Finishing Strong

The Masters 2014

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

When everything is on the line, when everyone is watching, when you or your team are counting on you for the next shot or the next play—this is the situation that true competitors always dream of and want to participate in. As a golfer, I dream of sinking a slick, downhill, 20-foot putt on the 18th hole at Augusta National to win the Masters Tournament by a shot. No matter the sport, we all want to finish strong. We want to always be able to look back in time and say that we did our best and put it all on the line in certain situations.

These same principles stand in life and faith. Remember what Paul said in Philippians: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We must always keep this in mind, especially in hard times. God does not give up on us; however, He does allow us to go through hard times and He does discipline us, as a father disciplines His son. Don’t lose heart. God is sovereign and in control!

Always remember Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

By Rosson Anderson

Rosson Anderson works for College Golf Fellowship and contributes devotionals to Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Life’s Crossroads

LifesCrossroads

Almost 1,000 foreigners have played in the Japanese professional baseball leagues since 1951. Venezuelan-born Alex Ramirez is the only one to have achieved 2,000 career hits in Japan, and he is not shy about giving credit to God for his success.

Ramirez joined the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of Japan’s Central League in 2001. He went on to become arguably the best foreign player in Japanese baseball history, playing 13 seasons for three teams, winning a batting championship, two home run crowns and four RBI titles while playing on two Japan Series championship teams.

Now, at age 39, he is at a crossroads in his career.

After being released by the Yokohama DeNA Baystars last fall, he signed with the Gunma Diamond Pegasus of Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge League in February. He hopes for a fast start in Gunma, north of Tokyo, to prove he can still be a productive hitter and attract attention from a Central or Pacific League club in Japan’s top league, the Nippon Professional Baseball league.

Soul-Searching

Ramirez was playing Triple-A baseball with the Cleveland Indians organization when he became a Christian in 1998. He said a defining moment came in a Walmart parking lot in Buffalo, New York, while talking with his wife.

“We were having (marital) problems at the time, and she told me I had to make a decision,” he recalls. Liz told Alex she wanted him to seek help from God and nobody else.

“If you don’t do that,” she said, “we are not going to stay together.” Alex contacted the Baseball Chapel.

“I had been going to Baseball Chapel previously, not so much to seek out God, but because I was superstitious,” he recalls. “I wanted to have a good game.” He called the pastor who set him straight.

“The pastor told me I had been going to Baseball Chapel for the wrong reason. He said, ‘If you come here, there is a step you have to take, accepting God into your life on a daily basis, reading the Bible and things like that. If you can do that and get to know God and what God wants you to do, you will become a better husband,’ so that’s exactly what I did.”

He and Liz stayed together, his life was changed, and he says God has been with him ever since.

Though he calls himself a Presbyterian, in Tokyo Ramirez attends Tokyo Baptist Church. “It’s a beautiful church with the service in English and with more than 2,000 members from all over the world, and I like the way the pastor preaches the word of God there. It is just amazing,” he says.

His wife is also a believer, and they usually go to church together every time they have the opportunity and when his schedule permits.

Looking Ahead

“I believe (continuing to play baseball) is my desire, but it’s not my life,” he says. “God has already blessed me with this career, and whatever God has planned for me, I will be happy to follow that, whether or not I play baseball again. It’s not what I want; it’s what God wants for me.”

Affectionately known as “Ramichan” (-chan being a Japanese suffix attached to one’s name as a term of endearment), Ramirez has been a favorite with fans and teammates throughout his time in Japan. One of his trademarks is a brief “performance” after hitting a home run, consisting of celebratory gestures with the team mascot in front of a TV camera next to his dugout.

A native Spanish speaker but extremely fluent in English, Ramirez has learned enough Japanese to be considered tri-lingual, and he says, when he is done playing ball, he expects to take a year to study the Japanese language more intensively and become even better.

