biggest name in gospel music carries an unique burden of high expectations. And as much as I liked the highlight tracks from his previous release, The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin, I didn’t think it was a complete album. But this one… this one nails it.

First off, yes… it is contemporary. Which doesn’t just mean trendy, by the way. It’s contemporary in that the lyrical cadence and emotional subject matter can connect on a deep level with people of this time and era. These songs deal with stuff that real people are going through. Divorce. Self-esteem problems. Substance abuse. Hero captures the gestalt of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the fallen world that we inhabit.

And Kirk Franklin’s Hero is definitely gospel music. Not just in its style, but in its content. And that doesn’t mean it’s churchy. Far from it. Unlike a lot of contemporary gospel artists that always recycle the same well-worn clichés that have come to typify the genre, Kirk Franklin dug deep to find the language of his soul, the words that resonate with a generation of those like him. Aptly titled, this release is about humanity’s need for a hero, and the way in which God continues to step in and fill that void. As the title track says, Jesus comes in and saves the day.

And finally, it is extremely musical. It touches on many different elements indicative of the black music experience that gospel music draws upon, while staying firmly grounded in a contemporary musical framework. Kirk continues in the postmodern musical tradition of reinterpreting music of the past, judiciously sampling and interpolating works by Patrice Rushen, Earth Wind and Fire, Randy Crawford and Deniece Williams. The tracks make implicit nods to the past while still standing up well on their own.

So if you’re like me and you don’t like to ride the marketing hype machine that pushes the latest product from every prominent artist without equivocation or evaluation… then trust me. This one’ s got the goods. It is the model of contemporary gospel music — honest enough to make you reflect on your own life, broad enough in musical scope to please purists and groove fiends, and most importantly, it bears relevant testimony on the ability of God to be a 21st-century hero.

What else do you need? It’s worth shelling out for, and it’s worth listening to. Check it out.

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Real ministers don’t do this

This may be shocking news to some, but — come to find out — there’s an actual reason why people have negative misconceptions about the church and people who call themselves ministers.

Self-described minister Derrick Mosley was convicted a few days ago of attempting to extort money from New York Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield and his wife, gospel singer DeLeon Richards-Sheffield. Apparently he claimed to have in his possesion a tape of Mrs. Richard-Sheffield in an indiscretionary escapade with R. Kelly, a man infamous for his indiscretions.

Now there are only a few details that any of us really need to understand in order to get the gist of what happened here.

First, it had been rumored for years that DeLeon Richards and R. Kelly, both originally from Chicago, had known each other back in the day. That rumor gained more validity when Sheffield released a statement last November when the allegations were first raised. In his statement, he supported his wife, though he did acknowledge that, prior to their marriage, she had engaged in “a long-term relationship over ten years ago with a well-known singer.”

Second, according to the AP story, Mosley had contacted Sheffield’s business agent first, seeking $20,000 in exchange for his destroying the embarrassing tape and offering counseling for Mrs. Richards. Mosley’s defense attorney would later claim that he only wanted DeLeon to atone for her sins, and that there was no actual threat of him releasing the tape. And third, according to the Chicago Sun Times story, after agents raided his home he admitted that he wasn’t even sure if the woman on the tape in his posession was Richards-Sheffield or not.

The official report says the jury took three hours to deliberate, which on a judicial scale, is akin to a commercial break on Judge Judy. I mean, really. Cases in traffic court can take longer than that. So clearly this man has done something really wrong, and will serve time because of it. But that’s not what bothers me so much. What bothers me is the fact that this man calls himself a minister.

In my mind, there’s a difference between ministers and activists. Activists push to make things happen. Ministers push to make good things happen.

I know that’s a blanket generalization, but just go with me for a second. The way I see it, activists try to promote causes that they believe in, and maybe some people believe in that cause, and maybe others don’t. But ministers, well… they’re supposed to minister. I mean, even if you’re an atheist and you don’t believe in God, are you really going to oppose the actions of most ministers? Not really, because generally ministers are about praying for people, teaching people the Bible, counseling marriages, etc. Generally speaking, in my mind, ministers are about helping people. I mean, that’s what the word “minister” means.

But the general populace is starting to get another picture of ministers, a picture that gets painted in greater and greater detail every time a story like this unfolds. For many, the image of a minister is a self-serving, judgmental, gluttonous charlatan that preys on the weak-minded, down-and-out members of society. This brand of minister has failed to take on the basic Hippocratic principle that compels, when confronted with malaise, “to help, or at least to do no harm.”

