Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why I'm Giving Up Social Networking

In my blog post yesterday I shared some history behind the Christian season of Lent and the common practice of fasting during this period. Over the past number of years, I have often observed this season by giving up some sort of food or beverages. Things like chocolate, sugar, and caffeine are just some of the things that I've abstained from during Lent in recent years.

But this year is going to be different. Since I've been eating much healthier over the past year (I've lost 25 pounds since last February), I began seeking the Lord several weeks ago about how I could observe Lent this year. And the thought came to my mind: What about giving up social networking? Although I don't think I'm addicted, I do spend time visiting online sites like Facebook and Twitter several times a day. I also write several blog posts a week and this certainly takes up some of my evening time.

So that it is what I'm going to do. For the next six weeks or so, I will not be participating in any online social networking. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Blog.

Since my work requires it, I will still be available by e-mail and will actually receive e-mail alerts of any messages I receive through the above websites but I won't be responding.

Beginning tomorrow I'm choosing to focus more intently on my relationship with God and my family and am going to be more intentional about spending less time online and more time doing other activities. I'm also hoping to spend more time reading books and less time reading things online. As I've mentioned numerous times before, I think online social networking can be a wonderful thing that helps us stayed connected to those we care about and to learn more about the world.

But it also has the potential to become addictive and distracting. So I'm going to do a bit of a test over the coming weeks to see if I go through any kind of "withdrawal." Just a handful of years ago, none of these things were part of my life. So they're not really necessities. But they can be fun and I'm looking forward to re-connecting with you online in April. God bless.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mardi Gras, Lent & Self-Denial

While speaking with a loved one last year, I was explaining the season of Lent and Mardi Gras. They asked, "Now, is Fat Tuesday right before Mardis Gras?" Perhaps you might also have some questions on this matter so here's the Cliff notes version on the season...

Lent is a 40-day season of focused prayer, repentance and fasting that takes place each year before Easter, the Sunday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The forty days represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness immediately preceding the launch of His public ministry. Christians around the world have celebrated this season for a number of centuries.

For those of us in the West, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter. On Ash Wednesday, worshippers have ashes rubbed on their forehead in the shape of a cross. This is to represent "repentance" -- or the turning from self to God -- during the Lenten season. During the season of Lent, Christians are expected to fast. It could be fasting from food completely or just meat or, in recent years, some have chosen other items like candy, caffeine or even forms of technology, like television or the Internet. Technically, Lent lasts more than 40 days since Sundays were originally a day when one could indulge in whatever was being denied since it is the Lord's Day.

The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday or "Shrove" Tuesday (or in the French language, Mardi Gras). Carnivale (which means "away with meat") is an extended festival before Lent that is commonly found in Roman Catholic societies. These are times of celebration and feasting before the entrance into the fasting period. This year, Fat Tuesday takes place tomorrow, February 16th, with Ash Wednesday falling the following day on February 17th. Easter Sunday falls on April 4th.

For those of us that are Protestant Christians, the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent is usually dismissed since many regard those as Catholic holy days. But I think that all Christians can appropriately recognize this season. For a number of years, I have participated in the Lenten season and have found it beneficial. It can be a time of dedicated Bible study, prayer, some sort of fasting and repentance and can be great preparation in leading up to the remembrance of the most significant event in world history, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

In tomorrow's post I will share what the Lord has led me to do for Lent this year. It might be surprising for you and I hope that you'll consider joining me.

Whatever you might choose to do or not do during this season, I trust that your focus will be on the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Entering into a time of self-denial and focus on Jesus can help in leading us to a place of maturity where we are more committed to Him throughout the year, whether it is a designated holiday or not. God bless.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Power of Giving

From Seth Godin:
"If I sell you something, we exchange items of value. You give me money, I give you stuff, or a service. The deal is done. We're even. Even steven, in fact.

That's fine, but it doesn't explain potlatch or the mystery of art or the power of a gift.

If I give you something, or way more than you paid for, an imbalance is created. That imbalance must be resolved.

Perhaps we resolve it, as the ancient Native Americans did, by acknowledging the power of the giver. In the Pacific Northwest a powerful chief would engage in potlatch, giving away everything he owned as a sign of his wealth and power. Since he had more to give away, and the power to get more, the gifts carried real power, and others had to accept his power in order to engage.

Or we resolve it by acknowledging the creativity and insight of the giver. Artists do this every time they put a painting in a museum or a song on the radio. We don't pay for the idea, but we acknowledge it. And then, if it's particularly powerful, it changes us enough that we become givers, contributing to someone else, passing it along.

Sometimes we resolve the imbalance by becoming closer to the brand or the provider. We like getting gifts, we like being close to people who have given us a gift and might do it again.

