Monday, November 23, 2009

The Iron Bowl

It's Iron Bowl week. There's nothing like it. (which is not all good, mind you...) One solitary football game that affects the vast, vast majority of the residents of the state of Alabama for an entire year.

Some years back, a relative of mine who married into the family, moved to Alabama. I advised her, "you'll have to choose." She said, "I'll stay a GA Tech fan"...I said "that's fine, but you'll still have to choose between Auburn & Alabama." She laughed. She called about a week & a half later & said, "Mike, I thought you were kidding..." I wasn't.

As a lifelong (3rd-generation) Bama fan, the Iron Bowl has always been a biggie. (Aside: the "Iron Bowl" is the annual rivalry football game between the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide and Auburn University's Tigers.) The two schools are located in the same state just a few hours apart. Auburn, AL is in the central part of the state over near the GA border, whereas Tuscaloosa, AL is not too far from the MS border & also in the central part of the state.

This is one of those games that affects everybody in the state. All will be required to choose upon entering the state. Alma maters other than UA & AU and previous schools supported do not matter; one will be asked which of these two schools one supports. Both fan bases are quite...fervent, let's just say. In addition to affecting everybody in the state, the Iron Bowl affects everyone all year long. The one day is discussed & celebrated & lamented for the other 364. Until one lives in the state, the obsessive, even excessive, focus on this one game can only be imagined.

MS has three D1 football programs, and has for decades. All three have been successful at times. LA has only had one that was competitive until fairly recently. TX has UT, A&M, TCU, TxTech, UTEP, SMU, Rice,...

Both schools are pretty good in the classroom across a wide array of academic disciplines. Auburn is the larger of the two schools. Excellent engineering program that claims a number of astronauts & NASA engineers among its graduates. Also outstanding in the sciences. Very good school of Veterinary Medicine. Alabama has a very good business program. A very good school of education and Law school.

None of which is discussed this week in coffee shops & restaurants & bars in Alabama.

It's Iron Bowl week. Conversations turn to memories of Iron Bowls past with the intent of attaching hope in this week's game to outcomes of previous contests. Auburn fans remember the "Punt, Bama, Punt" game...and Bo over the top...and 6 in a row. Bama fans remember "Go left, Bo" and "The Kick" and 36-0. On both sides, we remember almost exactly where we sat in our favorite Iron Bowls. Players, coaches, plays, radio calls,...both sides remember them clearly and either fondly or with disgust.

Me? Yeah...I'm guilty, even though I've not lived in Alabama in 22 years. I attended the Iron Bowl back when it was played in Birmingham's Legion field every year. Watched 8 in a row from the Bama side. Back then, the stadium would be half Bama, half Auburn. "Rocking" begins to capture the feel. Both student sections were open seating; thus, if you weren't there by two & a half hours before the game, you might not have a seat. The cheers would start. Back & forth. "Waaaaaar Eagle! Hey!"..."Roooooooll! Tide! Roll!" The two teams would stroll the field in their suits, eliciting cheers from one side of the stadium & boos from the other. By kickoff, I could hardly stand it! And I saw some great games, including some of those listed above.

This year, the game is back in Auburn. The site alternates now between the two campuses. I fully understand & appreciate the reasons. But I will always remember how very cool it was to be in a stadium split down the middle between AU fans & UA fans. James & I went a few years back to an Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Still great fun & a great memory, even though the wrong team won. Somehow, it seems there was more sustained electricity back in the Legion Field days. Oh well...still an awesome experience to have.

One can live in FL without being a UF or FSU fan. One can reside in TX and be a fan of numerous football teams. In LA, there's really only the one major team. Even Alabama now has two more D1 programs, with more on the way. But still, this week--and throughout the year until this time next year--it's the Iron Bowl. Alabama - Auburn. Us-them. We-you. Good-evil/wrong-right/darkness-light/(etc.).

Fans of both schools severely over-do this game, and severely overstate its cosmic importance, and severely over-demonize those on the other side.

God help me, I'm right there. But I've made substantial progress over the last two decades. Make no mistake: I hope my Tide thrashes the Tigers this year. And every year. But if that doesn't happen, I'll be OK (which is the substantial progress...*smile*). As a kid, or as a student back when, I'd be undone by an Iron Bowl loss. Now, I've made it to the point where I recognize that the outcome of an Iron Bowl has precisely ZERO to do with anything that is of ultimate importance. My family's love of (& grace toward!) relationship with Christ...friends who love me regardless of which team I happen to health...the joy of giving thanks for so much that I have been given...the amazing coming, living, teaching, dying, raising, & returning of my Lord...(and so on)

Auburn's recent successes in the Iron Bowl have had absolutely no effect on any of these ultimate things in the life of this lifelong Bama fan. Neither did last year's Alabama win. Good perspective to be reminded of this week.