This is part of the reason why stories like this one by John W. Fountain in the Detroit News exist, because the church is being viewed more and more often as an institution that not only fails to help, but fails to at least do no harm.

Now there may be a miniscule grain of truth to the idea that Derrick Mosley might have, at least initially anyway, had a good motive for bringing the issue up. I know that ministers today have a uniquely challenging set of factors to deal with, particularly those who minister in cities. And I don’t like to point out a problem without at least attempting to offer a potential solution. So for the rare possibility that someone out there reading this may be in a similar position in the future, here are some things you should (and shouldn’t) do, if you find out that someone famous in your field of influence may be knee-deep in something moral or illegal:

1. Make sure this is something that deserves your attention.

This may mean undertaking a certain level of due diligence to ensure that these claims are not just idle gossip or a smear campaign from a rival. Fans of Clay Aiken, bitter from his having lost his season’s “American Idol” contest to Ruben Studdard, could start a series of rumors claiming Studdard to be a child molester if they really wanted to. With these matters, you must consider the source.

If the source seems credible, then that’s just the beginning. Let’s say, for the sake of hypothesis, that you believe DeLeon Richards really did have a series of sexual encounters with R. Kelly before she married Gary Sheffield. Do the Sheffields’ go to your church? Have they consented to submit to your spiritual authority? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” well then like the Lone Ranger, your work here is done. What’s happened has happened, and that’s between them and God until He sees fit to allow you to be included in the process.

2. Follow the Biblical standard for confrontation.

If you’ve read Matthew 18:15-17 then you should know how this goes. (And for God’s sake, if you consider yourself a minister and you haven’t read this yet… stop reading right now, and go read the whole chapter.) If someone has sinned against you, go talk to them about it. If they won’t listen to you, then bring another few people with you, so there can be witnesses. If they still ain’t feelin’ you, then bring it up before the church. And if they still persist after that, then cast ’em out.

Notice that there is a clear progression. It doesn’t start with making things public. It starts with being direct and talking to that person, mano y mano. Also notice that this refers to sin in the present tense. If you’re talking about some offense that happened years and years ago, check to see if the person has repented. If they have, then forgive and move on. Only when there has been no repentance and the sin is still persisting are we given license to confront in this manner. Nowhere in Matthew 18 are the instructions, “extort your brother out of $20,000 so his sin can be kept a secret.”

3. If you must confront, make sure it’s done in love.

Biblical confrontation is done not for personal gain or a sense of superiority, but out of love for the person that has gone astray. If you’re in a position where you need to rebuke someone of status, make sure that your motive is to uplift and not to tear down. The goal of a rebuke is restoration, not humiliation.

And this is where the actions of Derrick Mosley, if they’ve been reported accurately, make me the most nauseous. Let’s say my man Gary Sheffield decides to give Mosley the money, and DeLeon proceeds with the “counseling.” What is it going to solve to keep things hidden? How is it going to help them with their marriage? I give major propers to Sheffield for being up front about the whole thing, because when the story first broke a year ago, he came forward with a statement: I love my wife, it happened, let’s move on. Fear causes people to keep their skeletons locked up in the closet, but true love wants to deal with issues out in the open.

Those are the things that separate actual ministers from those who try to play the role. ‘Cause them cats is called players. Let’s not get those two mixed up anymore, okay?

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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just what I need: more words

What do I want for Christmas?

A new refrigerator poetry set.

Well, okay, not exactly for Christmas. If you’re actually going out of your way to buy me a Christmas present, then you can probably do better than refrigerator poetry. Call me cheap, but I’d rather get something else if you’re buying.

But if you happen to have an extra one lying around, like, for example, as a give-away that you got from some company at a national-whatever convention, then I want one. I saw someone with refrigerator poetry lined up along the top of their office cubicle at work today, and I thought that was pretty cool. I could have a lot of fun with that kind of thing.

But I’m never going to go out and buy one of those things.

I mean, lets lets face it — if you’re anything like me, you’re never actually going to pay for a refrigerator poetry set. Shoot… the novelty wore off like 8 years ago. They can still be a fun little diversion, but the key is to collect a whole bunch of free giveaways from different places, in order to have enough words to really be able to say something.

