Monday, January 30, 2006

The Super Bowl and Detroit

The Super Bowl is less than a week away and the discussions on this American holiday being held in Motown are beginning to intensify. It's interesting to hear the image of Detroit that seems to be held in the national consciousness. The cold weather, the crime, the drugs, lack of anything to do, etc. are some of the common themes that are mentioned. I read this recent article by Jemele Hill, a Detroit native and a columnist for our local newspaper, The Orlando Sentinel, and thought her perspective was worth noting...

"Unfortunately, this column won't completely stop the jokes about how parts of Detroit look like a car bomb went off 20 minutes ago or that it gets so cold here, Dick Cheney's heart can chill on Eight Mile. Some free advice to you national columnists who are preparing to shred Detroit: Bombed-out building jokes are as old as Members Only jackets, so be more creative if you're going to insult us Detroiters.
The problem is that when it comes to Detroit, people can't separate the truth from the CNN footage. Yes, Detroit has lots of crime -- uh, doesn't every major city? -- but people act like as soon as you land in the Motor City, there are a couple of gunmen waiting for you at the end of the jetway. Oh, but nobody says a thing about Los Angeles, where if you wear magenta in the wrong neighborhood, you leave wearing Eau De Bullet.
"I've lived in Detroit all my life, and I've never been a victim of a crime," 60-year Detroit resident Janice Berman said. "I've never even seen a crime. Overall, people say Detroit is a bad place, but statistically I don't think it's worse than any other urban areas." Detroit has lived with a bull's-eye on its back for ages. Sadly, the main reason the national media are going to condemn Detroit during Super Bowl week is because it isn't in a warm-weather city.
So, sorry it's a Super Bowl that inconveniences journalists by forcing them to wear coats. We see the game for free, eat free on our respective companies, stay in hotels for free and go to parties for free, but bring a scarf? The nerve. Jacksonville is a warm-weather city, and all I heard from people after last year's Super Bowl was everything had to be done by boat, the city was too spread out and you couldn't find anything to eat past 9 p.m...
What makes the city special is that it has fulfilled a lot of dreams for people for years. African-Americans fled the South to Detroit looking for jobs, which they found in abundance at the city's auto plants. Greek immigrants came to Detroit seeking a better life, too. That's why there are 120,000 people of Greek descent in the Detroit area and a two-block stretch of terrific Greek restaurants along Monroe Street.
Arabs call Detroit home because here they're fully accepted. Detroit has the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East. "We've had to live by the factories," said Dan Keros, a third-generation Greek whose family owns American Coney Island, where you can find the best chili dogs in the city. "It's hard work, and it's inbred in us. We want to do our best, no matter what."
You might think of Detroit as the birthplace of violence, but without Detroit, there would be no Ben & Jerry's, Dr Pepper or automobiles. Ice cream, soda and Henry Ford all were born in Detroit. (The city also has the second-largest theater district in America next to New York, but I don't want to brag.) I know dogging Detroit has been an Olympic sport for years. Though the Olympics are every four years, and bad-mouthing Detroit happens nearly every day.
But riots happen everywhere (just ask Paris). Cold weather is a part of life, and certainly Florida's 75 consecutive 90-degree days have been known to cause a bit of discomfort. Detroit has problems, but any city with nearly a million people would have them, too. But if you still want to rip my city, I'd advise you to take heed of this warning from Keros: "You keep picking on us, and we'll get even better."
There must be something good about D-Town. We're the only northern city to host two Super Bowl in the past 25 years...

Monday, January 23, 2006

End of the Spear

The year was 1956 and several young missionaries from the United States left their homes, their families and the comfortable lives they knew so that they could take the gospel to a people group in Ecuador untouched by modern civilization. The missionaries were willing to place their very lives in harms way in order to tell the Waodani people about the love of Christ. Little did they know that it wasn't their lives, but their deaths that God would use to reach the Waodani.