And sometimes, in the case of international aid, we resent the rich giver, the one with so much more power, and thus create a cycle of dependence that does neither side any good. This sort of gift isn't much of a gift at all.

When done properly, gifts work like nothing else. A gift gladly accepted changes everything. The imbalance creates motion, motion that pushes us to a new equilibrium, motion that creates connection.

The key is that the gift must be freely and gladly accepted. Sending someone a gift over the transom isn't a gift, it's marketing. Gifts have to be truly given, not given in anticipation of a repayment. True gifts are part of being in a community (willingly paying taxes for a school you will never again send your grown kids to) and part of being an artist (because the giving motivates you to do ever better work). Plus, giving a gift feels good."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Didn't Sit Right About the Doritos Commercial?

I've already spoken at length about the controversial Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad but there was another ad that stuck with me and I just couldn't figure out why. It was one of the many Doritos commercials that were featured during the telecast and it was the one with the little kid who slaps a young man who was courting his mother.

Although I initially found some humor in this particular ad, I found myself thinking there was something deeper about the spot that didn't sit well with me. I couldn't figure it out until I read this post by Jam Donaldson. You can view the ad below (click here if the player doesn't show up) and read some poignant thoughts from Donaldson after the video.

From Donaldson:
"I know, I know, it's only a commercial; they are just meant to be funny. However, with the lack of strong black men on television, eternally single black Mothers, black young men seen as goofy sex-starved slackers and out-of-wedlock bad a** black children, somehow this spot just played in to every aspect of the community that silently haunts us. And then we are supposed to laugh.

All that was missing was the hoochie teenage neighbor, thug life aspiring rapper older brother or the sassy overweight no-nonsense, neck-rolling auntie. These black archetypes are getting so tired. I'm sooooo weary of the single-mom-playboy-man-bad-kid paradigm that seems to dominate our images on TV. And now its being used to sell Dorito's. I almost long for the days of the mean black dad and the coon. At least men were in control of their households. I mean, when a child can get in your face, slap you and you sit looking petrified, how are we to believe the black man is strong and in control of anything? (President Barack Obama, not withstanding)

But on the other hand, there's no real reason why a scenario that takes place every day in the homes of single parents everywhere can't be relayed with a bit of harmless, over-the-top humor. So maybe there's no harm, no foul. It could be me. I don't know. I just feel like it's time for a new breed of stock characters in our pantheon of media representations. Am I being a hypersensitive black person (HBP)? Am I tripping? Am I PMS'ing? I mean, I can't lie, I love me some Dorito's."
This ad demonstrates just one of the many images that are presented to us every day in the media that we may laugh at and not give it a second thought. It could simply be innocent fun or we could be contributing to the perpetuation of damaging stereotypes. Some may even wonder if, as a white man, I'm in any kind of position to even be commenting on this. And maybe they're right. But I do think it's something worth thinking about.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Tim Tebow Ad: Was it Worth the Hype?

Chalk one up for pro-life advocates. The much talked about Super Bowl ad featuring Tim Tebow and his mother said nothing of abortion and was relatively tame. Unless, of course, you account for the nice hit that Timmy put on his mama. But more on that in second.

Had pro-choice organizations not made such a fuss about the commercial in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl it is likely that it would have gone relatively unnoticed. This is a good reminder that it's good to actually see something before we protest it. We Christians are notorious for boycotting things we know nothing about which naturally peaks others' curiosity and brings more attention to things we wanted others to ignore in the first place! Some even said that if they hadn't heard anything about the Tebow ad beforehand that they might have thought it was some kind of weird eHarmony ad while viewing it. You can view the ad below. Please click here if the player doesn't show up.

Because such a stink was made about a commercial that ended up being pretty unmemorable, it ended up bringing much more attention to the pro-life cause. To be fair, there was a sizable portion of those that objected to the ad because it was sponsored by Focus on the Family and not because of the content. That is understandable. There are many that view Focus as an organization that is more focused more on what goes on in other peoples' bedrooms than the family. In the end, the Tebow ad was not political and was family-focused.

However, there are some that looked for anything to find fault with the Tebow spot. The president of the National Organization for Woman (NOW), Terry O'Neill said this:
"I am blown away at the celebration of the violence against women in it," she said. "That's what comes across to me even more strongly than the anti-abortion message. I myself am a survivor of domestic violence, and I don't find it charming. I think CBS should be ashamed of itself."
If Ms. O'Neill thinks that commercial glorified domestic violence then I really wonder if she is thinking clearly. What I'm ashamed of is that suctioning out a baby's skull while it is in its mother's womb is fine by O'Neill whereas an obviously light-hearted commercial bothers her. I wonder if she was equally troubled by the well-received Snickers commercial in which Betty White also gets tackled.

