Let’s Tap the Brakes on the Ebola Fears

Perhaps, I am a bit naïve, but I simply do not understand the fear and paranoia surrounding the Ebola virus. Follow me for a second.

6.8 million people live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Currently, two of them are infected with the Ebola virus. Both of those patients had direct contact with bodily fluids of a patient infected with the Ebola virus. Forty-eight other people had casual contact with Patient Zero, Thomas Eric Duncan. They have been under observation for seventeen days now and none of them have contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, a report out today from the Dallas Morning News reveals that medical staff at Presbyterian Hospital did not wear hazmat suits for two days while treating Duncan. A blog post from National Nurses United provides an even more damning account of his treatment.

Add it all up and Ebola is the virus from your science book and not the one from the Hollywood blockbusters—deadly, but communicable under very limited conditions. Even as scary as it may be that you may have shared a flight with someone infected with Ebola, your chances are very slim of catching it under that scenario.  In short, if you are not caring for someone infected with the virus, there’s a 99.9% (or greater) chance you will not get Ebola.

Presbyterian Hospital does some things very well. Our son was born at that very same hospital and both he and my wife received excellent care; however, it is obvious Presby. was not prepared to handle an Ebola patient. From all the facts that we have, it appears mistakes were made on their end, putting their employees at great risk. Thankfully, the CDC has stepped in and transferred Amber Vinson to a facility more prepared to handle someone with this particular virus.

I suspect we will see more cases of people who administered care to Duncan developing the virus over the next few days, but until someone contracts the virus in a way that contradicts current medical science (i.e. someone who contracts the virus without being directly exposed to an infected person’s bodily fluids), I refuse to buy into the paranoia or give into the fear.

Too Much Religion?

I first read the story of the Rev. Charles Moore last week. For those of you not familiar with his story, Moore drove to his hometown of Grand Saline in East Texas, doused himself with gasoline, and set himself on fire. In letters left by Moore, he indicated the act was meant to bring attention to what he perceived as unjust practices by the United Methodist Church and members of his hometown, specifically as it relates to members of the African-American and LGBT communities. It’s a story I have struggled with ever since.

Like Rev. Moore, I grew up behind the Pine Curtain. I too lament the region’s history of bigotry and intolerance. I am appalled to think of the building where I attended elementary school was once the old “black” high school in our community, located on “the Hill,” the segregated African-American community in the center of my hometown. More importantly, I recognize racism and bigotry still exists in these communities. Why else would a town of 5,000 residents need two First Baptist Churches?

Like Moore, I  believe the Methodist church has marginalized members of the LGBT community. I remain a strong proponent of marriage equality and admire those within our church working for full inclusion of homosexual clergy members, but I also firmly believe that Christ called us to be selfless servants and feel that Moore’s act of self-immolation was completely selfish. More importantly, I think it further illustrates the dangers associated with being too religious.

Usually we associate being “too religious” with extremely conservative theology. The Branch Davidians and the congregants of Westboro Baptist Church instantly come to mind, but the term could easily be used to describe a number of Reformed and Pentecostal sects of Christianity. Indeed, it seems as though anybody who spent anytime in an evangelical church in the 90’s blogs about the ways churches that are “too religious” harmed them. I don’t doubt their stories, but they are so ubiquitous that we often overlook some of the dangerous practices of progressive Christians who tend to be “too religious.”

The most obvious example is Jim Jones, but I think Moore’s actions can be described as those of a progressive Christian consumed by religion as well. While some describe his actions as those of a martyr, I disagree, and see instead the actions of political radical more concerned with making a statement, ultimately drawing attention to himself, rather than a humble servant prepared to follow the message of Christ.

Christ calls every Christian to a life of radical discipleship that causes us to walk a tightrope between  the secular and the sacred. Religion is one of many rudimentary tools invented by man to try and better understand the sacred. No doubt that we need religion in order to fully discern God’s call in our lives, but it’s when begin to lean on religion more than Christ’s own message that we begin to encroach on dangerous territory.

Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today


Recently, our church wrapped up a four part sermon series on the Book of Jonah.  When promotional material for the series began circulating in early May, I wondered how one could possibly stretch the story out over the course of four weeks, but Paul Rasmussen and Matt Tuggle revealed a story far more substantive than I ever knew existed.

Even those with little or no exposure to the Christian church know the story. Many of us learned it as children. Jonah hops a boat to escape God. God sends a storm that tosses Jonah into the sea, where a whale swallows him. Eventually, Jonah submits to God, who causes the whale to spit Jonah out. The children’s version ends there and serves as a reminder to always remain obedient to God, but the adult version continues.

After being rescued from the fish, Jonah goes into Nineveh and follows God instructions to warn the Ninevites that God would soon destroy their city. The Ninevites change their ways, repent, and God has a change of heart, deciding to spare the city, its people, and animals, which confounds Jonah. The story ends with Jonah setting up camp outside the city, God sending a giant plant to protect him from the elements, sending a worm to destroy it, and the ensuing conversation between Jonah and God.

It’s a rather surreal story from start to finish, one of many in the Bible that cause the rational mind to pause and question the book’s validity and relevance in contemporary society, but when read in context, the story of Jonah offers timeless lessons on what to do when the “place God wants us to be the most is the place we want to be the least.”

Sadly, many of us never move past the childhood versions of the great stories of the Bible and, as a result, our faith remains in a state of arrested development. Adam Hamilton’s latest book, Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today seeks to help us avoid that trap and to read the Bible with a more critical eye. Indeed, in the epilogue, Hamilton reminds his reader that, “to reiterate the base premise of this book: You are not dishonoring God by asking questions of scripture that seems inconsistent with modern scientific knowledge or geography or history.

Hamilton divides his book into two sections: “The Nature of Scripture” and “Making Sense of the Bible’s Challenging Passages.” The first section begins with a historical look of both the Old and New Testament: when the books were written, by whom, for whom, and the process of canonization. It serves as a great starting point for anyone wanting to know how the Bible was compiled.

Chapters 3 through 7 serve as survey of the Old Testament, making the ancient books accessible to 21st Century lay people. Hamilton exposes a theme found throughout the Old Testament, a pattern we continue to see repeated today.

When things are going well, they [Israelites] tend to forget about God. They focus on gaining wealth or on their own pleasure. They worship the idols their own hands have made. They no longer demonstrate love and justice. They stop helping the poor. God withholds his protection, and Israel’s enemies begin to attack. Israel cries out to God for help. God delivers them (through Judges, then Kings), and all is well again, until they forget God once more, focus on wealth and pleasure, and practice injustice and idolatry, so God withholds his hand again.

Of course this isn’t just the story of the Israelites, but of all mankind.

The Old Testament section concludes with a look at “Prophecy, the Old Testament, and the Early Church.” Hamilton points out that “as the early Christians read the Old Testament, they did so in the light of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, and they saw Jesus on nearly every page.” He points out that history shows many of the prophecies evangelicals commonly associate with Jesus were actually fulfilled centuries earlier. He encourages the reader to view the Old Testament through the following lens.

The words of the Old Testament may have had a fulfillment in the past, but they took on new meaning in the light of Jesus’s life and ministry, his death and resurrection. Jesus offered a completion, or climactic redefinition, of what these ancient words meant because Jesus is the climax of God’s saving work in the world.

This serves as perfect transition to the New Testament. Hamilton reminds us that God’s story comes full circle in the New Testament when “Revelation ends where Genesis began—in a garden. The paradise that was lost by Adam and Eve in Genesis is restored by Christ in Revelation,” but before diving head on into Revelation, Hamilton begins the study of the New Testament with a look at the letters, with a heavy emphasis on Paul’s letters to the early Christian church, which are widely accepted as the oldest writings in the New Testament.

