R.E.M. Cycle And Basketball

by Rich on January 16, 2017

“Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M. is probably one of the single most influential songs in my life. So let’s just start there. Sure, there was the entire “Full Moon Fever” album by Tom Petty. And virtually everything from U2. But when I heard the raw guitar, and the drums that sounded like pots in a garage, and Michael Stipe slurring that indistinguishable vocal… I was hooked. Alternative Rock was my music. It was my thing. I understood it. It made sense to me.

And that’s why I don’t get basketball.

What? That doesn’t make complete sense to you? Of course not, because my brain works like a 6 month old Labrador Retriever. There’s no sense of linear thought and I’m easily distracted by tennis balls.

Have you ever wondered why you enjoy the sports you do? I mean, what makes a soccer fan? How does one become a rabid football fanatic? If sports fan bases were comprised solely of those who had actually played the game, then soccer would be the biggest sport in America and it wouldn’t even be close. But it’s not. It’s hovering somewhere between hockey and bowling. That’s not even a joke, even though it totally could be because, c’mon…bowling? Anything you can do while smoking and drinking beer isn’t really a sport, is it?

Back to my music/basketball analogy. For whatever reason, I immediately understood Alternative Rock. It made sense. And for whatever reason, basketball did not. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m 5’9″ on a good day. No, the game, as fun as individual games can be, just never spoke to me.

And here’s the thing…while I did play soccer in my youth and I can appreciate its world wide appeal, soccer doesn’t really speak to me either. Baseball does. Football does. On a certain level, hockey does (even though I don’t really know the game. There’s a blue line? High sticking is a thing I’m pretty sure). But basketball never has. I have no idea why.

Oh I’ve tried. I’ve joined NBA fantasy leagues, I’ve picked teams to follow for a season. All to no avail. It just doesn’t interest me. Oh sure, there are certain players I find fascinating, in much the same way that I am fascinated by Dale Earnhardt, jr. and the idea of escargot.

So how do we become the fans that we are? Why does one person grasp the nuances of a squeeze play but can’t get charging down? (Ok, in all fairness, the refs don’t know what charging is either, apparently, but you get my point.)

Is it as simple as taste? I like R.E.M and U2 but not Nelly? I prefer spy novels over biographies? I like the color green but don’t care for olives? Or is it something deeper? I suspect it is.

I suspect it’s something hard wired into us. Sure, we can have a growing appreciation for a sport. We can watch it and even follow it. Heck, we may even play it a little. But I think there is something in our basic DNA that fits us to certain sports. This is why I can watch football all day long. Even bad football. Even Browns vs. Jaguars football. And why the NBA finals mean less than nothing to me.

I should love basketball. It’s fast, has a lot of scoring, it’s up close and intimate. But I just can’t make it happen. And I’m ok with that. I’m ok with an entire sport being a footnote.

Because I have all these R.E.M albums to get through. Again.

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Tribal Questions For The Rest Of Us

by Rich on January 12, 2017

I have a friend, my co-host on our radio show. His name is Jeremy, and he asks the most wonderful questions.

“How many people right now, at this very instant, do you think are halfway through their second cup of coffee with 2 sugars and French Vanilla creamer?”

“In the history of the world, how many people have ever said that sentence you just said, word for word?”

The subject matter, the circumstances…they are infinite. And it always makes me laugh, and, truth be told, think. How many? Has this ever happened before? It’s an interesting mental exercise (we’re big on those on the show), but it also gets me thinking about deeper things.

I know, I know… “Rich” and “deeper things” are words that don’t usually bump into each other in the same sentence. But seriously, I was thinking about these funny, inane questions when something struck me. Well, a series of things. My brain works kind of like some bizarre Stumbleupon account. One thought leads inexplicably to a seemingly unrelated other. It gets confusing. Try to keep up, sparky.

Basically, these questions made me ponder the possibility that others have experienced, and are experiencing, the same thing that I am. I realize that we are all individual in our responses to our circumstances, but let’s face it, folks… we aren’t the first ones to deal with whatever we are dealing with, and not only that, someone is most certainly dealing with the same thing right now, at the same time we are.

That gives me tremendous comfort. For a couple of reasons.

First, it’s just good to know that our experiences as humans are shared experiences. God did not create us alone. We are communal. We are pack animals. We have tribes. To know that there are others dealing with the same things can give us some sense of belonging, of being a part of creation, and not some random mistake.

And second…look around you. Look at all the screw ups! I know that we view so much of the world through the much filtered lens of social and popular media, not to mention the glossed over 20/20 vision of our collective history, but the reality is that, well, we’re pretty messed up.

All of us.