As for his future, Ramirez says, “Plan A is to play baseball. Plan B is to stay in Japan and continue operating the restaurant (Ramichan Café) and maybe start other businesses.”

His eventual goal is to become the manager of a Japanese team, but Ramichan’s future will depend on wherever God leads him, he says. The restaurant is the first of its kind in Japan because it’s the first Puerto Rican/Latin restaurant in the country.

But that wasn’t even a thought when Ramirez went to Japan in 2001; he never expected he would stay so long to have that kind of opportunity.

“I thought I would go for a year or two, make some money, then go back to the States and play,” he says. “But my attitude changed, and I had a great opportunity to play under (manager Tsutomu) Wakamatsu with the Swallows who let me play even while I was in a two-month-long slump. I came back and produced, and that’s the reason why I’m still here today.”

Blending Cultures

“After my second year, my wife and I really got to like Japan,” Ramirez says.

“The people are very nice and polite, and it’s very safe. I liked the way I was treated. Then I signed a three-year contract with Yakult, and after that, I knew this was the best place for me. I was very comfortable and learned a lot about Japanese baseball and Japanese culture.”

He left the Swallows when his contract expired after the 2007 season and spent four years with the Tokyo cross-town rival Yomiuri Giants. In 2012 and 2013, Ramirez played for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars and, on April 6, 2013, he became a member of Japan’s Meikyukai, the Golden Players Club for batters with 2,000 career hits and pitchers with 200 career victories.

The milestone hit was a home run at Jingu Stadium, home of the Swallows where he began his career in Japan, and Ramirez considers it his biggest thrill in baseball.

He and Liz also donated a substantial amount of money to victims of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. He created a special “We Are One” home run performance and visited schools and played ball with kids and donated baseball equipment.

“My wife & I talked and prayed, and she said we can donate and give back to this country a portion of what we have received,” he says.

Starting the restaurant was Liz’s idea. “She always wanted to open one,” says Ramirez. “I told her she had been supporting me for 20 years, so it’s time for me to support her.” She goes to the Ramichan Café almost every day and cooks the Puerto Rican food. The Ramichan Café has seats for about 90 diners and there is a VIP room where Alex’s memorabilia is displayed. When he is there, he’s always willing to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.

“Japanese baseball is not only about producing, but also about attitude and respect,” he says. “You have to maintain every single day how you behave on and off the field, how to treat teammates, coaches, fans…I could not have done what I did without God’s help. There were good times, great times and some down times, but God was always there for me.”

By Wayne Gracyk

A native of New Jersey, Wayne Graczyk went to Japan in 1969 with the U.S. Air Force and is a 1977 graduate of Tokyo’s Sophia University. Wayne was the long-time (1977-2004) sports editor of the Tokyo Weekender newspaper, he covers Yomiuri Giants baseball games for Nippon TV and Radio Nippon and, since 1976, has compiled the Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook & Media Guide and has written the “Baseball Bullet-In” column in The Japan Times. He is a member of the Tokyo Sportswriters Club and the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan.

Secure on God’s Team

UFC 152: Vitor Belfort Open Workout

 

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

Many of us struggle with the constant pressure to be perfect within athletics. We get caught up seeking unreliable affirmation through our performance, so when things don’t go our way we feel discouraged. Tryouts are a great example. We work day in and day out to prove we are worthy of a spot. Summers, we run sprints in the heat. Nights, we lift in the weight room. It feels like every second is spent honing our skills.

But, the challenges don’t just stop after making the team. That’s just the beginning. Next, we must constantly work to improve in order to get a chance at starting. The demands are never ending.

Fortunately for those of us who are Christ followers, we don’t have to constantly worry about being good enough. On God’s team the tryouts have already been conducted, and only one person was worthy of eternal life in Heaven: Jesus Christ. Jesus performed flawlessly with a life of service and love. He then chose to give up HIS roster spot, so that we could be part of the team, too.