Hamilton reminds his reader that when reading the letters you are actually reading “someone else’s mail,” meaning they must be read in their proper context. “The Epistles are amazingly timeless,” Hamilton writes. “Most of what they teach we can fairly easily apply to our own lives, but there is room to ask questions about how to apply to our lives instructions found in mail addressed to people two thousand years ago.”

Paul serves as controversial figure to some. Indeed, in his letters, Paul shared many opinions on the role of women, slavery, and sexual morality that many good hearted Christians find not only antiquated, but also incompatible with the loving message of Jesus Christ. Hamilton helps those of us who feel this way place Paul’s writing in context, by helping us understand Paul’s intended audience and life experiences.

With the reader reconciled with Paul, Hamilton moves on to a quick study of the Gospels, beginning with an examination of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). He points out the numerous similarities between the synoptics and investigates their possible shared sources, while developing the theme of the coming “kingdom of God.”

In examining John, Hamilton explains, “if I’m looking for answers to questions of when, what, and how, I look to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. If I’m interested in answer to questions of who and why, I turn to John.”

Up until this point, Hamilton manages to offer a critical examination of the Bible few would find controversial; however, from Chapter 14 on Hamilton requires the reader to ask some tough questions that inevitably will leave some feeling a bit uncomfortable, beginning with “is the Bible inspired.”

As he points out, the phrase appears only once in scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Hamilton explains that “verbal, plenary inspiration” is neither taught in the Bible, nor was it taught in the early church, but rather grew out of a defensive response to the Enlightenment, or as Hamilton explains it, “verbal, plenary inspiration was a way of building a fence around the Bible and making it impossible to question it or any doctrine built upon it.”

 Again, you don’t need to be a regular churchgoer to know this same rigid, narrow-mindedness exists in the church today, robbing scriptures of their richness and turning our back on the great Christian tradition.

As Hamilton explains, “none of the historic creeds of the church, those from the first five hundred years of the Christian faith, mention an infallible or inerrant Bible or the idea of verbal, plenary inspiration, and none begin with an affirmation of faith in the scriptures. But for many, this has become the first and foundational creed of Christendom.”

Hamilton’s critique of the idea of “verbal, plenary inspiration” shouldn’t be read as a complete dismissal of the idea that scripture is “inspired.” For him (and me), “divine inspiration” does not mean inerrancy. Many in the Anglican/Wesleyan tradition feel scripture contain “all things necessary for salvation,” without mistaking it for a history or science book.

He lays out the Methodist view of scripture—scriptures role in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral—which, as Hamilton describes, “involves reading and interpreting scripture with the help of the tradition of the faith, the experience of the Spirit, and the use of our human reason.”

This raises another divisive question. Is the Bible the word of God?

It depends on how you look at it, according to Hamilton.

In reading each of the forty-one passages that speak of the “word of God,” few seem to refer to something written down in a scroll or book. Most, often, the phrase refers to a message about God that is heard—either spoken or preached. In the Gospels, Jesus preaches “the word of God,” but that is never an expository sermon on a text of the Old Testament. When the apostles refer to the word of God, they are almost always referring to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ not something written in the scriptures.

Hamilton points out that only once in scripture—“God’s self-disclosure” found in John 1:14 (“The Word became flesh and lived among us…”), can we say the “Word of God is inerrant and infallible.”

While some might find Hamilton’s nuance heretical, I find it very helpful, especially his analogy that “the Bible is the biography of God. It is not an autobiography, but an authorized biography.”

This leads to a study of some of the more troubling passages in the Bible, looking first at the Creation stories found in Genesis, which Hamilton reminds us “is not ancient history. This is your story. It is my story.” This naturally leads to a study of Adam & Eve, Noah and the flood, and some of the more problematic passages of the Old Testament.

I especially found the section on suffering to be enlightening. So many Christians reduce suffering to talking points, saying things such as “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Worse yet, some conservative Christians teach that suffering is God’s punishment. I find both lines of reasoning to be juvenile, but find comfort in Hamilton’s thoughts.

