Learning the Attitude of Happiness Through Community

To change the world start with one step…If you give, you, you begin to live…you get the world. Dave Matthews Band-You Might Die Trying

The more you give yourself to helping others, the more life and the world in which we live begins to make sense. It illuminates the purpose for our lives. Recently, I was part of a group that had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic with an organization called Makarios to help complete renovations to a school focused on providing education to Haitian immigrants who otherwise would not have the ability to attend school in the country.

Makarios is a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educational development in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and other impoverished areas of the world that is committed to a child’s spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth, to provide hope for a better future.

Our journey to the Dominican Republic began several months ago. For all it was a walk by faith and trust for an experience we could not fully be prepared. The team met and made plans. However, similar to all things in life, our plan could only take us so far before relinquishing control and allowing the true plan to unfold and guide us down our intended path. 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27

To care for the orphans and widows was the impetus of our mission trip. James 1:27 can be seen as the foundation for Makarios and the Makarios school in the Dominican Republic. What greater purpose than to provide hope through education, food, encouragement and love? It was the motivation for our journey. And so, on August 13 we went.

We saw, we experienced and had emotions that produced a heart change in everyone. We interacted with the local children through various activities such as a Vacation Bible School, sports, games and simply conversing. However, as we lived life with the Makarios staff for a week it became clear that our greatest calling for the trip was in providing support with preparing the school, developing relationships with the Makarios staff and living in true community.

As we spent time in the village where we stayed as well as visited Haitian bateyes, the team was humbled to see that true community can be practiced daily. We were overwhelmed by the joy displayed from those who were in the greatest depths of poverty many of us have ever witnessed and viewed what it meant to live life correctly despite and without allowing circumstances to dictate one’s view and approach to life. Everything in the villages was built around the premise of survival through living in community. We were amazed to find that we were surrounded by smiles, surrounded by joy. Happiness is not found in possessions, but is an attitude toward all experiences one encounters in life. People describe this idea almost daily, but we were given a vision to its reality by the joy found in a place and a people that had nothing but the desire to live.

As our group reenters and acclimates to our lives before our journey began, there is a strong desire to not allow this previous existence to become to comfortable and a need to continue the community that was formed many miles away. The strength of our bond provides a greater understanding to the journey that is faith and encouragement to share it with others. The group remains committed to each other and focused on taking on new projects that support Makarios in the coming year. Austinites can support the mission of Makarios daily through the local coffee shop Dominican Joe’s. Its primary coffee is purchased from Makarios, which works directly with farmers in the region and pays fair trade prices for the coffee. The purchase of the coffee also helps provide scholarships to students in need.

The blessings of our journey to the Dominican Republic continue as we walk together down the path with faith, trust and community. September 20 marked the first day of school at Makarios in the Dominican Republic. Here is a great post displaying the schools transformation during the summer in preparation for this school year.


The 19th Hole – 12/24/09

Similar to the invincibility of a dominant fantasy running back, the window of opportunity is short. What may have been a lock, a guarantee last year is no longer. Father time may get a slow start out of the gate, but he is always running downhill and hits full stride just as your breathing begins to labor. However, this should not cause despair, unless your ARE a fantasy running back, because yesteryear’s LaDainian Tomlinson is this year’s Chris Johnson.

Both sports and life are constantly evolving, bringing forth the amazing with a small side of unintended consequences. For example, the spread offense in football has injected high scoring, excitement and evened the playing field so that dominant size and strength have been neutralized by speed and quickness. Non BCS universities such as TCU and Boise State can now compete at the highest level with any team in the country, but this parity has made the fullback, the I-formation and straight ahead power running a distant memory in college football. Sometimes the change we see is not necessarily new, but more a refinement and reawakening to the yesteryear’s past. Take for instance the recent success of Georgia Tech and its Option lead offense. Just as equal a departure from a pro-style offense and polar opposite in most respects to the Spread.

The point – constants are just that, until they are not. Always keep your feet moving because that pulling tackle may now be a slot receiver coming at you from behind.