So even though the challenges within our sport aren’t ending soon, we can be encouraged in the fact that, despite our performance, God loves us continually—and our spot on His team is secure.

By Britton Lynn

Britton Lynn is a contributor to Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Chris Davis: ‘Daily Dying’

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“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” Luke 9:23

In the above passage, we see that Jesus tells us what’s needed to be His disciple. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross each day and then follow Him. What does all of that mean, though?

Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who led the majors in home runs (53) and RBIs (138) last season, delves into that: “Growing up, I was so young in my faith, I didn’t understand what it meant to walk with Christ every day. As I got older, I realized it wasn’t about going to church or managing your sin, but about daily dying to myself and surrendering my life to Christ.”

Dying to self means sacrificing your desires for Christ’s desires. What you want, may not be what He wants—meaning that if things don’t work out the way we would like, we have to trust that God has something different and better.

First, we trust in what Christ said. Then we trust Him with what happens, that He has the ability and can make it work for His good and ours—even when we are hurt and don’t understand.

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Griffin on a Mission

Jason Griffin Spread

The scene is repeated, over and over.

A new spectator has decided to come watch the motorcycles race, on a dirt-surfaced oval track. Eighteen of the high-powered bikes roar off of the line, sending plumes of dust and dirt in their wake. Inches apart, sometimes even closer, the riders slide through the turns. Accelerating down the straights, they repeat their battle in the next turn.

As the fan adjusts to the rhythm of the two-wheeled choreography, one rider catches their eye. It usually takes a moment for the viewer to comprehend what it is that makes this helmeted figure stand out. As realization strikes, jaws drop. Fingers point. There is an unintentional gasp.

“He’s only got one arm!”

This is how many people have come to meet Jason Griffin, No. 23C on the AMA Pro Flat Track racing circuit. Jason is currently the only licensed Pro amputee to compete on the circuit.

He lost his arm in a lawnmower accident, when he was 2 years old.

“It was my dad’s first time on a riding lawnmower, and my first time underneath one!” Jason says. “I had slipped out of the house, and it was an accident. Well, he SAYS it was an accident.”

He laughs.

“When I was 3, right before my little brother was born, Dad bought me a Suzuki JR50,” Jason says. “Man, I loved that thing!”

Jason’s father was a member (and, later, President) of the Greenville Enduro Rider’s Association. While his dad raced, Jason (and, eventually, his younger brother) would ride around the pits on their bikes. Eventually, they began competing in Motocross and Enduro races, as well.

“My brother had a YZ80, and I was on an XR250. We were out motocrossing, all the time… riding the Enduros… and I did pretty good! Then, when I was about 15 or 16, we just quit doing it… started getting into other things.”

As Jason left the racing scene, and entered the turbulent years of early adulthood, he began to find other ways to get the rush he had once filled on two wheels.

“We were Deadheads,” he admits. “I wasn’t your stereotypical stoner, sitting in his parents’ basement…my brother and I each worked three jobs, 60-70 hours a week. We had good work ethics. But, yeah, we drank. We ‘partied.’ We were on a bad track.”

Eventually, Jason’s dad and brother reentered the racing scene.

“Dad had an ‘82 ST Honda Ascot, and we fixed it up into a racer. They had found this racetrack in Neeces, South Carolina, and were racing on the weekends,” he says. “I had moved away, but they called me all of the time and told me how things were going, and it sounded really neat. Things had done a total turn around. My brother was working out again, living the healthy lifestyle, and it sounded like they were having a great time.”

Then, tragedy struck.

“In October of 2004, I got a call… my little brother had died of alcohol poisoning. He was 27.”

Jason was crushed. His first impulse was to turn back to the escape he’d relied on, before… the bottle. Lost in his grief, he was reaching for the comfort and salvation he’d relied on in the past. That salvation and comfort was waiting for him, but not in the form he had anticipated.

