Saturday, July 28, 2007

a couple small changes

Every now and then I get the inspiration to update the links/pictures on the right of this page. Since I rarely even get the inspiration to post something, I figure making changes ought to be celebrated, no matter how small. So, I organized my links slightly differently. I start with blogs of people I know, but now have alphabetized them by first name (a couple of you may not have known I even read your blog), note that A-Rock's first name is actually Aarik, hence being first in my list..

From there I separate my links into 2 more categories: sites I quasi-regularly visit regarding Christianity or theology (this is broadly speaking, admittedly) and other sites I visit that don't fall under either of the other 2 categories. The first of these are in no particular order, the second in alphabetical order. Why am I not consistenly in my alphabetizing? Because this is my site and I'll do what I want, that's why. I'm assuming I don't have to say this, but just because I link to something doesn't mean I wholeheartedly endorse everything (or anything, for that matter) those sites contain. It just means I find them interesting enough to read.

I also try to update the pictures of books I'm reading and cds I'm listening to every few months or so. The books are fairly up to date, and at some point I really want post some thoughts on the "How to Read the Bible..." books now that I've used them in teaching for the last year. The cds are somewhat up to date. Truth be told, I don't listen to nearly as much music as I used to, largely because I rarely have time to sit down and listen anymore. I've added "Whole 'Nother Deal", "Photographs", and "Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince Greatest Hits" to the list, which have been my companions on the car lately. That's right, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince have made my cd rotation. You'd have to understand that I go way back with these guys. It's not so much the music as it is the trip down memory lane that I appreciate. A little nostalgia is good for the soul.

At any rate, there you go. I keep hoping I'll post more, but you know how that goes. This is, however, my second post of the day, even if this one doesn't really count. Small victories, my friends, small victories.

ah, preseason football

In a city like Boston, offseason sports talk can be just as exciting as regular season sports talk. This is especially true for the Red Sox and the Patriots. Baseball may end in October, but that doesn't stop everyone from calling in radio shows and making ridiculous trade proposals or predicting how the Sox will dominate/flop. In fact, the love for speculation has grown so powerful that I heard a guy call up a popular radio show the other day and offer thoughts on next year's pitching rotation! It's July, the Sox have a 7.5 game lead over the Yankees, we have the potential to win another World Series, and some local yokel is worrying about who is going to be our number 5 starter next season! Ah, Boston.

While the Sox normally dominate offseason speculation, the Patriots are giving them a good run for their money this time around, and for good reason. The Pats were one 1st down away from making another trip to the Super Bowl. They had no receiver who could make a defense pay for leaving them in single coverage. They didn't have a linebacker who could stop a run up the middle or provide coverage in the middle of the field (poor Tedy Bruschi has lost a step or two). They had obvious holes, but still they were this close to going to the Super Bowl (and probably winning it).

So, the Pats made a splash this offseason. For receivers, they added Wes Welker, Dante Stallworth and Randy Moss. Welker is the speedy slot receiver, the kind of guy Tom Brady loves. Stallworth and Moss give them legitimate downfield threats. All 3 of these guys are upgrades from anyone they had last year. So, on paper, they seem to have advanced significantly.

Here are the potential problems: Stallworth has a history of substance abuse problems. Moss has a history of not trying hard in practice or in the game. These are not typical Patriots guys. Patriots guys are like Bruschi or Vrabel. They are "less talented" players who have worked their butts off to learn the most difficult system in football and give up their personal stats for the sake of winning. Stallworth may be okay, but Moss is the biggest concern. He may be the most physically talented receiver in the history of football, and that's not an exaggeration. But he doesn't care. In the Patriots offense, it's unlikely he will catch more than 70 passes, and I'm not sure it'll be that many. I think Welker may end up with more catches in this offense. Will Moss survive the season not being the center of Brady's attention? As I heard someone say this week, "Brady's favorite receiver is whoever's open." He won't take a chance 50 yards downfield if there's someone open over the middle. How will Moss feel about that?

At linebacker, they added Adalius Thomas, one of the most versatile linebackers in the league. This guy, at least from a physical attribute standpoint, is a classic Belichick guy. Belichick loves guys who can play multiple roles (Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour), and Thomas has more raw skills (strength, speed) than any other linebacker they have. The questions are: can he learn the system and will he pass up personal glory for the sake of the team? I don't know enough about him to offer up an opinion, but I will be watching.

So on paper this team looks like it should go to the Super Bowl. In fact, most experts have written their name down in ink rather than pencil, which is enough to make me worried. As a Boston sports fan, it's in my nature to downplay my team's chances so as not to be disappointed. But the truth is this team should go to the Super Bowl. We have the best coach, the best quarterback (who now has weapons), the best defensive line, an improved linebacking core, and so on. All this for a team that was one 1st down away from going to the Super Bowl. But training camp will tell us a lot. Will Moss even get through (I'm not convinced he will, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get cut at the first sign of trouble). Will the new additions mesh well with the veterans? It makes preseason a lot of fun (but not quite as much fun as the real thing).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Red Sox midseason report

So we're coming off the All-Star break with the Sox leading Toronto and New York by 10 games in the AL East. So am I worried? Of course, but for more than the typical "I'm a Sox fan and I'm always worried" reasons, although that's true enough. But despite the large lead and impressive performances, I think there is grounds for concern.