Because, say, you buy a Starbucks refrigerator poetry set — then you’re stuck with 137 words like “cocoa” “lustrous,” “percolate,” and “bittersweet.” Not particularly helpful if you want to create anything other than ad copy for coffee ads. As a matter of fact, that’s probably where they would be most useful. Instead of distributing them to the general public, Starbucks should just give sets to their ad execs — it’ll save ’em time in the boardroom:

“Whaddya got, Johnson?”
“Well sir, how about… ‘Aroma Mix Loves So Strong’?”

“No, I’m pretty sure that was a Celine Dion single at some point. But keep trying. Here, I pilfered this set from the Quizno’s rep. Maybe you can make it edgy.”

Yeah, so my idealized refrigerator poetry set would consist of my favorite brands of things. See now that would be fun. I’d maybe get a Jones’ Soda brand set (with words like, “fizzy” “explosive” and maybe, if I was lucky, a few Don-King-esque ones like “tangeristic” or “frutangumous”) and then follow that up with a Homestar Runner set (“e-eemail,” “store,” “lazors” and “Trogdor the Burninator”), then round it out with a set from ESPN (“shoots,” “scores,” “en fuego,” and “booyah” would all come in handy).

I’d love to make poetry with a set like that.

Of course, the very idea of refrigerator poetry might be offensive to actual, published poets. People who slave over their words for hours on end might not appreciate having their livelihood reduced to a wordy game of connect-the-dots on somebody’s Frigidaire.

“So, what is it that you do?”

“Well, I’m a poet. I use words to paint pictures.”

“Really? That’s wonderful… my daughter loves to do that when I’m making macaroni-and-cheese.”

Yeah, I’m guessing that buying your local poet laureate a refrigerator poetry set isn’t necessarily going to set their muse on fire. Unless, of course, someone makes a bestselling book of poetry that way — then all bets are off. Then you’ll see out-of-work poets flooding their local Targets and Wal-Marts, trying to get boxes and boxes of those things. Isn’t that how it always works? Somebody succeeds at something, and then everybody else flocks in to try their hand at it.

Kinda like blogging, really. Too bad I wasn’t first.

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The rules shall set you free

We got a lot of minds in bondage, so it’s time we set ’em free

Don’t believe in somethin’ ’cause you saw it on TV

What good is the body without control of the brain?

Those are the rules of the game.

— “Rules of the Game,” 4th Avenue Jones

You shall know the rules, and the rules shall set you free.

Okay, I’m fudging a little on that quote, but stay with me anyway. Sometimes the rules do set us free. All of us have, from time to time, been in a position to benefit from a superior knowledge of the rules that define the situations we find ourselves in.

Don’t believe me? Think about that the next time you get a parking or speeding ticket. I know plenty of people who make it a standard practice to contest any and all tickets levied against them by local law enforcement. If the officer fails to show up, there’s a good chance your violation will get thrown out and you won’t have to pay. Those are the rules. And sometimes all it takes is being ready, in the right place, at the right time, to take advantage of the right opportunity – and bam – suddenly you’re sittin’ pretty.

If you’re Steve Martin’s character in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” then an overbooked commercial flight is a nightmare. But if you were like I was during my college years, then every time you get ready to board the return flight of a round-trip plane ticket, you got to the gate early and hoped the flight was overbooked. Because at the time, many airlines had the standing policy of offering a free night’s stay in a local hotel to ticketed passengers who volunteered to give up their seats. Now that I’m almost out of my twenties and I travel more often, a free night’s stay in a hotel wouldn’t be that big a deal to me. But back then… shoot. A free night’s stay in somewhere nicer than my dorm room? Sign a brotha up.

Strike Three… ?

I bring all this up to set the stage to tell you about one of the most remarkable stories ever to occur in the history of sports. Unless you go out of your way to avoid casual sports conversation, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard about this, but unless you know the whole story, you might not fully understand its significance. In Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship series between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (yes, that really is their name), the game was tied at 1 in the bottom of the ninth. There were two outs, no men on base, and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was at the plate, facing an 0-2 count from Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar. The pitcher delivered a nasty splitter, and A.J. swung mightily – and missed. Exhaling in disappointment, A.J. turned began his walk back toward the dugout, when – ZOIP! – he was hit with a brilliant epiphany.

Major league baseball rule# 6.0.5 states that if the batter swings and misses a third strike, and the pitch that he was swinging for hits the dirt, the batter isn’t out until the catcher either tags him or throws him out at first. And Angels catcher Josh Paul never tagged him out. So Pierzynski decided, on the off chance that his third strike actually did end up in the dirt, he would just go for it. As the rest of the Angels were running toward the dugout, A.J. took off and sprinted to first base. After conferring with each other, the umpires ruled him safe at first – and the home crowd roared in approval.

