Tuesday, April 29

Just two days of classes left at the UofA. It is always hard to believe it when the end of the school year arrives. Here are some random things that have come across my "desk" over the past few weeks ...

Weather played havoc with the pole vault at the Drake Relays last weekend, which is often the case. It seems that the way the stadium is built produces a lot of swirling winds and cross winds on the vault runways, which all run north and south. The pole vault is dangerous enough in good conditions (running as fast as you can with a 16' pole, bending it, and letting it fling you almost 20' in the air), let alone with 20 mph winds blowing in your face or pushing you one way or another. So the heights for the college men and women and elite women weren't too good. For the elite men, however, we tried something different. Jeff Hartwig (American record holder) had a "plant box" in his truck from the mall vault earlier in the week. (The "plant box" is the medal container buried in the ground that the vaulters put the end of the pole in when they take off.) So we put it in the sand of one of the long jump pits, which allowed us to have a runway that ran west to east with a predominant tailwind. That made for a better vaulting situation! It was the first time I had ever seen that done.

Here is an article from a recent issue of Christianity Today. The author makes the point that we don't live in "Jerusalem" (a culture comfortable and familiar with Christianity) and we don't live in "Babylon" (a culture far removed for Christianity and which doesn't much care what you believe as long as you keep the peace - see Daniel), but we live in "Samaria." The people of people of Samaria knew a lot about Jerusalem's religion (though some of their information was distorted and wrong) and held a grudge against it.

"So I sometimes find life in America. The problem is not that my religion is strange. The problem is that my religion is familiar. Like Samaritans and Jews, Christians and non-Christians have a partly shared worldview (our Western traditions, which include the Bible), a shared point of origin (Christendom), and well-defined points of contention (the exclusivity of Christ). We are familiar with what each other believes. We're suspicious of one another. So we start off with a grudge."

Read the rest of the article and let me know what you think.

A recent study cited in USA Today reports that 1 in 4 teenage girls have a Sexually Transmitted Disease. I don't even know what to say to that. That is incredibly frightening and sad.

Finally, if Dale Armstrong reads this would he please email me. Before I responded to your last email you switched jobs and now the email address I have for you doesn't work!

Thursday, April 24

Some pictures from last night's mall vault (from the Des Moines Register) ...

Wednesday, April 23

I've probably officiated 200-300 track meets over the years, but tonight was a first for me. I'm in Des Moines to work the Drake Relays and tonight they held their first ever (and probably America's first ever) Mall Vault. They set up a pole vault pit and runway in the atrium area of the Jordan Creek Mall and six elite vaulters spent a couple of hours in a very spirited and very good competition. An estimated 2,000 spectators lined the runway, the pit, and the rail along the balcony to watch, clap, and cheer the vaulters. And the vaulters responded. Derek Miles and Mark Hollis both vaulted 18' 8.75" (Miles won on fewer misses, but the was an eight inch personal record for Hollis). Considering the balcony rail was 20 feet off the ground, that gave the fans up there a great view! Also competing were Jacob Pauli, Jeremy Scott (a former Razorback and "world's tallest vaulter" at 6'9"), Derek Niedermeyer, and Jeff Hartwig (American record holder and one of those who put the event - and the runway and pit - together). Everyone was excited about the event - vaulters and spectators and organizers - so it could very well be a regular fixture in Des Moines.

I was my intention to post a couple of pictures of the Mall Vault, but for some reason Blogger is not cooperating.

Tuesday, April 22

The big news around Arkansas yesterday - at least for a day - was the retirement of John McDonnell, the University of Arkansas' head cross country and track and field coach. Over his 36 years at the UofA, Coach McDonnell became the winningest coach in the history of the NCAA - regardless of the sport. Here are some of the "numbers" from his career:

42 NCAA team championships in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track.

83 conferences championships in the Southwest Conference and Southeastern Conference.

140 national, regional, and conference Coach-of-the-Year honors.

105 individual NCAA champions.

His teams won 90% of the SEC championships since entering the conference. The SEC is the nation's best track and field conference.

His teams won 61% of the national championships competed since 1984.

34 consecutive conference cross country championships.

12 consecutive NCAA indoor championships (1984-1995)

23 Olympians coached, including gold, silver, and bronze medal winners.

5 NCAA "triple crowns" where his teams won all three of the championships in an academic year. In fact, over one three year period his teams won nine straight championships, meaning no other school won one.