The idea of God’s sovereignty does not mean everything happens according to the will of God, but that human evil, natural disasters, illness, and even death will not have the final word. God will ultimately force good from evil, and his love and goodness will finally prevail. This truth is seen in the rebuilding that takes place in our lives and in our world after tragedy strikes, and in the hope of the resurrection when we God face-to-face. God’s sovereignty does not mean God causes these things, but instead that none of them will ultimately have the final word. God will bring good from evil, and not even death can separate us from his love.

Some might be uncomfortable with Hamilton’s deconstruction of scripture. I admit that I am hesitant to accept Hamilton’s version of Christian inclusivism presented at the end of the book, but I take great comfort in his presentation of a model of reading scripture that does not require one to check their brain at the door.

So how are we to read scripture? I think Hamilton summarizes it nicely when he writes:

To me, someone who holds a high view of scripture approaches the Bible with a deep appreciation for its history and the way God has spoken and continues to speak through it. They recognize both the Bible’s humanity and its divine inspiration, and they study it carefully in order to be shaped and guided by it. Someone with a high view of scripture actually reads the Bible, listens for God to speak through it, seeks to be shaped by its words, and seeks to follow its commands. One can long to do these things and not believe in inerrancy, and one can believe in inerrancy and not do these things.

When Does Contemporary Worship Become “Too Contemporary?”

 Remember Columbia House and BMG music clubs?

For those of you not old enough to remember, these music clubs, and others like them, often ran ads in Sunday newspapers advertising multiple CDs (usually, 6 or 8 I believe) for an incredibly low price. Some included a spot to affix a penny to send back to the club. Others simply would bill you later. Six to eight weeks later, your CDs would arrive in the mail, as well as an invoice for enrollment in their club. Absent a reply, you would continue to receive at least one CD a month.

I have no idea how much money I cost my parents, but I joined these clubs multiple times and relied on them to make arrangements to cancel my enrollment, but I always got to keep the CDs. As a result, my music collection really grew. By the time I was a senior in high school, I probably had close to 200 albums on CD, which was a sizeable collection for a high school student in the 1990’s.

One day, a good friend stopped by to talk music with me. At the urging of his youth pastor, he recently had destroyed all off his secular music and encouraged me to do the same, so for the next 30-45 minutes we went through my music collection, breaking each of my CDs that didn’t promote a Christian image. For the next few months, I abstained from listening to any secular music at all, but eventually, I saw the folly of my friend’s theology, understanding that listening to secular music was not an unpardonable sin.

I share this story, because I don’t want to come off sounding like my friend. But I must ask, what’s the deal with secular music in 21st Century contemporary worship services?

From about 1997 through 2013, I went through my own dark phase of church. As I have spoken about freely on this blog, I bounced between agnostic and apathetic when it came to religion and saw church as a bit superfluous, but fatherhood changed everything, including my perception of the church.

Now that I am back as a regular church attendee, I am slowly adjusting to 21st Century contemporary worship services. When I last attended church on a regular basis in the late 90’s, contemporary services were still deeply closeted in the Methodist church. My local church had a 45 minute contemporary service on Sunday evenings, but most congregants would have completely freaked if they had known drums had made an appearance in our sanctuary.

I’m glad to see contemporary services are more accepted now in the Methodist church, but I have to ask, have we become a little too contemporary?

Yesterday’s service at my church included Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” The pastor’s sermon was entitled, “Under Pressure,” so I get its inclusion in the worship service, but I am still having problems processing the inclusion of a Katy Perry song in Sunday morning worship. As far as I can tell, there is nothing spiritual about its lyrics.

Again, I have nothing against secular music, nor Katy Perry. My iTunes library contains 9,000 songs, 95% of which are secular, and if I am being completely honest, even a few Katy Perry songs, but when I attend Sunday morning service, I want the music to be part of my worship experience. Unless we’re singing something like the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” I just don’t see how secular music can actually bring us closer to God.

