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  • A Tale of Two Coaches

    • Posted on Mar 27, 2016
    Here's this morning's Courier column--does God intervene in basketball games?
    Happy Easter.   

    “To God be the glory!” exclaimed Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy after their utterly improbable win over UNI Sunday night. His team had come back in the last 38 seconds from a 12-point deficit to tie, then to win in double overtimes against the Panthers. 

     Coming off the floor, he insisted that his players prayed their way to victory. 

     In contrast, UNI Coach Ben Jacobsen at the postgame NCAA press conference struggled with words, explaining,  “unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of just a crazy thirty seconds—you know, we aren’t ever going to be able to have an answer for, nor do we need one.  It just happened to go that way.”

     Three of his senior players, Paul Bohannon, Matt Jesperson, and Wes Washpun, sat beside him, looking utterly exhausted and disappointed.  They had been beaten down not only by the furious pace of the game, but also by the shocking turnaround from winners to losers in just over a half-minute.   

    Jacobsen forged ahead by supporting his players, saying “but everything that happened to get to that point—these are three of the finest young men and three of the best guys we’ve ever had come through our program, and I’m extremely proud of them.” 

     They had just experienced an epic game loss they will relive for years, though they won’t blame coach Jacobson for it.  Nor themselves.  Nor God.   

     So, did God answer the A&M coach and team’s fervent prayers for a win?  Or, as Jacobson insisted, did it just happen for reasons they’ll never clearly understand?  And don’t need to?  

     As much as we all hope for a supernatural entity that will intervene when she/he/it hears enough prayers, that’s an empty hope.  In the ringing phrases of the Old Testament’s Ecclesiastes (9:11, to be exact) “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

     Anyone who gets past kindergarten knows this to be true.  We’re all subject to time and chance, and to suggest that we didn’t pray hard or long enough comes perilously close to blaming the victim.   

     Teams win or lose because of a variety of events all emerging, creating a win or loss.  We call them “perfect storms” now, but it’s the same as the Biblical “time and chance.”   

     Most important, Coach Jacobson handled the loss exactly right by graciously thanking his team, complimenting the winners, and moving on.   

     To praise or blame anyone feeds resentment, creates false responsibilities, and ultimately calls into question one’s faith.  That’s the irony of thanking God for winning.

    If God helped you win, what about when you lost?  Isn’t blame the logical response?  So I compliment Coach Jacobsen for taking the Ecclesiastes route, admitting that time and chance happened to the team.  

    That’s true, and it’s the long-term best attitude.   

     The A&M Coach’s insistence that God helped them win amounts to a lack of faith in his players and their last-minute burst of strategy, energy, and lucky breaks.     


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  • Baby Jesse in the Manger

    • Posted on Dec 20, 2015

    Here's this morning's (12-20) Waterloo Courier column on what might have been,  

    Every December Christians honor the babe in the manger, and even non-Christians have to admit it’s compelling and memorable.

    It pits the meek against the mighty, poor against the rich, outcasts against insiders. Oh yes, and the founding of a world religion.

    It’s so powerful that no one thinks twice about recycling it every year.  The same ought to go for alternative versions.  Here’s my revised Christmas story that I freely adapted years ago from Matthew and Luke.

    Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for this which is conceived in her is of the holy spirit.”

    “She will bear a son or daughter and you shall call his or her name Jesus or Jesse, for he or she will save his or her people from their sins.”  

    While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered.  Lo and behold, Mary gave birth to their first-born daughter, wrapped her in swaddling clothes and laid her in a manger.  There was no soft crib because there was no place in the inn for such refugees.  

    Following the angels’ suggestion, she named her blessed daughter Jesse.


    Now in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone all about them.  The shepherds were sore afraid.  

    And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Jesse the Queen.

     “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

    When the angels went away into heaven the shepherds said to one another, “A little girl, our savior?  Can this be?”

    “A female savior? A lady Lord?  Women can birth saviors, but they cannot be one.   Everyone knows that!”

    They went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph.  Soon they looked with wonder on the babe lying in the manger.  And they made known that which they had heard concerning this child.  All the people wondered at what the shepherds told them.

     Then the shepherds were no longer sore afraid.  They were just plain sore. 

     “What happened to the days when only boys could be saviors?  Has any girl ever become anything but a wife, an old maid, or a witch?”

    The shepherds went home, thinking the real savior had not yet been born.  “Probably some maverick angels,” one of them mumbled.

     Along the way, they met three wise men who had heard the news.  The shepherds stopped them, saying, “Turn back. Save your frankincense and myrrh. Wait until the real savior comes along. This one’s only a baby girl named Jesse.”

     And Mary, mother of Jesse, pondered all these things in her heart.

     “What if little Jesse had been born a boy?” she wondered, after she and Joseph had returned home.  “Would he have been worshiped as a real savior?”

    Mary prayed nightly that if her daughter Jesse had any special powers she would keep them to herself.  Little boys with special powers became saviors, founders of great religions. 

     Little girls with special powers were burned as witches.

    Baby Jesse grew into wonderful woman, a friend to all in need, wise beyond her years, and deeply beloved.  Thanks to her mother’s wise teaching, she never used her miraculous powers, and never married.

    Jesse lived and died in obscurity.

    Meanwhile, all around the world, wise men kept waiting for the real savior
    Merry Christmas, everyone. 


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    • satire
    • Christmas
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