  • BCS. You want amazing – the BCS still exists. Division I(FBS) college football is still absent a playoff system, but I am not as upset as I was the year prior. Arguably every team in a BCS Bowl game is deserving, however one could argue there are two competing championship games. The true National Championship game between Texas and Alabama and the Fiesta Bowl featuring TCU and Boise State. TCU, Texas and Alabama have dominating defenses, while Boise State’s offense is to be feared. One of the larger arguments against a playoff system is that the other bowl games would be devalued. I can state unequivocally that we are already there. I have mad passion for all that is football and yet zero interest in any game prior to Jan. 1. The orange blood that flows throughout my body for the Longhorns is uncompromised, but I question strongly whether the winner of the National Championship game is truly the best team in America without first facing the winner of the “other” championship game. What’s the point of the “other” game, since its a long-standing truism that second place is the first loser. Who really wants or cares to be ranked second in the country at the close of the season?
  • Tiger Woods. He is winner of Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, the Associated Press Athlete of the Year and Best Male Athlete ESPY Award. Perhaps the most recognizable athlete or even individual in the world. Similar to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick, Tiger proved that no one is untouchable and personal transgressions can bleed into and impact an individual’s ability to compete. The question remains – to be a star athlete must you also be a decent, respectable person? Should the personal lives of our athletes impact our view of them as athletes or their ability to perform?
  • Heisman. Mark Ingram is a fantastic football player and clearly deserving of being nominated for the Heisman award. Being nominated for such awards as an underclassman is an award in itself, but historically the Heisman is an upperclassman award for the best player in the country. The 2009 Heisman was a travesty and disrespectful to college football fans. Senior Toby Gerhart was the best running back in the country and we may never see a more dominating lineman in the sport than Senior Ndamukong Suh. Gerhart was my favored choice, but I would have been equally happy with Suh winning the award. Suh did continue on and make history as the first defensive player to win the Associated Press College Football Player of the Year. It has now been three consecutive years that a sophomore has won the Heisman despite of deserving upperclassman. The Heisman is on a slippery slope to floundering in the same pool the BCS has found itself. Perhaps what once was has come full circle again, but with a small twist. The National Championship will be determined by the AP poll and so to the best player may also be determined by the AP as well. Would not that be intriguing if TCU or Boise State is ranked number 1 in the AP poll this year following the “Championship” game. I will say this for Ingram, I do not recall seeing a better, more compelling Heisman speech.

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Redbox floating fine down the video stream future

A ubiquitous streaming TV and movie world is no longer in question only whether it will be advertising supported or also include viewer subscriptions. While at various commitments, just about everyone is planning online distribution of professionally produced video. NBC, FOX, ABC and CBS have Hulu, while many of the top multiservice operators (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable) are each planning the rollout of their own “TV Everywhere” platforms. Comcast’s version, OnDemand Online, is expected to go national by the end of the year.

“TV Everywhere” initiatives are online authentication WebTV portals that provide access to content similar to Hulu. The catch is that a user must prove that they are a TV subscriber to gain access to the online content. The rising tide has increased expectation that we will also see a Hulu subscription service in the near future. This is just yet another proof point in the fallacy of the free internet economy future. Content does not want to be free and I anticipate soon that most professionally developed articles and video to require an access fee, whether through subscriptions or micropayments.

Sports WebTV streaming has continued to advance with the 2009 football season. All Sunday Night Football games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and NFL.com using Microsoft’s Silverlight. Similar to last year the offering will have four different camera angles, and it will also feature a HD option, DVR type features and slow-motion replay. CBS, arguably the leader in real time online sports streaming, announced that it will provide all SEC college football broadcasts on its network for free at CBSSports.com. Interestingly, CBS will be using Adobe Flash instead of Silverlight, which is a move away from what was used for March Madness earlier in the year.

As Amazon, the Roku and Netflix push forward the streaming of movies over the Internet, Blockbuster is unfortunately highlighting the transition with the announcement that it will close nearly 1,000 locations by the end of 2010. Beyond increasing emphasis toward mail and streaming services that directly compete with Netflix, Blockbuster  also plans to expand from 497 to 2,500 kiosks by the end of this year and to 10,000 by 2010. Why would Blockbuster bolster its kiosk business so dramatically? Redbox. Despite fighting a few frivolous lawsuits by movie studios in court, Redbox is one of the few non streaming video options that is thriving. DreamWorks has even stated that the conversion rate from rental to purchase of DVDs with Redbox is markedly higher than what is seen from Blockbuster and Netflix. The business model timeline for Redbox may be short, but for now the company proves you can be successful in the video market without a streaming service. Prediction: expect Redbox to rollout a streaming offering before the end of 2010.

