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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Wildcat Lair (2016: Vol. 13)

Hello Wildcat Universe after a one-week hiatus. Like foliage in the spring, recurring gall stones, and Richard Nixon after his gubernatorial loss to Pat Nixon in 1962....I'm back! 

Although to be fair, spring foliage is the only thing on the above list we should really feel good about. (#GallstonesAreAllTooReal)

It's playoff first-round week on tap, and the Cat contest this Saturday comes as a result of one of the most incredible legal thefts in sports history. With less stealth and more success than the Committee to Re-Elect the President exhibited in 1972 in the infamous Watergate break-in scandal (#ContinuingPokesAtNixon), the Wildcats sneaked into Washington, Missouri, last Friday and stole--not only a win, but also the fourth place in Class 4, District 4, from the St. Francis Borgia Knights with a scintillating 46-35 win on the opposition's turf. With the clinical approach of Arsene Wenger and the enthusiasm of Jurgen Klopp (#PremierLeagueManagers), Westminster turned the game on its ear, continuing a one-week metamorphosis after its loss to Christian High of O'Fallon. There were plenty of balls in the air on both sides, but ultimately the Chad Briden-led Wildcats had enough muster remaining.

The offensive explosion from last week, featuring touchdown strikes to Dylan Conway and Logan Sells, along with ground game scores by Atlin Hall, gives hope to Wildcat Universe that the trend might go on unabated. Briden seems to be fully recovered from his collarbone smackdown in week 2 against St. Dominic and is creeping toward 1000 years for the season after playing only four games. The offensive line must bring discipline and desire to another week in the trenches to help Steve Webb spring loose and increase his 723-yard season total so far. With the Borgia defense--led by top tacklers Matthew Sinnot and Justin Heggeman--certain to attempt a full-scale Conway clampdown, look for wideout Grant Lavalle to be an needed target as the game wears on.

The Knights average nearly the same yardage running the ball as through the air. Jacob Unnerstall gives the Borgia offense a boost with 1254 passing yards to go with 13 TD passes. The Wildcat secondary will have their hands full with receivers Andy Rott (21 catches, 353 yards, 6 TDs) and possession receiver Louis Eckelkamp (24-293-2), among others. Rattling Unnerstall will be the job of the Wildcats' pass rush, which is due for a big game. On the ground game, the Knights can call on four players who have rushed for at least 200 yards for the season (#SpreadTheWealth). That list includes the previously mentioned Heggeman (81 carries, 419 yards, 3 TD) but also fills out with Jonathan Braun (42-300-2) and Chris Brodeur (50-232-3) along with Unnerstall's 218 yards off scrambles or the option. "Contain, contain, contain" will be the byword this week for Westminster, who cannot let the Knights beat them to the edges of the offensive box.

Aside from the obvious match-ups, kicking game, turnovers, and field position will count in droves. It took the Wildcats a whole half to shake the turnover bug last year in the regular season finale in a 37-20 win, but the playoffs were a whole new story in a 63-14 wipeout. That brings up another item...the mental game. The Wildcats have triumphed in eight straight affairs with Borgia, and that dominance must play in the minds of the Knights. Head coach Dale Gilderhaus remarked to journalists this week that "we hope the ninth time in the charm". (#BeautifulCliche)

Whether it is or not remains to be seen, but a Borgia-Westminster game is NEVER lackluster. This Saturday at 3 pm at Westminster, bring your passionate yells and $5 per head for admission. Another page in this intense rivalry turns this weekend.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Where Angels Fear To Tread

I think that--to be completely fair--a number of people find comfort in the phrase "ignorance is bliss". Not that they spout it off, but their default mode is to hold to the principle of that statement.

I think a number of Christians can hold to this, too. The naive path can be fetching for some. The idea of "I know what I believe, so don't confuse me with facts" can be rampant anywhere. It should not be so in the context of Christian belief. Even St. Paul admonished the early church to "test yourselves."

This year, I began a new initiative in my Ethics classes of making the familiar unfamiliar. Concerned about the lack of Bible reading and understanding in the culture at large, I decided that--approximately every other week--we'd take a day off from the rest of the curriculum and really plunge into a passage of Scripture and work through some directed questions about it.

These have been--for the record--some of the most intoxicating, dynamic classes I've been a part of. I can't believe I didn't try this sooner. Stuff pops out of nowhere, like when a student says after reading Genesis 3, "Hey, why is Eve talking to a serpent as if it's the most natural thing?" Kids really respond to the beauty of how Scripture is put together in its story.

And they also respond to the disturbing aspects. The flood narrative in Genesis 6-7, for example.

Yes, we covered a lot of items yesterday after a reading of those chapters. There's plenty to keep people busy. "Who are the Nephilim?" "So it wasn't just rain from above, but the mangling of the ocean floor happened, too?" "Was it a global or local flood? (By the way, that's a fun question to explore down a rabbit hole!)

I want students to move through and even beyond that. I take a Philip Yancey view of approaching the Bible. Confront the hard parts. Ask the tough questions. Don't act like they don't exist. Be honest and ask students to be honest.

I asked the students yesterday, "Permission to speak freely...what sort of vibe do you get from God in the flood story?"

The answers? "He hates sin." Yep, I agree, but then students felt more free to open up further. "He seems harsh," others said. "This disturbs me and makes me uncomfortable," said a few more.