These types of comments are evidence that NOW knows that it is losing ground in the moral debate around abortion and it is desperate. This innocuous 30 second commercial generated a national discussion about abortion and the pro-life message was the one that won out. Although Focus on the Family couldn't have fully anticipated the attention this would receive, I'm sure they're happy that the protesters only increased the awareness of their message. Celebrate family. Celebrate life.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who Are the Greatest Wide Receivers Ever?

The 2010 NFL Hall of Fame class was announced yesterday and it was no surprise that the game's leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, and its leading receiver, Jerrry Rice, were inducted in their first year of eligibility. However, a couple of other standout wide receivers, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, did not gain induction this year.

Unlike at other positions, there is simply no debate as to who is the greatest receiver ever. Rice's unbelievable numbers and on-the-field success are no match for other pass-catchers. There is Rice...and then a bunch of other worthy candidates.

So I figured I would try to rank the other great receivers in football history. Similar to formulas that I used to rank the game's greatest quarterbacks and greatest running backs, I measured individual statistics, individual accolades and team success. Because professional football has become much more of a passing game in recent decades, solely looking at numbers like career receptions, yards and touchdowns would not be enough. We must also look at how receivers were viewed in their day against their peers and historically how they have measured up by taking into account the type of era they played in.

For these rankings I looked at the following criteria: Receptions, Receiving yards, Touchdowns, Receptions/Game, Yards/Reception, Yards/Game, League Championships, All-Pro selections, Pro-Bowl selections and League MVP awards. After examining these categories, I sought to weight their career numbers with the era in which they played.

Here are my top ten wide receivers of all-time, in descending order:

10. Paul Warfield - Starring for the Browns and the Dolphins in the sixties and seventies, Warfield was a part of three NFL championship teams. He averaged an amazing 20.1 yards/catch, was selected to 7 All-Pro teams, and 8 Pro Bowls. He caught an impressive 85 touchdowns even though he played on run-oriented teams throughout his career.

9. James Lofton - Having played on five different teams during his illustrious career, Lofton had his greatest success as a member of the Packers and Bills. Among the league's all-time leaders with over 14,000 yards receiving, Lofton was a big play threat as evidenced by 18.3 yards/reception. Lofton played in 8 Pro Bowls and was elected All-Pro 4 times.

8. Cris Carter - Possessing some of the best hands the game has ever seen, Carter had 1,101 catches for 130 touchdowns for the Eagles, Vikings and Dolphins. Carter had close to 14,000 yards receiving (13,899) and averaged nearly five yards/catch (4.7). Selected to 8 Pro-Bowls while playing with the Vikings, Carter teamed with Randy Moss to form one of the most lethal wide receiver duos in league history.

7. Steve Largent - Having recently served as a U.S. Congressman, Largent first became famous as a 5-time All-Pro wide receiver for the Seahawks in the seventies and eighties. Largent finished with 101 touchdown catches and caught a pass in 177 consecutive games. When Largent retired in 1990, he was the game's all-time leader in receptions, receiving touchdowns, and receiving yards.

6. Lance Alworth - Some consider Alworth the greatest receiver to have ever play in the old AFL and it is no wonder why. As a member of the Chargers for most of his playing days, he averaged nearly 19 yards/catch and went for over 75 yards receiving/game over the course of his career. He was selected All-Pro 7 times and was named the AFL's MVP in 1963. Alworth won a Super Bowl title late in his career as a member of the Cowboys.

5. Terrell Owens - One of the most controversial players of the modern age, T.O. has had one of the game's most impressive statistical careers. Though still playing, Owens is among the all-time leaders in receptions (1,006), yards (14,951), receptions/game (4.9), and touchdowns (144). As a member of the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys and Bills, Owens has played in 6 Pro Bowls.

4. Randy Moss - Another talented, albeit troubled wideout, Moss burst onto the NFL scene as a rookie with the Vikings in 1998 by catching 17 touchdowns. After a couple of less than stellar years with the Raiders, Moss has returned to form as member of the Patriots the last few years. Moss has caught 926 passes for 14,465 yards and 148 touchdowns by the completion of the 2009 season. He averaged more receiving yards/game (77.8) than anyone else and has been named All-Pro 4 times and a part of 7 Pro-Bowls.

3. Don Hutson - Relatively unknown to modern fans, Hutson was the game's first breakout star at wide receiver for the Packers in the thirties and forties. Although his overall numbers are not that impressive compared to today's receivers, Hutson was recognized by his contemporaries as football's top receiver. He was a part of 3 NFL champions, was named All-Pro 8 times and was named the league MVP twice. Hutson averaged 16.4 yards/catch and scored 99 touchdowns.