Teaching the NCAA Sportsmanship

Innocently enough, the NCAA agreed to partner with the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) for a national sportsmanship initiative called “RESPECT Weekend” to kickoff the college football season. The premise for RESPECT Weekend is for all of the players on each team to meet prior to the game and shake hands to demonstrate sportsmanship. While it is a requirement that head coaches do this before each game, participation in Respect Weekend was strongly encouraged, but not mandatory.

Presumably, the NCAA and the AFCA felt this could help prevent players from fighting similar to the infamous South Carolina vs Clemson brawl in 2004

In some meeting during the summer, RESPECT Weekend probably seemed like an excellent idea. Who would be against promoting sportsmanship and is shaking hands not an great way to display this? Two problems however: What exactly is sportsmanship and how is it properly demonstrated?

Sportsmanship is the actions taken by coaches and athletes that are the unwritten rules behind the rules of a sport. Its not showing up your opponent, but allowing for a graceful defeat. Sportsmanship is choosing to not run up the score when the game has been won despite what the game clock says. Sportsmanship is not shooting a three point shot in basketball with less than 10 seconds left and up by double digits or only calling running plays in football once the game has become out of reach for the opponent. Sportsmanship is not shaking hands before a game.

Looking at this idea from a pure football perspective, it is doubtful RESPECT Weekend was conjured up by someone who once played the sport. Its acceptance by all parties is assuredly the result of no one finding a strong defensible reason not to do it. There is a mental preparation that nearly all athletes go through leading up the game or event. Unlike golf, baseball or even basketball to a degree, football players are preparing themselves to do battle. To physically outmatch their opponent, to knock them to the ground if possible every play. It is irresponsible to have more than 100 men in this mental state all meet at mid field and come eye to eye with their opponent. You cannot predict the mental strength of all involved and should not bet on the emotional control of these young men.

An obvious counter to this argument is the sport of boxing. While it is true boxers “touch gloves” before the beginning of each bout, like football coaches, it is purely ceremonial. Boxers are well past thinking about sportsmanship at this point. The boxer has already personally decided whether he will allow himself to commit the acts of a low blow or punching after the bell well before the touching of gloves and you will not know what their decision was until after the match is underway. On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson touched gloves with Evander Holyfield to start the fight and in the third round Tyson bit a piece of Holyfield’s right ear off. This is all to prove sportsmanship is developed during an individuals lifetime and demonstrated by testing of their will through the fire of conflict and opportunity, not through a ceremony.

LeGarrette Blount was the University of Oregon 2009 starting tailback. The Senior’s stats for the year will remain eight carries for -5 yards. Frustration following defeat at the hand of Boise State and the vebal taunting by Byron Hout lead Blount to drop Hout with one swift punch to the chin. It was shocking, indefensible and the act that will be forever linked to the first day of RESPECT Weekend. Both players disgraced themselves and their teams, but for Blount, he will never play college football again. Sportsmanship matters. Oklahoma State’s coach Mike Gundy has already declared his team will not shake hands with Georgia today stating:

“Our first concern was [we’ll] have 115 guys out there and they’ll have 70, it just takes one guy to pop off,” Gundy said Monday at his weekly media luncheon. “Then I don’t know how you’re going to break it up. How do you control something like that?”

There will always be a Tyson or a Blount that can send an event into disarray. The AFCA and the NCAA should focus on strongly encouraging its coaches to be the torchbearers of sportsmanship. Eliminate dirty play and penalize teams for running up scores. The latter though will always remain when a championship is decided through sportswriter and coach voting or the BCS system. If the NCAA really cared about sportsmanship in football it would create a playoff system to decide its champion. Otherwise you will always have coaches pushing the limits of acceptability like Oklahoma’s embarrassment of Texas A&M in 2003. That day the Sooners won 77-0 and all that was proved was that Bob Stoops will never have the discipline to be Joe Paterno. Paterno has twice had an undefeated team in a major conference that did not win the National Championship. Many argue it was due to the fact that Paterno refuses to run up a score when a game is officially out of reach. Paterno proves true sportsmanship and his legacy as a man trumps everything else. The NCAA does not need to invent acts of sportsmanship to improve the game. It merely needs to take a look at how the winningest coach in Division I football has defined his career. Winners do not happen by accident.