Am I just being an old man or do I have a legitimate gripe here?

Remember When Alternative Music Provided an “Alternative”

This morning I decided to sample iTunes Radio’s Top 50 Alternative Songs, allegedly a mix of the top “alternative” songs of the week, to see what passes as “alternative music” these days. I’m old enough to remember a time when bands like Sonic Youth and R.E.M. provided a true alternative to the mainstream sound, but it seems the term “alternative” has evolved since then.

What I heard this morning sounded as trite and vapid as anything you would hear on Top 40 radio. Indeed, I believe many of the artists iTunes clustered under the “alternative” tag–Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Coldplay–receive considerable airplay on these stations. Is this really the best sampling of contemporary “alternative” music?

Then there is this Lana Del Rey character. She comes off as a poor man’s Beth Gibbons, yet had three songs in the Top 50, none of which I would classify as alternative.

Here’s some advice to those hoping to preserve the essence of the alternative sound. Ditch the drum machines, auto-tuners, and synthesizers. Next, veer away from celebrity producers. They will inevitably force you to compromise your own sound. Finally, don’t be afraid to show some vulnerability, not only emotionally, but mechanically as well. If we want to hear something polished, we’ll head over to Top 40 radio.

Good Government

For years, I used this blog to criticize bad government (and politicians), but today I must use this forum to commend the much maligned municipal government here in the City of Dallas for a job well done.

It began Tuesday, when maintenance workers at our condominium passed out leaflets letting us know that City of Dallas water utilities would be cutting off water in our neighborhood on Wednesday for planned utility work. According to the flyer, water should have been restored by no later than 3 p.m. This might all sound like a minor inconvenience, but take into consideration our condo is cooled by a chiller unit that runs off of water. If the water is off, we have no air. Plus, my wife is a stay-at-home mom with a one year old boy. You never know when you might need water with our little one.

My wife called me around 3:30 p.m. to let me know the city had yet to restore the water service and that she had spoken with the attendant in our gatehouse who told the water should be restored by 4 p.m.

When the water was not restored at 4 p.m., I called the water department to find out more. The dispatcher informed me that the work crew “encountered some problems” and that they hoped to have the water restored in a “couple of hours.” I found this response to be completely unacceptable, so I emailed my city councilman, Philip Kingston.

The city finally restored the water service around 5 p.m. This morning, I received a phone call from the water department’s assistant manager who apologized about the entire situation and promised he would get me the answers I demanded, namely why did it take to long to restore water services. He even gave me his phone number and instructed me to call him if I did not hear from him by noon on Monday. Councilman Kingston’s office sent an apologetic email as well.

Perfection exists only as abstract idea. No agency or person can ever achieve it. I judge the efficacy of entities on the way they respond when they fail to achieve perfection. In this case, the response from both my city councilman and the water department exceeded my expectations and serve as a reminder that good government still exists.

Well done, Dallas!

Farther Along: How Parenthood Pushed Me Back Into the Church

My friends and family members with kids warned us that having children changes everything, and they were right. Sleeping in now means 9:30 a.m. Our meals now consist of one of us entertaining our son, while the other shovels food down their throat. And date nights feel more like high school with self-imposed curfews, but I think more than anything, having a baby has caused us to examine our spiritual life. Something about watching the miracle of birth reminds us of our own mortality and the tremendous responsibility that comes with God’s greatest blessing.

Both of our parents raised us in the (mainline) church, but I can count on one hand the number of Sunday morning services I had attended in the past 15 years. Still, we knew that this was an important part of our cultural DNA and should be passed onto our son.

I previously wrote about the generations of Methodists on my father’s side of the family; religion played an even bigger role in my mother’s family. Their roots are bit more Calvinistic and several members were prominent in the world of Southern Gospel music. My maternal grandfather and great uncle were known throughout the region as performers and promoters of the craft and a couple of extended family members regularly perform with the Gaithers.

