At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Good Things Will Happen

I get very proud of friends and colleagues who persevere.

I am especially proud of those who have incredibly hard starts in a new environment and then, rather than complain, reloads for the next phase so those they lead are prepared.

From 1997-2000, I was a teacher and assistant football coach at Westminster Christian Academy in Opelousas, Louisiana. One of my coaching staff mates was a great guy named Vinnie Bullara; he taught physical science and biology, I taught Apologetics and Worldviews. We had a number of challenges, but we were part of a unit that took a team from 1-9 to 5-5 (1997), 6-5 with a playoff appearance (1998), and 9-2 with another playoff berth (1999). The success plan was nothing fancy: Just weightlifting, conditioning, and having the players buy into the system while helping them become more intelligent players. It was great to be part of that effort, as well as learning that sticking to a consistent plan will reap dividends.

Fast forward to last year, after some moves elsewhere and then back to Opelousas, my friend Vinnie (I know...sounds like a Joe Pesci movie) is named the head football coach at Westminster. Picking up the pieces of a once proud program, Vinnie went 1-10 in his first year with struggling units on both sides of the ball. It would have been easy to despair. Vinnie never blamed anyone; he was looking toward the future; he'd been through this before. Get stronger; get tougher; get more disciplined; believe in yourselves. That's what I know he's preached.

This year, the Westminster Crusaders--after last night's 40-20 win over Ascension Catholic--have started 3-1, tripling last season's win total. They are more disciplined and much tougher (allowed 76 points through first four games as opposed to 136 last year). It's a great success story in process.

I recall former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz saying in his book The Fighting Spirit, that "if you believe and if you have a plan and if you believe in the plan, good things will happen."

That's not just good for football; it's good for life itself in all our human endeavors. It counts greatly to exhibit--as Eugene Peterson once termed it--"a long obedience in the same direction."

Well done, Vinnie. May that long obedience continue, my friend.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

About That Schedule...

I've held my tongue long enough, simply because I consider myself a nice guy.

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly doesn't need me playing the role of the apologist.

And what I'm going to say is quite critical, but it is pointed criticism of an individual.

Allow me to bookmark this by saying that what follows is no invective against my former students who attend the University of Missouri. "Mizzou" no doubt offers a fine education; their journalism school is blue-chip top-rate; and their athletic move to the Southeastern Conference--while making them quite a geographical outpost of the SEC--has paid dividends in many areas.

So you got all that? I like people at Mizzou and even though my college basketball loyalties rest with my home state Kansas Jayhawks, I have nothing against Mizzou unless prodded into a corner until I snarl.

Gary Pinkel made me snarl.

Coach Pinkel, have you never considered the wisdom of keeping your mouth clamped shut?

It goes beyond wanting to bar people from the stadium for practice back in 2012 because you didn't want your team enduring distractions? (Distractions? You're in the SEC. You'll have to go into Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and deal with 100,000 screaming, bloodthirsty LSU fans one day. Buck up!) 

The Constitution gives you the right to your opinion. It offers no protection from the public when that opinion is stupid.

Yes, blitheringly idiotic.

No independents should make the College Football Playoff to compete for a championship, you say? There are no non-conference independent teams in the NFL, you say? Right. No critical thinking textbook could defend that train wreck of illogic. 

The Twitter firestorm was not only swift and fierce, but entirely justified. And Coach Kelly was even more incisive in his reply, showing that Notre Dame doesn't need a label to be excellent. And if Pinkel wants to grouse about Notre Dame, maybe he should stop playing (and scraping past in ugly fashion) the woeful triad of Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas State (won by only seven), and Connecticut (a 9-6 win preserved with an INT on a fake field goal attempt).

"We don't play the sisters of the cupcake poor." Beautiful.

Look here, Pinkel. I'm not denying the necessity of a "breather" game once in awhile. Alabama plays Middle Tennessee. Georgia will play Southern-Baton Rouge. And even my Fighting Irish will play Massachusetts, although to be honest the Mid-American Conference is a step up from the SWAC and the Sun Belt (given how Northern Illinois put the fear of God into top-ranked Ohio State this weekend). But Notre Dame has crushed Texas, a program that Charlie Strong will have playing at a high level by season's end and be in the championship picture in four to five years. We faced adversity and beat Virginia on the road when we lost our quarterback for the year. We came home and stuffed #14 and defending Orange Bowl winners Georgia Tech. We'll also be playing Clemson at Clemson; USC at home; at Pitt; at Stanford; Boston College (which went toe-to-toe with Florida State) at Fenway Park.

Yes, you have the SEC, but primarily the SEC East. And given how you've performed in the first three games, with an offense colder than a 1972 Dodge Dart on a winter morning in Alberta...I'd say the chances are a team like the Georgia Bulldogs might just pick your players clean and feed the leftovers to UGa.