I have been volunteering with the Razorback track program for almost 20 years, which has given me the privilege of getting to know Coach McDonnell pretty well. I have often dropped by the track office and sat down to talk about track, politics, the economy, motorcycle safety, his farm, his family, and a dozen other things. Though he has been the most successful coach in NCAA history, he is also a very humble, down-to-earth, and personable man.

He had the ability to take a sport that is often seen as an individual one and make it a team sport at Arkansas, where each athlete - regardless of their ability - saw themselves as a part of a greater whole. He had the ability to help each athlete develop to their fullest potential, even beyond what they thought they could do. He knew how to motivate and prepare his athletes to be at their best at the most critical times.

As a coach, I think his greatest asset has been his ability to help athletes maximize their abilities. He took those athletes without the greatest credentials and made them into champions.

I read these comments today by Curtis Frye, head coach at the University of South Carolina. Coach Frye has developed his own Olympic champions and is a "rival coach" in the same conference. But his words about Coach McDonnell ring so true.

No one will ever accomplish the things that Coach McDonnell has accomplished. The university and the sport will miss him. He will continue to coach the Razorbacks through this season and his professional athletes at least through the Olympics. But mostly he will spend time with his family, seeing the country, and raising cattle.

Now we will see what happens with the Razorback track program. Who will be the new coach? Will the athletic administration see it as a priority or begin to cut the funding? How will the new Athletic Director view it? Lots of questions to be answered...

Sunday, April 20

Here are some things that I have read recently that will you give something to think about as you ponder the world you live in and the room people make for God in their lives.

A week or so ago I posted a link to a video produced by some Kansas State students that demonstrated how college students live and work today - and how different it is than when I was in college. (Of course, you need to realize that where I was an undergrad was a little different than many schools - no hair on your ears, no phone or TV in your dorm room, in the dorm by 8:30 and lights out by 11:00 on week nights, etc.) You can find that link in one of the posts below.

Here are three articles that talk about spirituality and religious life among today's college students.

The first is from the Pew Forum and is an interview with a professor from UCLA. They did a six year study that tracked the religious and political views of college students. The study demonstrates how those who participated changed in their perspectives from their freshmen to their junior years of college. The main points are that students tend to see the world in more relative and less absolute terms as they move through college (which makes sense since those on a most campuses that aren't Christian affiliated are immersed in a relative culture) and that they tend to become more stressed as juniors than they were as freshmen. That can be due to the increased academic and social pressures on them, or to the drift from their spiritual moorings, or from the fact that many freshmen are pretty clueless and too naive to be too stressed! It is an interesting article.

The second is a piece from USA Today that asserts that religious and spiritual dialogue is still alive and welcome on the university campus, but that the nature of that dialogue has changed. Christians need to speak (and not just speak, but act) to the areas that have interest to this generation of students at large. The good news is that many of the areas of interest for today's young adults are very Biblical issues - concern for the poor and oppressed, justice issues, etc. These are things that much of the Church has neglected for too long but are issues that are close to the heart of God. We need to find ways to work with others - even those who are outside the realm of Christianity - to address issues such as these. In doing so, we can better demonstrate the true nature and values of God and build bridges for dialogue with others. Along this line, I am working with one of our former students to find ways to bring attention to the problem of human trafficking in the world. According the the US Department of Justice (2004):

  • 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Of this number, 70% are women and 50% are children. The majority are forced into the commercial sex trade.
  • Every years 15,000-18,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the US. The number of US citizens caught in this is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 children in the US at risk of being trafficked into the sex industry.

"The righteous care about injustice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern." Proverbs 29:7

The third article is from the New York Times Magazine and talks about the rise of "abstinence clubs" on university campuses. These clubs are not necessarily religious in nature, but committed to sexual abstinence.

Another cultural insight - read this column by Albert Mohler on the move of some "upscale" hotels to remove the Gideon Bibles from their rooms and replace it with a "intimacy kits".

One last thing. I like gadgets and my latest purchase was a Palm Centro. I have used Palm devices for several years now and when my last one began malfunctioning, it was a good excuse for me to get a new one that also is a phone. Now I can just carry one thing and not two. I've been very happy with the Centro because I have almost everything (and I do mean almost everything - names, addresses, phone numbers, four Bible versions, prayer lists, music, books, New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, digital camera, email, internet access, Sudoku, and more) all on one little device. But I was also able to figure out over the weekend how to post to this blog from my phone. That means that I should be able to post more regularly since I won't need a computer to do so. Sweet! In fact, the short post just before this one came from my phone. Now some you may prefer posts from my phone since they will probably be shorter ...