Each summer, the Rogers family gathered in rural Southwest Arkansas for an annual family reunion, which inevitably turned into gospel concerts, complete with a closing altar call. That’s right, my family reunions had altar calls.

This type of upbringing certainly engendered a thirst for piety that carried me through the awkwardness of adolescence. In high school, my friends and I spent more time trying to unlock the mysteries of scripture than engaging in typical teenage activities. Eventually, I thought I felt God calling me to the ministry, but somewhere in college that all changed and for the first time I began to question everything I had been taught to believe. Thankfully, my parents provided me enough of a spiritual foundation that my faith, though dramatically changed, survived, but I gave up on the ministry and dropped out of the church.

While I found the idea of “church” to be a bit superfluous, religion remained a hobby for me and I sought out others that would challenge me to examine my faith from a different perspective, but somewhere along the way I concluded that most of the people pushing ideas such as “Christian spirituality” and “red-letter Christianity” were actually pushing a form of “identity Christianity.”

Picking a Christian author/blogger to read, personality to follow, or church to attend was not unlike choosing a cable news network to watch–a decision that often defined a persons tastes in music, literature, and of course politics. Not to mention virtually all the leaders and followers of these movements came off as a bit pedantic. I wanted no part of it, but the things a parents will do for his child…

I knew we had to raise our son in the church, so in September, my wife and I decided to join a local United Methodist Church, with the intent of having our son baptized and to become connected with the church. I think part of me wanted God to “light the flame that once burned bright and clear,” while another part of me continued to doubt a lot of the bad doctrine I had been exposed to early life. I continue to struggle to find a faith that aligns with my previous experiences and that doesn’t betray what I know to be empirically true, which brings me here.

As I survey the wreckage of evangelical Christianity, I’m not quite sure where I belong. I sometimes feel like I know what I want to believe, but don’t always know if that constitutes the absolute truth. I know what I’ve experienced and I know what it will take for Christianity to be “real” for me once again, but how do I get there?

One of my favorite gospel songs is “Farther Along.” It’s one that was sung every summer at our family reunion and one that I heard my grandfather sing on numerous occasions. The refrain, while quite simple, serves as a poignant reminder that while the answers might not always be readily available, if we commit to our faith journey, God will in time reveal to us the answers we need to know. This new section of my blog is called “Farther Along” and will serve as a place for me to jot down my thoughts as God reveals to me the answers I need to know.

New Member

FUMC Atlanta

Growing up in East Texas, you can profess to be Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or even Methodist, but in the end, statistics show that you’ll probably  end up Baptist. Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention’s roots run deep in the Piney Woods, making the area Baptist, the way the Vatican is Catholic. Those not born into the religion often convert, if for no other reason to be a member of the same social circle as their friends. Yet generations of my family resisted the temptation and maintained their membership at the First United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Texas.

For over one hundred years, members of the Ellis/Hanner family not only attended Sunday morning services at FUMC-Atlanta, but also taught Sunday school, led and fed youth groups, served on various boards and committees, and supported the church with their gifts and services.

Throughout my life, the church felt like an extension of my home–literally. Like my father and grandmother before me, I grew up across the street from the church and next door to the parsonage. Like most Texas homes, our’s did not have a basement or storm shelter, so anytime severe weather threatened the area, my parents, grandparents, sister, and I huddled up in the church basement along with the pastor and his family.

As a kid, my parents considered the church part of my “safe zone” and allowed me to ride my bike across the street to the parking lot where I spent my time hopping curbs and coasting down wheelchair ramps. When I traded in my bike for a pair of RollerBlades, the church parking lot once again provided the best surface for skating and pick-up street hockey games with other kids in the neighborhood.

Of course the church served as more than just a storm shelter and rec. center. It serves as the backdrop to many of the earliest memories stored deep within the attic of my mind–tiny fragments of images long since worn and faded. The mystery stain on Family Life Center’s all-purpose carpet. The sweetness of the green juice the day school teachers gave us at refreshment time. The way the light reflected through the frosted glass in the bathrooms.