Thrilled to have another chance to win the game, the White Sox took advantage. Pablo Ozuna stole second base on the very next pitch, and then Smokin’ Joe Crede hit an RBI double to bring Ozuna home.

Ballgame. Sox win, 2-1.

History will look back fondly on this White Sox team. Not only did they manage to wring out a victory with such a bizarre turn of events, they went on to sweep both the Angels and the Houston Astros to claim their first World Series title in 88 years. In the final four games of their series with L.A/Anaheim, White Sox starting pitchers Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras set a record by pitching four consecutive complete games. This squad and the 1999 New York Yankees are the only teams ever to go through a three-round postseason with only one loss. With such an impressive run through the playoffs, it’s hard to remember how easily it could have gone the other way.

In Game 1 of that same ALCS, the Angels were supposed to be the tired ones. After having played five exhausting games against the Yankees, they had to fly to Chicago the next day to play the well-rested White Sox… and they beat those well-rested White Sox like they stole something. Outhit them, outhustled them, outfielded them, just flat-out outplayed them. So the tied score in Game 2 reached closer and closer to the end, Sox fans were starting to get nervous. Their team was being outplayed again, and they did NOT want to have to go into Anaheim in an 0-2 series hole.

Yet, when everything was at its bleakest, somehow the freak Pierzynski strike-three-that-wasn’t gave the Sox new life, and they managed to capitalize. Cynics and Angelenos (who, lets face it, are usually one-and-the-same) were incensed, claiming another Chicago fix was in the works. Considering Mayor Daley is a huge White Sox fan, well… they had a point. But the fact of the matter is Pierzynski knew the rules of the game, and his team was able to benefit from that knowledge. If that particular rule wasn’t there, then there wouldn’t be any controversy.

Which begs the question – why is the rule there, anyway?

Rules… What’s Up With That?

Any discussion of rules will inevitably get back to those types of questions. When the rules or laws of a particular situation dictate the occurrence of significant phenomena, then it makes people wonder about how those rules or laws ever came to be.

This, by the way, is one of the central questions posed within the Intelligent Design debate. It wasn’t that a bunch of lesser-known scientists with inferiority complexes sat up one morning and figured out a way to strike back at all those godless infidels in their local state university science department. I mean, come on. There are certainly a lot of backward Christians out there, but we’re not all that far gone. On the contrary, many scientists have told us that their observations about the world around us suggests that there are natural laws, laws that generally describe the way things tend to be in the observable domain we call earth. The main driving force behind the intelligent design movement to ask the question of why — why are these natural laws in place the way that they are? Is there anyone out there responsible?

In the case of the Sox/Angels third strike rule, I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s there so that if a pitcher’s slider is falling so hard that it hits the dirt, the batter still has a chance to make something happen. Maybe it was a little wild-card, monkey wrench thrown in there to liven things up and prevent pitching from being too dominant. I don’t know. But I know that people will remember it, just like people still remember the NFL’s “tuck rule” that helped the New England Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders in 2002.

And it amazes me that people will scrutinize these rules so closely. I don’t mean league officials or team personnel – it’s their job to scrutinize rules inside and out. No, I’m talking about players and fans, people who are frustrated with the outcome of the game and choose to lash out at the rule, instead of being upset at the poor play the rule illuminated. It’s always amazing to me when that happens. I remember one year, after the Los Angeles Lakers had beaten the Sacramento Kings in the playoffs (again), there were many who complained about the slanted officiating. Even noted consumer watchdog Ralph Nader got into the act, calling on the leaguer commissioner to look into the matter and ensure fairness. But no matter how terrible the officiating may have been, it was still the Kings who couldn’t put the ball in the basket when it counted most. Even diehard Kings fans have to admit that.

Rules… They Ain’t All That

Which is why, in my opinion, the rules are important – but they’re not everything.

The rules of basketball, for example, are pretty simple overall. Don’t run with the ball without bouncing it. Put the ball in the opposing team’s hoop more times than they put it in yours. On the face of things, these are very simple rules. Yet the best basketball players in the world are never defined solely by their ability to know the rules. When you’re a professional, knowing the rules is a given. It’s what you do with that knowledge, how you choose to respond to those rules that makes you distinctive or not.