Other teams might do that to Notre Dame, but it'll be after the Irish have at least tested themselves against a higher caliber of adversaries.

You're a great tactician, Coach Pinkel. You do get mileage out of your players, and your team gives my former students who now attend Mizzou some happy moments. And when they're happy, I'm happy. I love them, and if they have a great collegiate experience at Mizzou, who could complain?

But there's a reason why the Twitter zeitgeist exploded once you opened your mouth. 

Keep it shut. College football has many problems. It doesn't need additional foolishness.

You can put that wisdom on the shelf next to the national championship trophies that y'all have earned.

Oh wait. You don't have any? That's right...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Here Come The Reviews!

Well, it is the first one, but it comes from local St. Louis native, voracious reader, and most excellent writer (and Louisiana State University graduate!) Glynn Young. Glynn is the author of two novels that are also under the Dunrobin banner, and if you haven't read Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, you need to remedy that deficit right now.

Glynn has posted a review of my latest novel in the Cameron Ballack Mystery Series, The Broken Cross, and you can find that review at his Faith, Fiction, Friends blog right here.

Happy reading, and spread the word. (And if you still haven't read Glynn's books, either, order them now! That's what the above links are for!)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the Way to Go!

Every May, I recall my first semester of seminary studies. I entered Covenant Theological Seminary in January of 1993, a mid-school year move I heartily recommend to all future seminarians (you don't have to start out with killer Greek during the summer and you can mash out some counseling, church history, and theology courses that have no pre-requisites and you can ease into graduate school life with less stress). In May of that year, I had a pre-exam-and-exam fortnight that consisted of taking two exams and typing four pages of at least fifteen pages apiece.

I slogged through it pretty well, shocking myself with relatively sterling grades, and then took off for Nashville to visit my friends Phil and Jennifer Covington. Phil and I hit his health club for a trifecta of racquetball games to build up our appetite for dinner. In the middle of the second game, I bounced the ball before I served it and went to clench it in my grasp...when it trickled out of my hand. I bent my fingers and (1) saw I couldn't use their full range of motion and (2) felt incredible pain in the underside of my left wrist.

Short story was: I went back to St. Louis two days later, checked in with my physician, and Dr. Reynolds promptly told me I had carpal tunnel syndrome. Hello, wrist splint.

But at least I got it doing something meaningful.

Where is this going, you ask?

One of the loudest conversations occurring in schools today is the extent and use of technology. There is a sense where just an overhead projector or document camera might be enough to put me at ease, but the days of "Bring Your Own Digital Device" or 1:1 iPad initiatives are upon us, and we have to figure out how those creations and 21st-century education might interface.

No one denies that, I think. However, I don't think the problem comes with the use of technology, but the danger is failing to ask the necessary questions when deciding on how to integrate technology.

And those questions are...
1- Will this device make students better readers?
2- Will this device make students better writers?
3- Will this device make students better critical thinkers (i.e., logic)

Convinced of this matters, I required all my students this year to get a different element of technology: a composition book (fifty cents at Wal-Mart...can't beat it). Once a week on average, we take fifteen minutes of time to quiet ourselves and free-write in response to a writing prompt. No phones, no laptops. Just students, pencils, pens, and paper.

Questions like "Which do you believe has had more impact on your life: the situations you find yourself in, or the choices you make? Why do you say that?" Or this past week's was: "Complete one of the following statements: (a) You need God for morality, because...  or (b) You don't need God for morality, because...

By the end, students grasp their hands because, yes, it's more than they are used to writing at one time and some of them feel carpal tunnel syndrome coming on. Yes, I write along with one class per week, answering the same question. You know what? I get the same pain in my hand, and I love it. And I think my students are slowly realizing this: When you write by hand, you tap deeply into your humanity, and you grow the garden that has taken root in your soul, and you tend to remember what you experience.

No phones, no laptops, no iPads. But I think my students are starting to enjoy writing response time just the same. They write, they read what they write, and they learn to think. I can't ask for any greater joy than that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Starting Line, Not the Finish Line

We're good to go, and The Broken Cross is up and running at Amazon! The second volume in the Cameron Ballack Mystery series has gone public.

There's a tendency to see this as a finish line for all the hard work, but now the hard work truly begins. This is a starting line, not a finish line, and what will make this book a true success is people buying it, reading it, and then sharing the news about it with others who then repeat the process.

It takes an author to write a book, but that writer is connected to a living network that can make the possibilities go viral. Let's get behind this and make it spread!

And by the way, let people know if they haven't read the first novel, Litany of Secrets, they can download it for free from September 1-5!

Happy reading! #JusticeIsComing #BallackIsBack