Other memories maintain a much more vibrant existence. The Sunday I joined the church with the rest of my confirmation class. Various youth group functions. And, the first time I felt the presence of something greater than myself.

Sixteen years have passed since I last maintained a permanent residence in Atlanta and FUMC moved to a new location several years ago; however, I never switched my membership. No matter how far I drifted away from the church both geographically and spiritually, it remained a part of my identity. Indeed, the church left an indelible mark on my life, and even as I teetered on the edge of agnosticism, I felt this church continued to define me.

Over the years, I managed to salvage my faith and my wife and I began attending church once again. While we always talked about trying out different churches in the area, we kept on coming back to Highland Park United Methodist Church. We attended services on an irregular basis throughout our courtship and marriage, but after our son was born in April, we made a commitment to become more devoted parishioners.

Being a member of a church requires certain things from its members, not just tithing and service, but also a commitment to fellowship and worship with other members and to witness to the love of Jesus Christ throughout the local community, which is nearly impossible to do from 150 miles away. The church is there to minister to my family as well and as I reflected on the way FUMC-Atlanta fulfilled the vows they took at my Christening, I realized I wanted the same for my son. In the words of a friend, we decided to stop “stealing God” from our local church and become members.

This past Sunday, we finally joined HPUMC. That night, I messaged a long-time friend, and former fellow FUMC member, that while it felt weird to be a member of a new church, it certainly felt right. For the first time in a long time, I see a chance to capture some of that spiritual nourishment I’ve lacked for such a long period of time.


Before You Blame Tony Romo

Yesterday, Tony Romo posted–statistically–the most impressive game for a quarterback in franchise history. That’s right, no Cowboys quarterback–not Meredith, not Staubach, not White, not Aikman–put up the kind of numbers that Tony Romo did against the Broncos. Indeed, few quarterbacks in NFL history have posted numbers like Romo’s, but in spite of the 506 yards passing and 5 touchdowns, his critics want to dwell on his one interception.

Yes, it came at a critical point of the game, but to blame Romo for yesterday’s loss is foolish.

Football has evolved over the years, but a simple philosophy remains true. If you want to win, you have to be able to run the football and stop the run. Over the past two seasons, when the Cowboys have lost it’s because they could do neither, not because of Romo.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Dating back to the start of the 2012 season, the Cowboys have lost 11 games, by an average of 30-23.
  • In those 11 losses, Romo has averaged 337 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception per game.
  • Meanwhile, in those 11 losses, the Cowboys have averaged 17 carries per game for a 68 yard per game rush average.
  • That number is a bit misleading, since it contains one outlier. A 2012 loss to Ravens, in which the Cowboys rushed the ball 42 times for 227 yards. If we remove this game, the Cowboys have rushed the ball an average of 15 times per game for a 53 yard per game average over the remaining 10 losses.
  • Only twice in those 11 losses did the Cowboys have more than 2 rushing attempts after the third quarter.
  • What makes that number even harder to swallow is that the Cowboys were within at least a touchdown of the lead in 8 of the losses heading into the fourth quarter.
  • On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys defense has given up an average of 132 yards a game on the ground in the 11 losses.
  • Only twice, did they hold opponents to less than 100 yards rushing (Ravens – 86 yards; Bears – 93 yards).

When I look at those numbers, I don’t think, “man, Tony Romo is the problem.” Turnovers have always been a problem for him, but turnovers have been a problem for many great quarterbacks (see “Brett Favre”). Hell, every quarterback has a weakness. A good coach will formulate design a game plan to protect his quarterback and make him less vulnerable. For Romo, it seems pretty obvious that you do this by establishing a sustained rushing attack, especially in close games.



I often tell people I took the scenic route through college. This included test driving virtually every degree program offered by the school of humanities, including a brief stint as a history major while at the University of Texas-Tyler.