The 19th Hole – 8/29/09

Vince Lombardi once said, “We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” This begs the question, from a pure secular perspective, is there anything that is not possible? As Nike implies with the phrase, “Just do it.” It is not the question of whether it can be done, but instead whether you believe you can do it. As we labor through the last weekend of the year absent of football, I would like to examine some recent events in sports where the line of possible and impossible has blurred.

  • Brett Favre. Last year we had Favre Gate, this year the football world waited on baited breath for whether he would take the helm guiding the Vikings, conveniently one of the Packers most hated rivals. Finally, we were informed by the first ballot Hall of Famer, “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t feel like physically I could play at a level that was acceptable.” Favre would never play in the NFL again. It was impossible. But then August 18 happened. The impossible was again possible as Favre decided that he was not quite finished with his personal play box otherwise referred to as the NFL. I really like Favre or perhaps it is more accurate to say I really like watching him play the game of football. The Vikings had no shot of winning the Super Bowl this year. Now arguably the best defense and most fearsome running game now has an adequate passing game to complement them with Favre paired with the constant deep threat receivers of Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice. The Super Bowl is now possible for Minnesota. Unfortunately, I think the incomparable Scoop Jackson identifies the mood of the football community with his article “What if Brett Favre were a woman?” I guess time will tell as to whether it worth dancing the dance with Mr. Favre.
  • Tiger Woods. He is an amazing athlete and in the discussion as perhaps the greatest golfer of all time. He has been named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year a record-tying four times, and is the only person to be named Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year more than once. However, these facts have blinded the sports media during the past several years to pose the question at every PGA Major event: Tiger or the field. To be fair, his list of accomplishments at Majors are considerable. He is second all time in PGA Major victories, one of two players to win all four majors twice and the only player to have won multiple Majors in consecutive years. Starting from the first year Tiger won a Major in 1997, there have been 52 Majors. Tiger has won 14 or about 27 percent. This is a significant number, but during this time there were four entire years that he did not win a single Major: 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2009. The PGA Major tournaments consist of the top players in the world with varied and distinguished course terrains. It is irresponsible to suggest that one man should be considered the the front runner for every single tournament with no consideration to what players are playing the best golf at the time as well as those whose game is best suited for the current course in question. It is lazy journalism. Less than 30 percent odds is not something I wish to place my lot behind. Is it impossible that Woods could win every Major, no, but its highly improbable.
  • The Diva Receiver. To make a list of the those that have fit this profile since the 80’s would quickly begin to look like the Bible’s Book of Numbers. Long. Recent events suggest that there is strong reason to believe that the final curtain is falling for the diva receiver in the NFL, though we still have the entertaining examples of Ochocinco and that of the embarrassing from Brandon Marshall. I believe the era will be capped by the imprisonment of Plaxico Burress. A remarkable interview by Jeremy Schaap with Burress on E:60 highlights that his current circumstances may not be those resulting from that of a Diva mentality, but instead that of the targeted athlete that was so well documented in the article in ESPN The Magazine titled Living Scared following the tragic death of Sean Taylor. So is the Diva wide receiver in the NFL on its way out? I have hope that it is possible.
  • Eric Bruntlett. A post about the possible of impossible in sports would not be complete without paying tribute to Bruntlett’s unassisted triple play. It was only the second in major league history to end a game and the 15th overall. Sometimes overcoming the impossible involves just a bit of luck because as Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Examining the Cultural Truth and Importance of Sports

What truly is the definition of Sports? Late last night I was watching a HBO documentary on Joe Louis and began to ponder this seemingly rhetorical question. On the surface, the nature and understanding of sports is quite obvious. It is a competition that requires athleticism and skill where the goal is to master and outmatch the others participating. Dictionary.com defines sport as an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature. I dispute this simple, yet completely logically premise.

Popular sports of the day include football, basketball, soccer, MMA, hockey, boxing and baseball. The list of all sports is perhaps limitless including non contact events such as golf, tennis, skating, swimming, bowling, billiards and even beer pong. Then there is the activities branded as sports entertainment as coined by the WWE. Surely true sports is entertaining, but can an activity be more entertainment than sport and still be classified as such?

Around the world, the athletes that compete at the highest level in their sport are revered and interestingly, their words and actions often carry more weight in public discourse than elected leaders, champions of business or athletes elite scholarly counterparts. These shining stars of sports often burn brightly for only a short period, normally lasting about a decade. How is it that they have captured the greatest spotlight with the ability to shape and redefine culture more so than any other profession?