For example, NBA players like Bill Laimbeer and Vlade Divac were all known for their uncanny ability to exploit the rules in their favor. Laimbeer was a very physical player, and he would often incite the wrath of opposing players with his rough style of play. But he would do covertly enough that, if his opposing player was a hothead, the referees would only see his opponent fouling him and not the other way around. This, of course, would infuriate his opponents and delight his teammates. On a good night, Laimbeer could get one of the opposing team members ejected for retaliating in violence. Divac, on the other hand, took the nonviolent approach. His defensive specialty was known as flopping. When he was guarding a player who had the ball, and his guy would make a move toward the basket, Divac would fall over — in order to make it look like the opponent charged into him. If he was successful, his team would be awarded the ball, and if the opposition had just scored a basket, it would be taken away. In both cases, Divac and Laimbeer would rarely try to blatantly violate the rules of basketball. But they knew enough about how the rules were written and enforced to do any little thing they could do in order to gain an advantage over their foes.

It’s How You Play the Game

If that sounds dirty or underhanded, well… for some people, it’s a way of life. Many attorneys, for example, are paid to do the same thing in the legal arena. Some corporate attorneys get paid six-or-seven-figure salaries to find loopholes in the tax code so that companies can pay as little in taxes as they possibly can.

This is why legality does not necessarily translate to morality. If you follow the rules – ie., the law – then, generally speaking, you’re probably doing the right thing. But that’s not an absolute truth. Sometimes, especially in the area of law, bad people do bad things to good people, and the laws can’t prevent them from doing so. The people who make the laws – legislators – do their best to try to anticipate people’s needs by drafting more and more laws to protect people. But those laws can only go so far. They can’t change people’s minds.

So most of us follow the rules most of the time, but usually only grudgingly so. We don’t necessarily like the rules as much as we like what abiding by the rules can help to ensure. I mean, look at this new NBA dress code policy. (If you haven’t heard about it, the new business-casual dress code is the league’s response to a perceived “image problem,” which is a nice euphemism for “too many wealthy White people are alienated by hip-hop culture.”) NBA players have been commenting freely in the press, saying it’s ridiculous, and one player even called it racist. Being currently employed in a corporate environment, yet still being young, Black, and talented, I can definitely see this one both ways. It’s somewhat hypocritical for the league to use hip-hop culture in it’s marketing strategy, but then later crack down on that same style and culture because it makes a few of the suits nervous. At the same time, though, the NBA is a business before it’s anything else. David Stern has a right to protect the brand of his constituents by requiring the players to dress up when they’re conducting league business. So players will whine and moan at first, but at the end of the day they’ll be trying to get paid like anybody else. So if making that happen means goodbye Rocawear, hello Ralph Lauren – so be it.

Rules Can’t Change the Heart

Rules are rules, and we’ll only obey them if we think we’ll get something worthwhile out of it.

This is why I fudged on the quote in the very beginning, and those of you who know the Bible were probably squirming around wondering what I was thinking. What Jesus really said was, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” But he wasn’t talking about a set of rules, he was talking about Himself. He referred to himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But so often people equate knowing the rules with knowing the truth, and the results can be devastating.

The rules say that all people are created equal and that no one should be subject to abuse or harassment simply because of the color of their skin. But the truth is that prejudice and ignorance lie dormant of even the most well-meaning souls, and bad things can happen if we don’t deal with it ahead of time.

The rules say that if a woman tells a man she does not want to have sex, he must comply with her words, period. But the truth is, words are only one part of the way we communicate, which is why mothers and fathers don’t want their daughters going out wearing tight skirts and low-cut blouses.

The rules say that if you work hard and put some money away in a retirement fund, that money should be there when you’re ready to retire. But the truth is, sometimes the market crashes. Sometimes white collar crimes of embezzlement and insider trading end up costing stockholders their life savings.

In other words, you can’t always trust in following the rules if you want everything to come out okay.

Rules for Christians

Many times, when my high school friends found out I was a Christian, they would ask me all sorts of questions about what I could and couldn’t do. And most of my answers had little to do with Christian orthodoxy and more to do with which stuff would get me in trouble with my parents. What they were trying to find out was, what did the rules allow me to do? Sometimes the rules were more restrictive than my friends would have thought, and other times they were more flexible than they expected. But generally speaking, they learned to equate my faith in God with an extensive set of shoulds and should-nots.