Their martyrdom has motivated and inspired generations of missionaries for over 50 years (including my wife and I). After the deaths of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian, the proclamation of the gospel continued among the Waodani. And their tribe was transformed by the love of God...

A new movie about this well-known story, End of the Spear, just hit the movie theaters this past weekend (and was one of the top ten grossing films in America). I was able to see a screening of this movie this summer along with a number of other Campus Crusade staff. The story of Jim & Elisabeth Elliot motivated me tremendously while I was a college student as I wrestled with yielding my whole life to Christ. Their example of being willing to place their relationship before God and their very lives before Him challenges me even still today.

Lori and I had the privilege a few years ago of meeting two individuals who played significant roles in this story -- Steve Saint, the son of one of the murdered missionaries and Mincaye, one of the murders who eventually became a Christian. This is a picture of us with them. Their story challenges me because it causes me to consider my own commitment to Christ and the sacrifices that I'm willing to make for His sake. For most of us in America, the worst that will happen to us as Christians is that we may get mocked, teased or threatened. But for many believers around the world (even today), their lives are very much on the line because of their profession of faith in Christ.

By living in the the most affluent country in the world, we can easily get tied to our "stuff" and hold tightly to things that will pass away. Our top priority can quietly become our own safety and comfort, instead of God's glory. To call Jesus "Lord" means that we have yielded are lives completely to Him -- willing to go anywhere and do anything that He may ask of us. The example of Nate, Jim, Roger, Pete and Ed is one that we should all consider and examine our own hearts as we offer our lives as a sacrifice to the one who gave His life for us (Romans 12:1-2).

If you are not familiar with the whole story of the Ecuadorian missionaries who gave their lives so that others could live, I encourage you to check out End of the Spear while it is in the theaters. We vote with our dollars at the box office so that Hollywood can see that Christians want to see quality made films that tell our stories. You can read a review of this movie here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Marriage is Great Equalizer for Blacks

Roland Warren, the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, wrote the following column for USA Today recently. The column contains some disturbing statistics about the current state of the family in the African American community and the seemingly lack of importance that many have for having children within wedlock. Here is Warren's column:

"As a happily married man, I have been troubled by the oft-stated myth that the institution of wedlock has never been central to the African-American heritage. Unfortunately, this view has permeated the African-American community and society at large. Now, it may be single-handedly holding back blacks in their pursuit of social, economic and educational progress.

According to testimony given last fall to a Senate subcommittee by Ron Haskins of The Brookings Institution, from 1970 to 2001, the overall marriage rate declined 17% but 34% for blacks. The overall rate for out-of-wedlock births is 33% compared with 70% for blacks.

These disappointing trends are critical because research has shown that marriage provides significant benefits for men and women. Most important, children who are raised by their married, biological parents do better across every measure of economic, social, health and educational well-being than children raised in other family arrangements. In fact, when comparing families of similar socioeconomic status, these black children have similar outcomes as their white counterparts. Marriage is the great equalizer.

Alex Haley wrote Roots based on the belief that he was the descendant of an African slave named Kunta Kinte. Roots tells the story of his family, starting with Kunta's birth. Although some of Haley's research has been contested, Roots can teach us some valuable lessons, including one that few seem to discuss.

Kunta Kinte escaped his master several times only to be caught each time. But one thing finally caused him to change course: his marriage and the birth of his daughter. Kunta "jumped the broom" with Bell, the plantation's cook. The ritual was used to formalize the husband-wife bond, since slaves could not legally marry. Bell soon gave birth to their first daughter, named Kizzy, an African word for "stay put." Kunta decided that creating a legacy of hope for his family was more important than escape.

Kinte's dedication to his family is not unique. In 1890, 80% of black families with children were headed by married couples, according to sociologist Andrew Billingsley. That figure has dropped to 39%. In 1950, 64% of black males older than 15 were married compared with 68% of white males. By 1998, only 41% of black males were married. From 1950 to '98, the percentage of never-married black women doubled.