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“One day, this guy pulled into the driveway. He said, ‘God told me to come see you. Let’s go to dinner.’ Um, okay… So we went to this Macaroni Grill. It was one of those places with crayons and paper on the tables, for the kids. We talked, and he said he wanted to pray for me. I asked God to take the drugs and alcohol away from me.

“The next day, it was like I had won the lottery. I couldn’t believe it! I felt it! I just KNEW it… God is REAL! I wanted to tell the world. It was as if a light switch came on, and I saw the world in a whole new way, like I had never seen it before! This is the REAL DEAL!”

Overnight, Jason’s world changed. He went to work for the man (a doctor), returned to school, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and two Master’s degrees. Still, he realized that his calling wasn’t in the medical field. There was something else he was meant to do.

His heart was being drawn back into racing.

He began researching online, to see how much a set of racing leathers (a one-piece bodysuit) would cost. The figures were far beyond his reach. However, he stumbled across a set on E-Bay, identical to the ones he was looking for.

“I put in a bid that I could afford. I believe it was $133.25. The auction was set to end in eight days, and I knew there was no way I would win with a bid that low. After eight days, I got the notification. The leathers were mine! They still had the tag on them, and everything!”

Jason acknowledges that some might consider that to be a coincidence, but he saw it as a sign.

“I started racing on my brother’s bike,” he says, “And it was incredible. If I didn’t wreck, I won!”

His record proves his statement. In 2006, Jason won the AMA Sportsman of the Year title, after winning the AMA Amateur National Championship. In 2007,  he won the AHRMA Southeastern Regional Championship. The following year, he took second place in the AHRMA National Championship. In 2009, he obtained his Pro Twin license and received the AMA Most Determined Rider of the Year Award. In 2010, he became the AMA  All Star Nationals Pro Twin Champion. He claimed the title again, in 2011.

Along the way, Jason continued to find affirmations that he was on the right path.

“The first time I rode at Daytona, at the Municipal Stadium, I fell down,” he says. “I fell down, repeatedly. I was so sore, I couldn’t even get my leathers on. I was sitting there, sweating. I was sick from the pain. A man walked up to me and started a conversation. I told him I was sick. I said that I couldn’t race. He laid his hands on me, and we prayed… and the pain was gone! Just like that.

“And the Twins bike I ride? It was given to me to ride. The guy just gave it to me, told me to race it as long as I wanted, and give it back when I was done. That kind of thing doesn’t ‘just happen.’ I look at it as a sign… a gift, from God.”

Throughout his years on the dirt tracks of America, Jason has found many opportunities to share his testimony with others. Words of appreciation, hope, and encouragement fill the eager and listening ears of his fans:

“You need to do what God wants you to do. You’ll see, anything negative that ever happens, happens as the result of choices we make when we don’t listen!”

“Life is short. Eternity… that’s FOREVER. As we grow older, time goes faster. Too many people are living in the here and now, and that’s not what it’s about. You need to prepare, now.”

“God’s always talking. We just aren’t always listening.”

Despite his achievements, Jason says he doesn’t race for the trophies or the titles. “It’s all about the people,” he says. “Flat track is a tough discipline. It’s made of the best people, a true family. It’s one of the few sports where the top guys… the legends… are just as accessible as anyone else. Nobody’s in it to get rich or famous. We all help each other out. This sport is self-sustaining. It has only survived because of the love and dedication of the people involved in it.”

Jason isn’t seeking to put his name in the history books as a Grand Champion, but he does dream of getting his Expert Plates.

“I’ve gotten my points, and applied for my Expert number,” he says, “But I keep getting denied.”

While racing, Jason took online courses towards his next career field, and secured a position teaching Biology at Tri-County Technical College. He spent his winter racing motorcycles on ice, as part of the I.C.E. Nationals, and is very active in the SEMDTRA (Southeastern Motorcycle Dirt Track Racing Association). Recently, he began racing in the Paralympic Cycling events, claiming two silvers on his six-geared brakeless bike. If all goes well, he could earn a position on the US National team, in the 2016 Paralympics.