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This weekend was the McDonnell Invitational - the UofA's main annual outdoor meet each year. Saturday was beautiful, as you can see. That was good, since I spent about 29 hours at the track on Friday and Saturday!

Wednesday, April 16

Not long ago, several of us from Christ on Campus spent part of a Saturday cleaning Dorit's house. Dorit is a 75-year-old lady with whom we became connected several years ago through Faith In Action - an organization that meets the needs of the elderly here in Fayetteville. Dorit's house caught on fire a few weeks ago. And though it wasn't destroyed, there was some fire and water damage. So we spent a few hours cleaning and preparing it for repairs and for her return.

Dorit is an interesting individual with probably more idiosyncrasies than the average person. She is a pretty good artist and is always learning about something - to which the college classes she occasionally takes and the two microscopes she owns attest. Any time spent or conversation with her is always interesting.

But this post isn't really about Dorit or cleaning her house. It is about two men - Jake Tolbert and Austin Brown. Through the years, many from ConC have served Dorit - giving her rides to the store or the doctor, picking up her mail, chopping firewood, etc. But it has been Jake (who was my associate for several years) and Austin (who is my associate now) who have carried the majority of the load. From the very beginning, Dorit began to rely on Jake for so many things. When Jake moved back to Illinois almost two years ago and Austin moved to Fayetteville, he picked up where Jake left off. You can count on at least one call from Dorit every day. Both of these men made themselves available to serve her and care for her and have done it with an impressive example of character, patience, and love. I am not, by nature, a patient or compassionate man. Maybe that is why I am so impressed by those who are. So this post is mostly a tribute to Jake and Austin, men with whom I have had the privilege to work and men who reflect the character of Christ - who came "not to be served, but to serve" - in very clear and practical ways.

God always seems to bring the "least of these" into our lives and into our churches and Christian groups, those who are on the fringe of society and who can't really contribute. The Dorits and the Patricks and the Timothys and the guy who stopped in last Tuesday night needing money. And I believe that one of the great tests of Christian character and maturity - for both an individual and a church or Christian body - is how we treat the "least of these." Not only does it provide evidence of what God has done in our lives, but it can also be a powerful witness to those who watch us.

I'm thankful for men of character and compassion - like Jake and Austin - who model to me what I need to be.

Wednesday, April 9

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU!

I know that I have worked on the University of Arkansas campus for almost 26 years, but at heart I am still a Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan. So Monday night's game was wonderful. In reality, Memphis lost the game more than Kansas won it. All Memphis needed to do was make some free throws down the stretch - just foul someone in the last few seconds - and they would have probably won the game in regulation. But they didn't and Kansas made the plays and shots they needed to make to pull it out. So we rejoice as national champions for the first time in 20 years!

Now I need a new KU shirt ...

Baseball season is now in full swing and this is a week of "opening days" for me. On Tuesday I got to go to Opening Day in Kansas City and watch the Royals beat the Yankee (with the added bonus that A-Rod struck out four times). Thanks to one of my best friends from high school - Allen Povenmire - I was able to attend Opening Day for the first time. The original plan was for four of us who were best friends in high school to meet for tailgating and the ballgame. Unfortunately, Craig's dad passed away and so we weren't able to pull it all together this year. But we will next year ....

On Thursday night Gina and I are supposed to go to the first home game of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals - the Royals' AA minor league team. They have just moved here from Wichita and their brand new stadium is just three quarter of a mile from our house. Their mascot is a Sasquatch. I'm not sure about that.

One of the names suggested was Thunder Chickens. Now that's a great minor league name! I think it would have been much better than the Naturals.

One more note from Kansas. Check out this video made by some students at Kansas State. It will give you an idea about life on today's college campus and how different it is than when I was in school. Very informative.

Lastly, one of my "guilty pleasures" is that I have been a fan of Saturday Night Live since it first aired on NBC in 1975 and I still watch it quite often. This past weekend Christopher Walken was the guest host. One of the great sketches in SNL history is Walken's classic "I want more cowbell" sketch. In honor of Mr. Walken, enjoy this video.

Do you have a favorite SNL cast member, character, or sketch?