That's good on several levels. First, I don't think God's job is to make us comfy. You can be loving and still people can be confused by your actions (although that's for another blog post). But it was also good in that, even if my students don't completely understand the message of the text there, they feel a lot of freedom to question things and be trusted to be honest. I don't think someone's nascent faith is helped by being told "Listen, sugar britches...just believe what God said and don't doubt and don't question. It'll all be okay if you just have faith."

Crap, that line gets uber-annoying. Almost as annoying as putting "uber" before anything to denote the ultra-side of things.

That brings me to a conversation I had with a student after one of the classes yesterday. She told me she had read Genesis 6-7 in preparation for class the evening before. She told me she cried at the end of it. Because when God said "everything on the earth that has the breath of its life in its nostrils will die", that struck her down. Yes, the world was filled with violence. Yes, it was a horrible place outside of Noah's family (although they're not too sterling in Genesis 9 later). But a good chunk of the animal kingdom? Kids? Washed away like that? It was too much for her to take, and too much for me, to be up front.

So what did she tell me? That she was grateful were reading these hard passages. She said, "I would like to stay naive and not have to deal with the discomfort. I'd rather have the Sunday School image of Noah's ark in my mind. But if I confront things that are hard to deal with now, that prepares me for later. It's not about having the answers so much as it is being willing to take the risk of wrestling with the questions. Because this faith needs to be my faith, not just a belief my parents gave me."

Awesome. She gets it. Or rather, she is getting it, because this is a process.

Am I taking a risk by having students move in where angels fear to tread? I believe I am. Some may come to the Bible and say it's garbage if this is in there, and they walk away from belief. But the rewards outweigh the risks. Looking at the warts of faith now will make a faith in the future--if it takes root--that much more durable. And if God exists, I think that's the kind of faith that honors him.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Wildcat Lair (2016: Vol. 12)

The character-building times continue for the 2016 version of the Westminster Wildcats. Last weekend's 33-14 loss to Metro League winner MICDS at Carnival marked several areas for improvement, but the winds of change bring positive vibes akin to the hardships facing Premier League side Swansea City AFC (#GoSwans). Just as Swansea City has experienced difficulty finishing games (#CrapLiverpoolPenaltyKick), so the Wildcats have had difficulty sustaining and finishing offensive drives. But like the Swans, changeover in personnel has arrived for the Wildcats. Across the pond, it comes in the person of Bob Bradley, the first American coach to lead a Premier League Team. For the Wildcats, it comes in the person of a more healthy Steve Webb and the return of Chad Briden at the quarterback position, a recovery more refreshing and bizarre than Rebecca Lowe's attempt at a Valley Girl accent (#CueVideo).
As Josh Pottebaum is able to get a break from 24/7/365 shepherding of the offense and defense, we channel our inner Scott VonderBruegge and ask the essential question for this week: "How does Briden expedite getting the timing down between him and his receivers?" The illustrious Dylan Conway--rumored to be the second coming of legendary receiving and return whiz Henry "Gizmo" Williams--is itching to close out his career with wins aplenty and more school receiving marks. Conway currently stands two receptions behind Ryan Blackwell's career catches mark and one TD reception behind Blackwell in that career category (#DaddyWants). Given that the opponent is Christian High of O'Fallon, and Conway's big party night last year was against the Eagles, we could see some dashes reminiscent of when Gizmo Williams himself could take some Grey Cup groceries all the way back to the house. (#MightyMite)
The Wildcat defense must be prepared for whatever Christian High throws at them, which from the stat sheets we discover begins and ends with quarterback Brady Tolle. The Eagles may be coming in at 0-7 (including a heart wrenching 28-26 loss to Duchesne last Friday), but it's not for lack of effort from their pivot. The second-leading rusher (behind JJ Simon's 355 yards), Tolle has 127 carries, which is 22 more lugs than the entire remainder of the CHS roster. Of all players, only Tolle has a rushing TD to his credit, and he has all nine on the ground. The successor to flash-and-dash D.J. Christiansen, Tolle has also completed 101 of 176 passes for 1284 yards, nine TDs and six picks. Not since Gareth Bale this summer for Wales have we seen such nonstop reliance on one player (#TheDragonRoared). The message for the Wildcat stop force is clear: Stop Tolle first, last, and always.

On offense, the Cats will go as far as Chad Briden's arm and rebuilt collarbone will take them in distributing the ball to Conway, Atlin Hall, Logan Sells, and Grant Lavalle. Steve Webb will test his shoulder against the Eagle defense, and we could see L.B. Battle get a significant amount of snaps depending on how hard the Wildcats jump on their opponents. Last year took some time before the Westminster army fired up their arsenal at full force, but once they did, they coasted to a 45-28 victory.

There is still reason to cheer vociferously, Wildcat Universe. We have much to play for in a couple of very winnable games against CHS and Borgia. Enough to tweak upwards in the district standings to snag a home game on October 22nd? Very possibly. And that would be significant reason to cheer.

But of course, we'll keep all of our loud support within the proper decibel range (#ordinance).

Game at 7 pm this Friday night at CHS-O'Fallon. Get there early. Trust do NOT want to park in the grass behind the stadium (#GoodbyeSuspensionSystem).