Wherever he ends up, one thing is for certain. He will continue touching hearts and reaching souls, everywhere God leads him.

By Mia Moore

Mia Moore is a freelance writer and photographer. She and her fiance, Kevin “Chew” Larcom, live in Central Ohio. They spend their weekends covering flat track motorcycles or working on their family homestead.”

Switchfoot’s ‘Joy of the Journey’

Summer 2014 DigiMag #1 FINAL2You look the most hipster out of all of us with that bike,” Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman laughs.

I look back over my shoulder at Foreman behind me.

“I don’t know about that,” I laugh, as I coast down a hill on a yellow, rusted fixie they’ve lent me from their tour bus. The paint is peeling, and the bike appears to be more silver than yellow. The bike is wobbly and the front brakes are practically non-existent.

A girl is walking toward us on the sidewalk and it feels, for a second, like I’m going to run her over. I dodge her and tell myself I was never one for first impressions.

“If I die,” I say to Foreman behind me, “just tell my mother that I love her.”

It’s 7 p.m., and the sun is setting on a cool, March evening in Charlotte, North Carolina. Switchfoot is set to perform at Amos’ Southend, a concert hall just south of downtown Charlotte, but first, they’ve scheduled an interview with Sports Spectrum magazine, and apparently, the interview is beginning with a bike ride.

We coast past All American Pub on our right, then ride past World of Beer on the corner of South Boulevard and East Bland. We make a right onto South Boulevard, and Foreman pedals up next to me. Drummer Chad Butler is in front of us, leading the way.

“Bet this is one of your more interesting starts to an interview,” Foreman laughs.

“Hey,” I say matter-of-factly, somewhat out of breath, “It’s all about the journey, right?”

For Grammy-Award winning alternative rock band Switchfoot, “journey” might be the best word to describe their story as a band.

Formed in 1996, the San Diego-based band consisting of brothers Jon (lead vocals, guitar) and Tim Foreman (bass), Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keyboard), and Drew Shirley (electric), have continued to revamp their sound and top the charts since they burst onto the scene in the early 2000s—when their fourth studio album The Beautiful Letdown went double platinum. This last year has been one unlike any other, as they produced an album and a documentary, both sharing the name Fading West.

In the documentary, Foreman reflects on their story as a band and is quoted as saying, “It was all about the joy of the journey.”

His words “joy” and “journey” seem to be a summation of life. The journey might be hard. But joy was always there. Despite circumstances, joy was always accessible, if you could only find a way to continually revisit its fountains.

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Joy In Saltwater

We’re on Your shore again / I can feel the ocean / I can feel your open arms / That pure emotion / I’m finally free again / By my own explosion / We’re on your shore again / I can feel the ocean

We bike across South Boulevard, and arrive at Nova’s, a quaint coffeehouse and bakery a few blocks from the concert hall. Butler locks our bikes up to a sign in the parking lot, and we enter the coffeeshop.

Foreman, 37, has long, blond surfer’s hair hanging out of his black-and-gold patterned ski-cap, and he has a tight leather jacket over his zip-up sweater. I notice a scar running below the right side of his nose. He would later tell me it came from a “gnarly” surfing accident. Butler, 40, another passionate surfer, is wearing a red and gray, plaid button-up shirt and a heavier greenish-gray jacket. Away from the lights, stage, and thousands of screaming fans, they seem rather ordinary, just a couple of “bros” hanging out in a coffeehouse…like anybody else.

I offer to buy them coffee.

“You sure?” Foreman says.

“Are you kidding me?” I tell him. “After the impact you guys have had on me, I wish I could get you more than a coffee.”

It’s true. If we had time for a steak dinner, I’d feel as if I owed it to them for the times their music has carried me through. Most recently, I’m reminded of when I quoted their song “Where I Belong” in the eulogy I delivered at my grandfather’s funeral: On the final day I die, I want to hold my head up high, I want to tell You that I tried, To live it like a song.