In one of the classes I took that semester, American 20th Century History, the professor sought early on to help us distinguish between current events and historyCurrent events, he taught us, become part of history when we have had ample time to digest them and to gain a certain level of understanding. He went on to say his general rule of thumb was that anything that happened less than ten years ago would probably be considered current events, while anything older than ten years old could comfortably be characterized as history.

Per the course syllabus, the course went through the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the time, we were twelve years removed from that event, and while we all remembered watching the Germans celebrate on top of the wall, we felt far enough removed from it to not question its inclusion in a history class.

That night as I reflected on the professor’s lecture, I realized how quiet the 90’s had been. Sure, the Soviet Union fell, we fought in a few brief skirmishes, and elected a president who enjoyed partying like a rock star, but for the most part the 90’s were marked by peace and prosperity. My journal entry for that night includes the following, “our world is ripe for some big event, where and when will it occur? It’s actually very exciting to ponder the possibilities.

Thirteen days later, I awoke up to the news on my alarm clock radio. For several minutes, I lay in bed, debating whether or not to get up and hit the snooze button. At the time, it sounded like a minor accident and I wanted to get some more sleep before facing the rigors of the day, but I soon realized that this day was going to be different.

Twelve years have passed. As I reflect on that September morning, I now understand some events transcend the binary distinction of current events and history. Instead, some events serve as lines of demarcation in our lives, dividing them into before and after. While the memories remain fresh and emotions real, I find it hard to wrap myself in the flag or to muster much anger. Instead, I prefer a more nuanced approach of remembrance.

Before that day, I faced the same existential dilemmas as many 22 year old college students. On the spine of my (black) journal, I painted in White Out the word “Porquoi,” which seemed to be an acceptable response to anything that happened in my life.

After that day, it seemed to be the only  response.

I remember a few days after talking to a friend. She was a French citizen who had somehow found her way to a small college in East Texas. We often gathered to talk about my favorite French writers—Sartre, Camus, and Moliere—but this day we discussed the event consuming everyone else’s lives.

She told me that she felt vulnerable for the first time in America and, because of that, violated as well. One of the reasons she opted to study in the States, as opposed to France, was the security promised by this land of freedom. Tragedies like this were supposed to happen everywhere else, but not in America.

Seeing the way locals treated two of my friends, because their Lebanese parents had the audacity to give them traditional Lebanese names, proved far more horrifying than anything I had seen TV.

Listening to the rhetoric of ladies at work as they told me what the problem was and what must be done about it, I wondered how such ignorance could exist.

The only thing I could do was throw my hands up and ask, “why?

Over the next few years, I think I asked why at least a thousand times a day.

Why George Bush?

Why Iraq?

Why reality TV?

And then I found some answers.

They came in the form of Amy Lowell’s poem, “September 1918.” Lowell’s poem begins with a description of an early autumn day. The bright blue skies, the glittering sun, the rhythmic motion of the trees all combine to form a peaceful setting to an unnerving time. Vivid imagery allows Lowell to transform a rather mundane event into something moving. Emotions rise and fall; paradox personified. We see “laughing” houses and “two little boys, lying flat on their faces” enjoying the autumn day adding to an already lighthearted affair. The first stanza takes on an neo-Romantic tone with nature glorified and man enjoying her splendor.

In the second stanza, Lowell invokes a new tone.

Some day there will be no war,

Then I shall take out this afternoon

And turn it in my fingers,

And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,

And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves

Today I can only gather it

For I have time for nothing

But the endeavor to balance myself

Upon a broke world.

I gave up trying to understand the events of that day and instead accepted them as products of a “broke world.” Instead, when I take it out and “turn it in my fingers,” I remember the cloudless sky and cool breeze that blew through the streets, reminding us a new season lay just around the corner. I remember the stories of heroism aboard the hijacked planes and in New York and D.C. Most importantly, I remember the way we put aside our differences, for one day, and come together for a common purpose, proving to me that “we are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth.”