So I found it to be rather shocking when I got into college and I found other Christians who didn’t have the same rules as I had growing up. Where I had rules like “thou shalt not drink beer or smoke cigarettes,” they had rules like, “thou shalt not vote Democrat or watch R-rated movies.” After awhile, all the artificial righteousness we were gleaning from all of our rules was starting to look a little silly. I mean, how are we Christians supposed to hold each other accountable to the rules when we don’t even agree on what all the rules are, anyway?

It wasn’t until much later in my faith journey that I made a rather shocking realization:

God Doesn’t Care About the Rules

In the grand scheme of things, God doesn’t really care whether or not we follow the rules.

At least, not the way we care about it. He cares about people following rules in the same way that state troopers care about the speed limit – which is to say, only as it relates to people’s lives. State troopers aren’t inherently nosy, meddlesome folk. They wouldn’t give a rat-tail comb about the speed limit if it didn’t help save lives. Ideally, what motivates our fine state troopers is the desire to keep people safe on the highway. The rules about traffic are just an objective marker to measure the overall safety of our driving environment.

And it’s the same way with God. He doesn’t care about the rules, He cares about us. He didn’t give us these rules about how we need to live because He was bored and needed someone or something to play with. He gave us some rules as a way for us to identify the things that might make life go sour. He gave us the rules because He wants us to experience the life He’s had in mind for us – a life rich with love, joy, and excitement. He wants us to have life to the fullest.

But he knows that some things could get in the way of that. So he gave us the rules to help us see the things that might come in between us and Him. He knows, for example, that jealousy and envy tends to causes unnecessary strife and an unhealthy sense of competition. So He said, “Guess what… the situation I gave you? Be satisfied with that. Don’t go around trying to have what everybody else has. Just enjoy what I gave you.” And He knows that the whole sleeping-around-so-you-won’t-be-lonely thing actually makes you more lonely (not less), so He says, “You know what? Just be married to one person.” And so on, and so forth.

This is why the Apostle Paul, as He reflected on trying to live according to the rules, said this:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4, NASB)

What Paul knew was that many believers would be tempted to go the way of the Pharisees, finding their accomplishment not in loving God but in feeling smug from superior knowledge. Like Agents in The Matrix, they existed solely within a system that was built on rules, and because of that, they could never be as righteous as Christ was. So Jesus, by living as God embodied in man, set out to give us a fuller picture of God by making things simpler. He basically broke all the rules down to be two simple rules – love God, and love your neighbor like yourself.

So if you’re struggling because you feel like you don’t know all the rules, then relax. You don’t need to.

Not because the rules aren’t important. They are. But what’s more important is to know the Ruler. If you do, you’ll realize that having a real, satisfying relationship with the Creator of the universe is a lot more mind-blowing and satisfying than memorizing a book of regulations.

In short, it rules.

I’m G*Natural, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Be careful what you push for

As I deal with the struggles I’m having at this point of my life, I’m reminded, once again, of a joke.

A young crusading warrior rode his steed, valiantly battling against the evildoers he was so committed to vanquishing. In the heat of battle, he was struck by a foe and fell off of his horse. The warrior was strong and agile, but he wore so much armor that all his attempts to get back up on his horse ended up in vain. Try as he did, he couldn’t do it. Finally, he called on God to rescue him. God, he pleaded. Send me the strength of all my ancestors, so that I can make it back on my horse! Suddenly a burst of strength overtook him. Filled with vigor, he stood up and vaulted mightily onto his horse, but his momentum carried him too far and he fell off the other side.

Undaunted, he prayed again. Okay God, he said. Just send half of them this time.

* * *

Quixotic moments like this make me laugh.

Until I really begin to think about them. Then, on some days, it’s hard to keep from crying.

Not that I’m in a bad place. Actually, for the first time in awhile, I’m far from it. In most of the ways in which people measure outward success, my batting average is through the ceiling. I’m married to a beautiful woman, I have a degree, I love where I live, and I have a good job with a respectable company working with cool people doing mentally stimulating work.

But still, there are many things outside my reach, things that I desire.

Accomplishments.

Stuff.

Experiences.

I have grand plans, super-sized plans. Major-big endeavors that I intend to achieve. Things that tend to open up gateways to wealth and stature. But while I chase after them, I can’t shake the possibility that, for every mountain I set out to conquer, I run the risk of pushing so hard in my pursuit that I go overboard and fall prey to the opposite extreme. I’m afraid of getting to the top and wondering what all the hype was about. Because all around me, I see people who sacrifice so much to gain what they think they want. But after awhile they realize that what they strived after wasn’t really what they wanted. And I don’t want to become one of those people.