It’s so easy to look at what is presented to us in the world and make the assumption that the “normal” people, the “winning” people, have it all together. Their family pictures on Facebook look like Hallmark cards. Every outfit is straight out of a catalogue. Their kids get straight “A”s and lead worship at church, then get scholarships to big schools while interning at the White House. Their spouses post amazing pictures of how wonderful they are and every thing looks Etsy/Pintrest perfect.

And it’s all crap.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying that everyone is lying, but…

Ok, that’s what I’m saying. But I include myself. We all are. Or most of us, anyway. There are those amazing few that are so in touch with who they are, so comfortable in their own skin, so at peace with who God made them to be, that they are truly authentic.

But the rest of us? We project the best we have to offer in the best possible light. Because we want to be a part of some imaginary tribe where everything is perfect. But that place doesn’t exist. At least not the way we imagine it. Not yet, anyway.

No, the real tribe that we belong to is the tribe of the broken, the fallen, the failed and the flawed. And that’s ok! Because our tribe is bigger than all the others. And it doesn’t exclude ANYONE! We are ALL in it! And it’s beautiful because it was beautifully made and perfectly created.

Coming to the realization that it’s ok to not be perfect, to own that reality, is the most liberating experience you can ever imagine. I have had brief flashes of it, and it’s wonderful. I’m still working on being there full time, and hopefully I will. Unfortunately, like most of us, I spend a great deal of energy projecting this sense that I have my act together.

But I fail. I don’t say that out of some sense of false humility or as an example of how we should all acknowledge our weaknesses. No, I say it because I know that I am not alone. We all fail. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. So admitting I fail is just me acknowledging my place in the tribe. The Tribe. The People.

It’s a message I hope my son gets. I hope we all get it. We were perfectly created in who we are. We see flaws where there is beauty. We see failure where there is discovery. But the beauty and the discovery are what’s real. Not the fun house, carnival mirror images of ourselves.

“How many times has anyone uttered the phrase ‘I’m an utter fraud’ at 7am on a random Thursday?”

I don’t know, Jeremy, but I know there are others, and I thank God I can count myself among their number.

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The (not) Off Season

January 9, 2017

Well, sports fans, we find ourselves this week in one of those weird time warp/Bermuda Triangle times in the sports calendar when almost everything converges: NFL playoffs, the college National Championship, college basketball, the NBA, plus a whole host of collegiate sports like swimming and diving, gymnastics, and the preseason workouts for baseball and softball. […]

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The Rolling Plains

January 5, 2017

Let’s be clear here: I am a huge (YUUUUGE) fan of tradition. And often just for tradition’s sake. It’s been clearly established here that I do not like change. Having said that, I have also begun to accept that there are some things that just need to change. Time passes them by. They are no […]

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Life Wars Episode MMXVII: A New Hope

January 2, 2017

I am not going to do it. I’m not. I’m not going to write one more column about how horrible 2016 was. I’m not going to make a list of all the people we lost, famous or not. I’m not going to talk about the disappointments, the downturns, the bad luck… I’m not. For a […]

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Express Lane To Waiting

December 29, 2016

I don’t know if it’s just my age, or my particular circumstances in life, but I am ashamed to admit that, rather than becoming more wise and “Yoda”-like, I seem to regressing. Not that I’m becoming  more dumber (I know, I know… it should be “stupider”), no I’m afraid I’m stuck on that hamster wheel […]

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One Day For A Whole Year

December 26, 2016

It’s Christmas and no matter how old I get or how circumstances in my life change, I still get excited like…well, like a kid at Christmas. Albeit for different reasons, but excited none the less. I mean, it’s the only time I make my famous Nuts-n-Bolts snack mix. It’s epic. It’s funny how we are […]

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It’s A Long Story

December 22, 2016

(Author’s Note: There is some language following. I do not apologize for it.) It was almost 11:30 at night when the man overboard alarm sounded. I remember that because I was just signing off on the final fuel readings and waiting for Lessard to relieve me as Oil King of the Watch. The alarm was […]

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Outside The Lines (Of Fire)

December 19, 2016

As the football season wraps up this year, both college and the NFL, fans across this great land of ours are ushered into the crazy addendum season of the coaching carousel. Coaches are fired. Coaches are hired. Coaches flirt with other programs. Fans go certifiably insane and agents buy a new boat. Or three. This […]

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Can I Call You “Gym”?

December 15, 2016

I’m not sure if I have mentioned here, but I’m a bit of a runner (that’s called sarcasm, folks. Look it up). I began running out of necessity and now I’m kind of addicted to it. I don’t enjoy it, but it has become part of who I am and I feel bad when I […]

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