This divergence in black and white marriage rates is not the legacy that Kunta Kinte left for us. It is time for African-Americans to change the path that is holding our children and families back so that we can rediscover the "roots" of marriage."

I'm thankful to be a part of a ministry, The Impact Movement, that is helping to stem the tide of some of these alarming realities. It is my belief that the most important institution in the life of a child is that of the family. The media, school, friends, and church can all play significant roles in a child's development, but if their family and home life is a mess, it makes it overwhelmingly difficult for that child. On the other hand, if a child is raised in a home by a loving mother AND father, their chances of a successful life certainly increase.

I once read (and I apologize for not being able to quote the source) that if a child is born to a mother that is: 1) Unwed; 2) Under the age of 20; and 3) Without a high school diploma, then a life of poverty is almost assured for that child. While it is no doubt that single mothers are some of the most hard-working and resilient people you could meet, a child needs both a mommy and a daddy. Marriage is a sacred institution that needs to be uplifted and honored. Just imagine what our society would be like if everyone waited to have sex until they were married and then stayed in that marriage "in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part." Do you think things would look different? I do.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Let's Hope for Better Results on some Hot-Button Issues

This was a recent column from DeWayne Wickham, columnist for the USA Today, that I thought was particularly insightful:

"I stopped making New Year's resolutions a long time ago. I gave them up somewhere around the time I realized that I'll never be able to get back into the Air Force jacket that still hangs in my closet. I keep it as a reminder of my military service during the Vietnam War — and my failure to stick to countless New Year's pledges to lose weight. This year, instead of personal resolves, I've come up with a short list of things I hope this nation will do in 2006.

First, we should do more to discourage teen pregnancies. I don't say this as a closet conservative but as a concerned American. There used to be a time when teenage pregnancies, especially among unmarried girls, were frowned upon. Now, too often pregnant teens are given doting baby showers instead of stern looks of disapproval.

While teenage pregnancies in this country have declined in recent years, we still have a higher rate than that of most developed nations. Many of the children of teen mothers, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are born into a life of poverty and have health and developmental problems. And they are more likely to be abused and neglected.Too often, taxpayers are left to pay the cost of public assistance for these kids, some of whom end up in the clutches of the criminal justice system. This has got to change.

Second, in 2006 we should work harder to pull back from the ideological poles of the left and right. Too many liberals and conservatives seem to be determined to foist their views on the other.Whether the issue is capital punishment, abortion or
affirmative action, many conservatives and liberals can't find a square inch of neutral territory. While there have always been radicals on both ends of the ideological spectrum, it is those at the extremes who seem to be commanding the public debate over many issues that divide us.

For example, right-wingers are unrelenting when it comes to their support of capital punishment and their unsympathetic talk of racial imbalances in the death row system. People on the far left oppose any curbs on abortion and are tone-deaf to those who argue that abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is not a good thing for our democracy, which is after all a creation of the compromises made by the Founding Fathers. I hope in 2006 that the moderates on both sides of our ideological divide will find the courage to pull the nation back from the precipice of self-destruction.

Finally, the next time a high-profile death row inmate is executed, I'd like to see as many celebrities and spotlight-huggers attend the funeral of the inmate's victims — or publicly grieve for them — as show up for the criminal's final send-off. Like a lot of people on the political left, I opposed the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, but my opposition had nothing to do with Williams' claim of innocence. It was based on my belief that the scales of justice are out of balance. That argument, I suspect, was blurred by the din of opposition that came from people who — with little real evidence — claimed that Williams, who was found guilty in the 1979 shotgun murders of four people, was wrongly convicted. And I think it was also overshadowed by the celebrity-laced crowd of more than 2,500 people who showed up for Williams' funeral.

It's a good bet that none of these high-profile mourners attended the burial of any of the four people he was convicted of murdering — or the funerals of any other nameless victims of violent crime. This kind of myopia plays into the hands of death penalty proponents and makes it unlikely that a serious effort will be made in 2006 to correct the inequality.