And I’m guessing, neither did Dwan Jones.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote recently about Jones and others in his west side neighborhood. They’re being carjacked on a regular basis. In a town like Chicago this wouldn’t be news, except for the fact that it was the police who did the jacking. Jones, and other young Black men are being targeted for vehicle impoundment because of anti-noise pollution regulations prohibiting the playing of loud car stereos. Apparently the cops don’t want tricked-out rides bangin’ loud hip-hop at all hours of the night, so their solution is to jack them. In Jones’ case, he wasn’t even told why his car was being taken – the officer just got in the car and took off, leaving him to call his fiancée to pick him up.

Obviously, the legal and ethical validity of such an enforcement campaign is questionable. Punitive acts on behalf of the state should fit the crime, and in this case the punishment was nowhere near befitting. But do you think that’s what Dwan Jones had in mind when he envisioned owning such a customized automobile? Of course not. He probably just wanted to be seen and heard. Instead he invested thousands of dollars into his prized whip just to be harassed and cheated out of more than $700-worth of fines and impound fees. And don’t get me wrong, here – I don’t mean to imply that he somehow deserved to be treated that way. Far from it. He has every legal and moral right to drive whatever kind of car in whatever condition he wants. But even if the police weren’t shady, there are no shortage of actual criminals who could and would do much worse. At some point, Dwan’s gotta ask himself if the car is more of a hassle than it’s worth.

And besides, is it really necessary to have a system that booms so hard? Only if you plan on losing half of your hearing by the time you’re forty.

Hardly the stuff dreams are made of.

Bob Huggins finally got his buyout at the U of Cincinnati earlier last month. After the better part of two decades as men’s basketball coach, he was finally let go. Huggins made a name for himself as a coach who wins games, but as for his overall legacy… well, let’s just say he’s no Coach K. Yes, he led the Cincy Bearcats to 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances (including one trip to the Final Four), but his record regarding his players’ graduation rates was dismal. Under the auspices of remaining athletically competitive, Huggins became known for recruiting shady characters with questionable backgrounds and little or no interest in academics. After awhile, the collective Cincy braintrust realized their school was taking a major hit in credibility every time one of Huggins current or former players made the news again for some heinous breach of judgment. So after a lot of legal maneuvering and various face-saving measures taken by both sides, university president Nancy Zimmer finally laid down the law – a move that garnered kudos on the national stage.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the issue here, because Bob Huggins is not directly responsible for his players’ terrible behavior. As Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star so eloquently pointed out, Huggins is only a small part of the problem. Quite frankly, his poor moral leadership is extremely symptomatic, not only of the reprobate state of collegiate athletics, but of society in general. But many others have made that point. If, on the other hand, you look at it from Huggins’ perspective, well… it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. He staved off all the flak for all those years because his players would perform on demand. When they couldn’t get it done anymore, the heat just grew more and more intense. Right at the point where he was trying to angle for a contract extension, he got suspended for a DUI violation – the beginning of the end.

As a result, he and Bobby “@#$!%” Knight have become poster-boys for sports authority figures gone awry – alienating parents and fans alike. All that for… 14 straight tournament berths and one Final Four appearance.

So all you aspiring coaches out there, take note. Ask yourself how important winning is to you. Then make sure you’re prepared to live with the answer.

That was one of the lessons learned in “Kicking and Screaming,” a Will Ferrell vehicle about an out-of-control soccer coach who modeled himself after former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (who plays himself in the film). It’s a nutty little diversion of a movie, but it makes an interesting point. Essentially the storyline is that Farrell’s character is a wimpy guy who’s always been beaten down by his hypercompetitive father, and tries to avenge his history of losing by coaching his son’s soccer team. In the process he realizes he’s taking on his father’s overbearing ways, and it scares him.

The tone of the movie is extremely over-the-top, so very little of it can be taken seriously. Most Will Ferrell movies fit that mold, and that’s why they’re fun to watch. But I bet there are some for whom this movie hit a little too close to home. They’re fathers embarrassed to see their antics depicted on-screen. They’re pensive sons, trying to block out the memories of their domineering coaches and overbearing fathers. And I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but rest assured – our man experiences his requisite mea culpa moment. And when a Will Ferrell character has become the shining light for us all to follow – well, you know society has screwed up somewhere.