I love boxing. It was of the elite global sports for nearly the entire twentieth century, only beginning to fall from popular interest twenty years ago in the early 90s. Boxing is among the oldest sports in the world with ties that go as far back to BC, winding its way through the Roman Empire, to prizefighting that eventually transformed into its present state with the release of the Marquess of Queensberry rules in 1867. Similar to MMA, it is viewed as a barbaric gladiatoresque spectacle. This misconception can arguably be linked to the clouded definition of Sports as true boxing includes unmatched skill, intelligence and discipline displayed through mental and physical combat with both the opponent and the individual.

My personal view of sports is the requirement of either a ball or physical contact. The best of sports including both and one of origins of the term Bam Sports. This is merely an opinion and not based in any decided evaluation of the true definition. In truth, sports is the nexus of an accepted, specialized skill that most do not possess that garners widespread interest, inspires passion and allegiance as well as social power. While often sports includes a team of athletes, the overall sport is directed by its current individual stars that demonstrate the highest of skill during their career. These stars are the chosen few to provide a voice to the current state of society, approving certain practices and condemning others, resulting in a societal tectonic shift. Sports is where society germinates its change agents.

Joe Louis exemplifies this premise with impact on cultural and social norms as well as political endorsement with the Schmeling fights and WW II enlistment. His example is perhaps the foundation for the recent critisim Tiger Woods has received for not utilizing the platform that he has been given as a global change agent, a globally, implicitly elected leader of the time to direct and guide social justice.

Perhaps the real question is what social injustice will Sports address next?

Food, Inc. – A Guide to Rediscovering my Saint

Passion can be but a spark that kindles a small trail. This initial flicker can lead to blaze a new path for an individual, however, fire cannot be controlled and can quickly change direction or simply flame out to a smoldering complacent end. Sustainability and organic were not words I had familiarity with until January 2007, but by February my entire outlook on food, health, business and life were realigned to this new found and obvious truth.

 Truth is the only worthy pursuit in life and can only be uncovered through a process engaging and building upon ideas, words and action. This final paragraph of my “This I believe” essay states:

I believe in truth. It is the single most important thing in life. All ideas, words and action are rooted in the pursuit of truth. There are many possible paths to truth, but only one truth. I believe there is one correct answer for every question, regardless of the differing ways to arrive at it. All people have their own unique truth. For some, like my father it is found through math. The mathematical proof is his truth. It is indisputable, final and true. I, however, pursue a different truth. It is one that is filled with questions that can not be proved in any man’s lifetime. This truth can only be reached by bridging the chasm between known truth and the unexplained by blind belief. My truth exists on the other side of faith.

There are perhaps only a couple truths accepted throughout all of humanity. The first is the Golden Rule. From a secular standpoint, all can accept this principle as true. For me, sustainability is another unassailable truth as defined as any process that can be replicated continuously without any loss in quality and provides greater efficiency long term than any competing solutions. If one were to target a single facet of life as the most crucial and foundational tenant of sustainability, it would be organic food production. The argument for organic food is that of complete and simple logic. Dupont was wrong, better living through chemistry is not in fact better. Perhaps it can best be broken down to this simple yet complete phrase:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  – Michael Pollan

The blazed path of my sustainable credo recently had begun to waver. Mirroring it to Faith, doubt was not the issue so much as complacency and allowing myself to assimilate into the man designed ways of this world that often try to best an already perfect system. Fast food is fast. Sugar and salt taste good and the actions of today often do not reap their inevitable consequences until years later. I was lucky. America was lucky, and hopefully the world. The beginning of my crusade back in 2007 was shepherded by the books Fast Food Nation and the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Both amazing books that rightly sit alongside The Jungle as ground breaking examples that epitomize investigative journalism in the food industry.

 The books have been widely read, but it is arguable that the message had not quite broken through. Our society has become a video culture. Why read the book, when there is a movie on the subject instead. Discussing the failures of this viewpoint are for another time. With this understanding, some took on the cause by creating the movies Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation. Both were excellent in their own right, but again neither completely broke through. In 2009, Food, Inc. was released. It is a summation of the most important facts and issues  from both Fast Food Nation and the Omnivore’s Dilemma distilled into a 90 minute feature presentation. Food, Inc. shook me from my distracted state. It is the guide to rediscovering my Saint.

Dito MontielCrossing Rivers