Those grounds start with the fact that this team is built to win the World Series, not just the division. If all we cared about was winning the AL East, we'll be fine. I don't think it's overconfident to say that the Sox will probably win the division. Yes, the Blue Jays are good, but they don't have the firepower in the rotation or in the lineup to overcome the Sox. The Yankees have floundered, but they have played better as of late and you know they'll have to get better. But, in all honesty, I don't think they have the pitching to pull off a comeback. Of course they could, you can't count them out, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Red Sox Nation, however, shouldn't be content with winning the division. We're passed the stage of being happy with just beating the Yankees, our payroll is too big for that. Besides, we already did that in the single greatest comeback in the history of sports in 2004. Remember when the Sox were down 3-0 against the Yankees, then Dave Roberts stole second, Bill Mueller drove him in with a clutch single off the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and the Sox went on to beat the Yankees the next 4 games and sweep the Cardinals for their first World Series victory since 1918? Remember that? Yeah, that was awesome. (Now pause for a second and recall your favorites 2004 memories).

Anyway, so here's the deal: the Sox aren't really beating the best teams around, particularly Detroit. That scares me. There's no reason for us to be swept by the Tigers, this team is built too carefully to be able to lose like that. Yet, heading into the All-Star break, that's exactly what happened. Sure, we look great against Tampa Bay. Who cares? Unless the Devil Rays receive some special invite to the playoffs it doesn't matter.

The pitching has been great, 2nd in the AL in ERA, with the best bullpen in the game. No one can complain about it. Yet, I still find myself being a little worried. Sure, Okajima and Papelbon are the best setup-man/closer tandem in baseball. But do we have a righty out of the bullpen we can trust? Delcarmen has looked great recently, but we can't put all our stock in a 23 year old with a spotty track record for the last couple years. I love him, and I think he'll do well in the future, but for now I don't necessarily think he's our guy (though part of me hopes he is, he's a local kid making it big, gotta love that).

I've also spoken about my doubts of Curt Schilling. Yes, he almost threw a no-hitter. But then he stunk his next few starts and is now on the disabled list. He ain't a kid anymore. And Wakefield has been solid, but not great, same for Tavares (who I love, if for no other reason than his resemblance to Nosferatu, I will stand by this forever). So that leaves us with Beckett and Dice-K, which is awesome. But can we beat the Tigers with that tandem? Are they better than Verlander/Bonderman/Rogers? I'm not sure. And that worries me.

Our offense has been fairly flat. Manny and Ortiz haven't hit for power, Drew is proving to be a bust (I'd point out that I predicted that, but that wasn't exactly difficulty), Lugo can't hit any better than I can, and Coco has only recently decided to make contact with the ball. Youkilis has been phenomenal, so has Pedroia (after a horrific start), Lowell and Varitek have both been solid. All this to say, this is the area of need. They may not have to make a deal, that is, if Manny and Ortiz step it up. That would be enough. On paper this is a great offense, but they just haven't worked out so far. I'd rather not have to make a deal, since I don't want to see any prospects go.

So here's where I stand. We are actually the 2nd best team in the AL, behind Detroit. If Manny and Ortiz, particularly Manny, step up with the production (Ortiz has a decent average, but his power numbers are way down), we may not have to trade a prospect for another bat. We may need to make a deal for another starter if Schilling doesn't come back. Sigh. I hate it. My favorite team in the whole world is dominating their division and I'm still looking over my shoulder. 86 years is hard to overcome...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hymn of the Week: Rock of Ages

Has it really been 6 months since my last Hymn of the Week post? Yikes! A few weeks back we sang this hymn in church during communion time (at the request of fellow hymnophile JP). It's an 18th century hymn written by Augustus Montague Toplady in Britian. It's not necessarily one most of us sing very often or even know, but it is a terrific hymn. Check out the lyrics:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, else I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Note: the line "when my eyelids close in death" originally read "when my eyestrings break in death." I'm not sure when this line was changed, but I do have to wonder why "eyestrings" was ever a word.

You'll note how the lyrics are strongly theocentric- it places the work of salvation (presented in various metaphors and pictures) in God's hands. I've read that Toplady wrote this in response to the perceived man-centered approach of John Wesley (an assessment I disagree with). I'm quite certain that an Arminian/Wesleyan could sing this hymn without any trouble (nor more than one who is reformed singing And Can It Be).

This song, like a number of others I've mentioned, ends with an eschatological view. Many of the great hymns conclude with the hope of eternity with the Lord. I like how the hymn begins and ends with the hope of God protecting us (anyone who has heard me teach will be quick to point out that this literary device is called "inclusio") because it helps us to see that the same loving God that covers us now will continue to cover us for eternity.

One concept in this song that many may struggle with is the inadequacy of anything we can offer God. This is a song about what God has done/is doing/will do rather than what we will do. The actions that we do in this song (for example, "come to Thee", "look to Thee") are accompanied by descriptions of our inability to offer anything good on our own- "naked","helpless."

Any thoughts you'd like to share?