Foreman and Butler are as genuine as I always imagined them, thanking me for the coffee and telling me that the compliment meant a lot. Even their willingness to ride bikes to a coffeehouse with a random writer, in a random city, merely hours before they take the stage at Amos’ Southend, I figured, was a good anecdote to demonstrate how relaxed and free-spirited they were, and a reflection of how much they valued people.

Butler gets his coffee and takes a seat. Foreman and I stand at the coffee bar, as the barista prepares our drinks. Foreman begins to tell me about an article he’s working on for The Huffington Post. I tell him that I really enjoyed a previous article he had written about the concept of wonder. “Against the backdrop of wonder,” his article said, “I am reminded of the larger symphony going on around me, reminded of how small I really am.”

I tell him how I’ve been thinking a lot about wonder lately—how love can lead to wonder, how fear can lead to wonder, how doubt can lead to wonder. It’s as if every emotion we experience in this lifetime, whether positive or negative, points toward a bigger story that is being told.

Foreman then goes on to tell me about Victorian literature and their fascination with “the sublime,” how writers like Charles Dickens and William Butler Yeats brought their readers into a world where they experienced a “state of ecstasy,” which caused them to think outside of themselves.

We eventually sit down at a table next to Butler, and Foreman asks me whom some of my favorite authors are. I tell him that I’m currently enjoying German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship, then confess to him that I can only read a page at a time because of its depth.

“How about you?” I say.

“Well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is amazing,” Foreman says. “He wrote a book called Ethics, I think, that wasn’t finished (before he died), and I’m reading that off and on right now. Again, it’s one of those, where you pick it up, read a couple pages and say, ‘Well, now I can think about that for a year,’” he laughs.

We start talking about martyrdom, as Bonhoeffer died for the sake of Christ under the oppression of Nazi Germany in 1945, then start talking about grace and the will of God, lofty concepts we do not understand yet long to understand more fully.

It was obvious—whether it’s through their music, documentary, or the current interview—that Switchfoot loves to think and ask big questions about both life and God.

This leads us to talking about the sublime again, these things that remind us how small we really are, things that free us from a world where we think far too big of ourselves. Foreman and Butler start talking about surfing in the context of the sublime, thus giving me a sports angle in my guilty pleasure of writing music stories.

“Surfing might be to Switchfoot what music would be to a professional athlete,” Foreman says. “Where music is their release, their escape, their chance to connect with their soul and go to another land for a second—for us, surfing is that. Our job—we love it and we wouldn’t trade it for the world—but it’s demanding at times. There are ups and downs. To be able to stare back at the shore and remember how small you are and to gain that kind of perspective and see all of your problems down there on the shore, and realize, wow, this is a much bigger world than all the text messages I’ve been dealing with, the problems I’ve been having in the studio or on the road.”

“It’s usually removed of all human noise,” Butler adds. “You are removed, you have the ocean, maybe some birds flying above. You are in the elements.”

The ocean is where Switchfoot feels small again.

“The stage is this bloated, weird place to exist,” Foreman says in Fading West, “where people give you unnecessary amounts of attention, and in the water, all of that is washed clean.”

Surfing has always been one of the threads to Switchfoot’s brotherhood—even their band name is a surfing term. Recently, Switchfoot spent all of 2013 touring the globe while filming a rock/surf documentary (released December 2013) while recording an album (released January 2014) while hitting up some of the world’s most renowned surfing hotspots in Australia, Bali, South Africa, and New Zealand, alongside surfing legends Rob Machado and Tom Curren.

“Every great novel or album comes from a place,” Foreman continues. “Bob Dylan goes and visits the homeless, and Bruce Springsteen visits the people that he admires musically…For me, I don’t think that any of these songs could exist without the ocean. The ocean is a common thread in our friendship—my wife calls it my baptism—it’s this element that can be the breath in when so much of life is giving and breathing out. The ocean, really, just gives back.”