Speaking of screw-ups, I can’t close out this column without taking a moment to mention Señor Pat “Scarface” Robertson, for trying to put a hit out on the Venezualen president Hugo Chavez.

Yup… nothin’ says “love your neighbor” like paranoid threats of violence on national television.

Okay, okay. “put a hit out” is a little strong, but he did call for the man’s death during an airing of “The 700 Club” in August. Specifically he said, in reference to Chavez and his dictatorship, that we should “take him out.” And I don’t think he meant to the nearest Starbucks for a chat. Now obviously, I don’t know where he was going with that. I don’t know how even the most staunchly conservative Christian could go on the record advocating a covert operation to take out another head of state. Besides overstretching the boundaries of legitimate orthodoxy, it’s just a dumb thing to say. But that’s not what bothered me most about ol’ PR exercising such poor PR.

No, what bothered me the most is this:

Pat Robertson originally made a name for himself for, among other things, standing up for truth and justice. I don’t think he went through seminary as a young man thinking that one day, if he was faithful to God and preached the gospel long enough, that he would one day have a forum to perform hatchet jobs on his political enemies. I mean, really. That would be like a kid dreaming about having a job in bureaucratic middle management. People don’t start out that way. It’s more of a gradual shift over time that turns objectives like “take a stand for something right” to “take a swipe at the Communist left.”

Now don’t get me wrong, here. I believe that Christians have a right – and in some cases, a moral imperative – to get involved in public policy. But doing so effectively requires a legitimate reservoir of knowledge, not to mention grace and diplomacy. As of late, Pat Robertson has demonstrated very few of those qualities. Having amassed all of his influence and notoriety over three decades, and being loved and respected by millions of Christians, Pat Robertson has become a kinder, gentler, Rush Limbaugh. Is that really what he wanted? Is that really what he set out to do all those years ago? Critics might say yes, but I can’t bring myself to agree.

Especially since his latest crack had the potential to infuriate noted Venezualen firebrand Ozzie Guillen, manager for the playoff-bound Chicago White Sox. I guarantee you, Pat Robertson does not want to take on the Blizzard of Oz, unless henceforth he wants to be known as “another [bleepin’] TV preacher.” Guillen and company are far too obsessed with winning the World Series (and shaming the Chicago Cubs) to care about offending the likes of conservative pundits. He’s outspoken (read: crazy) enough to pick a fight with someone like Pat Robertson if he felt disrespected. As a result, Guillen’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The Chicago White Sox have carried an us-against-the-world mentality all year – and as a result, they’re a good baseball team. They want to win so badly, they’ll go way overboard to get there. They’ve got more chips on their shoulders than servers at a nacho bar. They’ll do anything to win it all.

Which brings me back to our hero from the beginning. The moral of the story is not that God only answers prayers with exact syntax… that’d be a lame moral, wouldn’t it? No, the moral is that we must be careful not to let our zeal carry us too far. Because sometimes if you push too hard, you end up falling off the other side.

Now the thing is, I love the White Sox. They’re a scrappy bunch of misfits who just want to prove that they can be winners. I love that their fan-base is mostly a blue-collar constituency. I love the fact that they’re never favored to win. Their exploits rarely earn more than a footnote in the Chi-town sports community, because most Chicagoans have already given their hearts to the Cubs, Bears or Bulls. The fact that none of the baseball experts at ESPN picked them to win it all makes me cheer for the Sox even harder. If the White Sox somehow defy the odds and win the World Series, it’ll be heralded as a victory for the common man.

But Sox fans need to put a temper on their rabid fandom, or they’re liable to do a lot of things they’ll regret later. Fans in Chicago are known to get pretty rowdy when they celebrate. For some of these folks, a White Sox postseason celebration could end up being one of life’s most defining moments. It’s all in how they respond. Five, ten, twenty years later, when they’re trying to get rioting or assault charges expunged from their record, they’ll probably be asking themselves if a World Series title was worth it.

The really sad part is that even after all that, many will answer a resounding “YES!” to that question. With no equivocation, they’ll tell you – getting in that bar fight with those drunks at Wrigley and overturning that squad car… it was worth it. And they’ll never appreciate the irony in next question they’re bound to ask, which might very well be:

“Do you want fries with that?”

I’m telling you. Seeing all that potential wasted… it’s enough to make a man cry.

Solomon was one of the greatest kings in all of history, but at the end of his tale, this is what he said:

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

If only he could see us now.

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.