But still, I hope for a happy New Year."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Some Thoughts on the 2005 football season

I'm back after a much needed Christmas break. And now that we're almost to the end of the college football season and at the beginning of the NFL playoffs, I thought I'd share some observations on the 2005 season.

First, this was definitely not my most successful fantasy football season. I was in four leagues this year (which I will not do again) and only made the playoffs in two of the leagues (and neither of those teams advanced past the 1st round). Overall, my team's were fairly decent, they just perform when I needed them to.

On the college side of things...I've been a Michigan fan since the Anthony Carter days, so my loyalty runs pretty deep. But this year was probably one of the most disappointing years for the maize and blue in recent memory. We were a preseason top 5 team with high aspirations, but just couldn't get it done. It seemed as if every game came down to the fourth quarter in which we would invariably blow a lead. The Michigan State and Penn State games were highlights, but the Notre Dame, Ohio State and especially the Nebraska games were just heartbreaking.

You see, Michigan can play with anybody in the country...they just can't actually beat everybody. It is fair to say that Mike Hart's injuries really hurt the team (it's a much different team with him in there), but he played the whole Alamo Bowl and we still blew that. There has been a lot of talk in the past couple of years for Lloyd Carr's firing. And I've never bought that. The guy's won a national title, won five Big Ten titles and is a great recruiter. His average season during his eleven years is 9-3 and a New Year's day Bowl. But is that really good enough for the winningest team in college history who consistently have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation?

Like Joe Paterno has done, I think Carr needs to shake things up with the play calling. He needs to bring in an offensive guru that will take advantage of the talent that the Wolverines possess. U of M has a number of starters returning at the skill positions and there's no reason they shouldn't be able to hang with the other big boys next year. And I'm really not enjoying losing to Ohio State every year. I really didn't like it when the Buckeyes hired Jim Tressel...I knew this was going to happen. Why didn't they just keep John Cooper? We had a good little rivalry going there where OSU won once every 10 years. Now they've got the upper hand. Hopefully, 2006 will produce a Wolverine victory.

Onto the Detroit Lions...What a sad state of affairs. You know it's bad when you're the laughingstock of the league and there are actually a number of teams worse than you (can anyone say Texans, Niners, Saints, etc.). I don't think firing Mariucci was the answer. They really need to get rid of Matt Millen and wouldn't it be a wonderful gift to the city of Detroit if the Fords sold the team. There's been one constant over the past 40+ years of losing and mediocrity and it isn't Steve Mariucci -- it's the Ford Family. Why would they reward Millen for having the worst record in the league over the past four years with a contract extension?!

Since the Rams fired Mike Martz, I'd like to see the Lions go after him. He's a proven offensive genius, has led a team to the Super Bowl and could really take advantage of the Lions talent at the skill positions. In regard to the quarterback position...Let Garcia and Joey go. I'd go after Jon Kitna, Cincinnati's backup. He's a proven starter in the NFL, has no chance at all of playing again in Cincy with Carson Palmer there, and could fit in nicely in Detroit. Here's my suggestion for the Lion's motto for this upcoming year: "Let's win more than six in 2006!"

My predictions for the NFL playoffs:
  • Wildcard Round: New England over Jacksonville; Cincinnati over Pittsburgh; New York Giants over Carolina; Washington over Tampa Bay
  • Divisional Round: Indianapolis over New England; Denver over Cincinnati; Seattle over New York; Washington over Chicago
  • Conference Championships: Indianapolis over Denver; Seattle over Washington
  • Super Bowl: Indianapolis over Seattle with Edgerrin James as MVP
On a positive note: Detroit is in the Super Bowl (or I should say the Super Bowl is in Detroit) and the Pistons and Red Wings are on the top of their games. An NBA championship and Stanley Cup would help with soothing the wounds of this football season.