Switchfoot 2 ph cr Brian Nevins-2

Joy In The Hurricane

Hello hurricane / You’re not enough / Hello hurricane / You can’t silence my love / I’ve got doors and windows / Boarded up / All your dead end fury is / Not enough / You can’t silence my love

I tell Foreman and Butler that I enjoyed their documentary, that the videography made it a spiritual experience, and their honesty and transparency amidst trials and doubts made it an intellectual experience.

At one point in the film, Foreman has to abandon their global tour and fly home to San Diego because his daughter, Daisy, is unexpectedly rushed into surgery. Another scene shows him and his younger brother, Switchfoot bassist Tim Foreman, having an emotional conversation about Tim and his wife’s miscarriage years before.

Suddenly, in a documentary with spiritual undertones, both through its music and videography, the sometimes-taboo subject of doubt is brought to the forefront.  I tell Foreman and Butler that this is what I identified with the most in their documentary: doubt.

“We included a lot of personal stuff in the film. We are not filmmakers, we are not actors,” Foreman laughs. “If there is anything compelling that is going to come out, it’s going to be honesty. If you take away honesty, you probably don’t have a reason to be on a film. As a songwriter, those are always the most compelling elements of the song—when there is some risk involved and you actually put yourself in the music. You can really feel the difference. If someone is emotionally invested in a song, or if they are just kind of playing it cool, trying to be somebody else. At the end of every song, you have the question to ask: Do I believe it?

“We were talking about Springsteen and Dylan earlier—all of my favorite singers/songwriters bands/whatever, are people that, when the song ends, you can say: that guy believes what he is singing. I might even disagree, but he believes it.”

For years, Switchfoot has used rock-and-roll as a channel to address issues that might not be able to be addressed effectively otherwise. Politics. Pain. Doubt. Faith. Their documentary was as honest as their music.

“As far as doubts, I think doubt is the flipside of belief,” Foreman says. “Any form of faith or trust in a relationship, doubt is available at any point. We show what we believe by the way that we live our lives.”

Foreman looks down at his chair.

“For example, I believe that this chair is going to hold me up as long as I’m sitting here. In talking about our doubts, it’s another way to talk about our faith and another way to talk about what God has brought us through. I think, as a songwriter, I’m not afraid of being honest in that way. Fortunately, I think it kind of reflects the stance that we’ve had as a band.”

“I’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t trust a man without a limp,’” Butler adds. “I think it’s important to acknowledge your flaws and, in them, pursue honesty. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are in this together, and I mean that as a brotherhood, as a band, and also in it with our audience.”

Foreman piggybacks off Butler: “It’s funny, because, just like doubt is always available to you, joy is also always available. Joy is one of the few things that set us as a human species apart…Maybe dolphins enjoy riding waves…But the idea of taking joy in every stage of life, the rationality that it takes to find joy in both places (good times and hard times) is something that is uniquely human.”

“Counter-intuitive to our human instincts,” Butler adds.

“Especially a winning-losing culture,” Foreman continues. “It’s all, ‘You’re happy when you win, sad when you lose.’ But that means you will be sad most of the time—for most of us,” he laughs. “Or it may mean that you’re happy for a little while, and then, at the end of your career, it’s all sadness! But for a believer, it comes down to the idea that, no, this life is only a fraction of the joy that is available to us. As far as winning and losing, there is so much more joy than just the joy of victory.”

As we rode back to the concert hall on our bikes, I thought about two words—joy and journey—and how our journey includes both winning and losing, like Foreman said, and how the joy in this life is only a fraction of what we’ll one day experience.

When Switchfoot took the stage that evening, I noticed how it all tied together, how their music, for a moment, helped people experience a fraction of joy and step into the sublime, while, at the same time, their music also helped direct them to the Source of all joy.