It's Iron Bowl week. Is it game day yet? I can't wait! Roll Tide!

Monday, November 16, 2009

In Praise of My Teacher...

He's a pediatrician by training.

But he will always be my teacher. He has discipled many through the years. And has taught many of us. If God had not called me to teach my own Sunday School class, I'd still be in his. I miss his teaching & think of it most Sunday mornings as I walk to teach my own class. I was just thinking of how amazing the following is to me: in 20 years of Temple Baptist membership, I've only been in his class a little less than 2 years. And yet, as I say, he will always be my teacher. But not just my teacher...

One of my life's great privileges is that he calls me a friend. We have laughed together--do so quite often. We have dreamed together...dreams for our children...for ourselves...for our church. We have prayed together. Often. But not often enough for my standards. And we have shed tears together. I have shared things with him that not one other person save Lisa knows. And I'm quite confident that he has kept my secrets in confidence.

His wise counsel has impacted lives all through the Pine Belt. Mine too. Marriages have been improved by his words and example. Mine included. Walks with the Lord have been challenged and substantially enhanced. Mine as well. Many have nervously raised their...our...hands in response to his regular question: "What's God done in your life or in the life of someone around you?" Parents have been encouraged and trained. Including me. Pastors & other ministers have been loved, encouraged, prayed for, and held accountable.

He is very humble, and would say that I might be overstating his import to the Body of Christ and to our community.

Only eternity will show the gigantic impact this one man has had. And the next time he's egotistical will be the first I've seen.

He laughs easily. Even at himself. (again, humility)

He's a proud grad of MS State University. As are all three of his beloved children. To all of his fellow MSU Bulldog alums out there, he represents y'all very, very well.

He has been used mightily in the life of my church since before we were members (20 years + a couple of months for us).

I wish...oh, how I wish!...that I were half the awesome father that he is. I shudder to think what I'd be like as a Dad had I not come under his influence not long after James Madaris arrived...I *love* his regular comment to his children when they were younger: "just remember, you're a Kent wherever you go..." And let me tell you--being "a Kent" means something around here

Tonight was his final session as chairman of our Deacon body at church. What a remarkable year it's been.

You might know him. If you don't, you wish you did. His name is Dr. Ronald S. Kent. But he'll always be Ronnie. My teacher, mentor, and friend. My brother. My example and counselor.

Thanks, Ronnie. I may not show it much, but your building into my life has most assuredly not been in vain. At least, I hope so. Thanks again, for everything, bro. This is very long overdue. I love you.


Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Psalm 37:3

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Want to save someone's life?

In the very literal sense of the phrase "save someone's life"...

Sign up to be a bone marrow donor. >>CLICK HERE<<

I signed up in 1994 when a wonderful young man in Hattiesburg was sick. (He died as a young man with HUGE potential...) MOST regrettably, I am no longer a donor candidate because, well, because cancer sucks.

But some of you reading this are potential donor candidates.

I go to church with a man named Charles. Charles also signed up in the registry in 1994. A couple of years later, he got a call. Which led to other calls. Which led to some medical things. Which led to him becoming a match for a leukemia patient out on the west coast.

Charles donated bone marrow. Said his lower back was a little sore for a few weeks. The recipient? Prior to the donation, the guy had NO hope. He & his wife had started getting his affairs in order in anticipating his passing. A young married man...with young kids...and no hope.

Then he got word that this guy in MS was a match & was willing to donate.

Now, more than 10 years later, the guy on the west coast is doing trace of leukemia...enjoying life with his wife and kids. He's flown Charles out to visit a couple of times.

I do not have enough of a vocabulary nor of an imagination to try to capture what that first meeting would be like. I'm sitting here blubbering like a little girl just writing this!

So the phrase "save someone's life" is to be taken absolutely literally. And you...YOU...might be able to do it.

Click the link above & sign up. They mail you a kit, you swab your cheek, and you mail it back. And pray that you're a match for someone. So that you can--literally--save their life.

A closing question: Imagine my friend Charles arriving at the guy's house for the first visit, and meeting his wife and his kids. Do you think Charles thought or said anything like this? "yeah, this is pretty cool, but that needle spot hurt for 3-4 weeks, so I don't think it was worth it..."

Me neither.

Sign up. There's a link there for donating money too, if you--like me--are medically ruled out as a potential donor. BTW, there are also links there with FAQs about the marrow donation process, and with myths about the process. Read them. And then sign up.


p.s. - Why are you still here? Go sign up to be a marrow donor! *smile*