2. Marvin Harrison - Teamed with arguably the NFL's greatest quarterback, Peyton Manning, Harrison was a model of remarkable consistency for the Colts during his storied career. Harrison is second all-time with 1,102 receptions and fifth all-time both with 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. He had an amazing 5.8 catches/game (tops all-time) and 76.7 yards/game (third all-time). Harrison was named All-Pro 8 times and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006.

1. Jerry Rice - There is no question who the top receiver all-time is. Rice's number are so awe-inspiring that they almost seem unbelievable. He had 1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards for 208 touchdowns (all NFL records). He also had 5.1 receptions/game (third all-time) and 75.6 yards/game (fourth all-time). If that's not enough, he won 3 Super Bowls with the 49ers, was selected first team All-Pro 11 times and played in 13 Pro Bowls. He is one of the few players to be named league MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Pro Bowl MVP.

Honorable Mention:
I considered 26 different wide receivers for this list. Although I only selected ten, a few that just missed out were Michael Irvin, Tim Brown, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Most Overrated:
Lynn Swann - A Hall of Famer and star for the 4-time Super Bowl champion Steelers in the seventies, Swann ranked close to the bottom in nearly every category that I ranked. Primarily remembered for a few great plays made in Super Bowls, Swann's numbers are pretty meager: 336 receptions, 5462 yards, 51 touchdowns, 47.5 yards/game and only 3 Pro Bowls. Had he been playing for the Lions and not the great Steeler teams of the 70's, there's no way he's in the Hall of Fame.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Africa Gives to Haiti

From Paul Shepherd of the Black Voices blog:
"When it comes to giving on the global scale, African nations are usually on the receiving end of international largess, but the harrowing images from earthquake-ravaged Haiti have several African nations pledging financial support for the relief effort.

While the pledge offers of $2.5 million from the Democratic Republic of Congo and $3 million from Ghana are a drop in the bucket compared to pledges made by the United States and most European nations, the pledges represent the first time in recent memory that African countries have pooled their meager financial resources to help a country outside of their continent.

Aside from the individual country pledges, a campaign called "Africa for Haiti" has been started online.

Other African countries that have pledged support, include Equatorial Guinea ($2 million), Namibia and Gabon ($1 million each), Sierra Leone ($100,000), and Senegal, which has pledged $1 million and land to any Haitian emigre.

To my thinking, the size of the pledge isn't as important as the notion among African leaders that they can help bring positive change to those who are worse off than they are."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Who Are the Most Influential Preachers in the U.S.?

In a recent survey performed by LifeWay Research, Rev. Billy Graham was named as the nation's most influential preacher. The final poll results, which included responses from over a thousand pastors from Protestant denominations, reveals some potential problems with the sample from which LifeWay collected its data.

First, let me list the top ten responses:

1. Billy Graham
2. Chuck Swindoll
3. Charles Stanley
4. Rick Warren
5. John MacArthur
6. Barbara Brown Taylor
7. David Jeremiah
8. Max Lucado
9. John Piper
10. Andy Stanley

What I find interesting about this list is not that I don't think these individuals are influential (clearly they are), but I wonder about the relative homogeneity of the list. All of the preachers listed here are white and all but one is a man. Seven of the ten are from either Georgia or California. That seems a bit odd to me.

In addition, pastors of several of the largest churches in the country are not listed here, most notably Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels and T.D. Jakes. In the case of Osteen, we can say what we will about his theology and teaching methods but hardly a person in America (Christian or not) has not heard of him as a result of his television program and best-selling books.

The director of the company that did the study said this:
"The lack of diversity -- the top picks were nearly all white male Southern pastors -- however, surprised Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Considering our sample includes liberal and conservative, all races and ethnicities, mainline and evangelical, we were surprised that the list looked like mainstream Christian radio and publishing and was not more representative," Stetzer said.
Perhaps the reason the study came out the way it did was because those that were questioned are those that listen to mainstream Christian radio and are exposed to mainstream Christian publishing. Other groups like Pentecostals, African Americans and Hispanics, to name a few, are simply not represented in this sample. I wonder if a company that was unaffiliated with a particular denomination were to conduct a similar survey if they would get the same results. It would be interesting to find out.

Monday, February 01, 2010

How College Students Changed the World 50 Years Ago

The date was February 1, 1960 and four young black men, all students at North Carolina A&T, had experienced enough discrimination to be driven to action. They sat down at the counter of a Woolworth's department store and asked to be served. That doesn't sound like much of a big deal today, but in 1960 in North Carolina, it was.

The ways of the land during that time was that African Americans were not allowed to be served at lunch counters. Just a handful of years after the Civil Rights movement had been ignited by Brown v. Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the death of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, college students ushered in the sixties through civil disobedience.

USA Today tells the story of these students here. It is just one of the many reasons why I work with college students. They have the power to change the world. Thanks to Ken Cochrum for the link to the article.