And before launching into their final song of the evening, Foreman prefaced it with a statement that seemed to tie “joy” and “journey” together perfectly.  A white flag draped over his neck, with the song title “WHERE I BELONG” spray-pained in black on the flag, Foreman stated: “This is a song about a destination.”

And perhaps it is this reality, that we are merely passing through this life on earth toward a much more glorious destination, which frees us to experience true joy in the journey.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

Airing It Out — Merciful messengers

Manhattan College vs University of Louisville, 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional Playoffs Round 2Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello had just led the program to the most wins in 10 years, and the Jaspers ended the season by nearly beating defending national champion Louisville in a much talked-about first round NCAA tournament game.

That success earned Masiello praise on the national level and also an interview and job offer from the University of South Florida to take over that program.

He took the job and everything seemed perfect.

He traded in the mid-major Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the Big East and the cold winters for sunny Florida.

Then the roller-coaster ride that had been so much fun began taking the twists and turns that turn strong men’s stomachs inside out.

The difference was that Masiello, or anyone for that matter, couldn’t see the ups and downs that were coming—the type of ups and downs that would humble and embarrass anyone.

After accepting the job at South Florida, the university did a basic background check that showed Masiello had never earned a degree at the University of Kentucky. He had put his graduation date as 2000 on his resume ever since he left the school that year, but he never graduated.

He had enough credits to walk with his class during graduation ceremonies, however, he still lacked a few classes to graduate. His intent was to return that summer and finish his degree, but even though he enrolled he never finished the classes.

South Florida rescinded the offer and Masiello was not only out of a job—but his image and reputation were tarnished. The likelihood of him receiving a head coaching opportunity anytime soon, much less a job offer on any college coaching staff, seemed small.

Then, Manhattan did what no one could have predicted. They showed grace and mercy, the two words that resonate with Christians all over the world because they provide life, hope and second chances while doing away with the condemnation often associated with our sins.

It’s not a license to continue doing what we did, but it’s the hope that, after seeing our wrong, we can live as if there was never a wrong. Even though we remember it, God shows us so much mercy and grace that when we give or confess our wrongs to Him, He does away with them (Micah 7:19: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”; Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us) and cleanses us (I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”).

Manhattan’s statement by school president Brennan O’Donnell to the media and public dripped with grace.

“After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the college. After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded,” O’Donnell wrote.

“We appreciate the counsel of all involved in assessing this complex situation. Our policy was always that the coach must have at least a four-year undergraduate degree. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties.”

Masiello, realizing the magnitude of such a  gesture, expressed his appreciation with a humble statement—the type of humility that you and I show to God when we confess our sins to Him and realize that He still forgives (when we think He wouldn’t) and He still loves us (like He said He always will).

“I am extremely grateful and humbled by the opportunity to continue as the head men’s basketball coach at Manhattan College,” said Masiello in the statement. “I made a mistake that could have cost me my job at an institution I love. Details matter.

“Manhattan College has shown me a great deal of compassion and trust during this process, and I will do everything in my power to uphold that trust. I understand that I am very fortunate to have the chance to remain here at Manhattan.”

Thinking about all of that is why Matthew 5:7 still resonates with me, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Remember that the next time you need mercy and also when you have the opportunity to extend mercy.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in Sports Spectrum’s April 2014 DigiMag. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

NEW April 2014 DigiMag Now Available

April 2014 DigiMag CoverOur April 2014 DigiMag is now available for viewing. Log in here to view. To receive 12 issues of Sports Spectrum magazine a year, subscribe HERE.

This issue includes exclusive feature stories on Anthony Tolliver, Cody Zeller and Luke Ridnour of the Charlotte Bobcats. It also includes an in-depth feature on one of the best players in Japan’s professional baseball league, Alex Ramirez. Managing editor Brett Honeycutt writes about what Steve Masiello’s situation at Manhattan College can  teach us about humility, mercy and second chances. Enjoy.

Uncommon Challenge