The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Sustained Excellence

I don’t talk much about sports around here. Truth is, I don’t watch much any more. My boys and I will catch some hockey and basketball highlights in the spring. And we play and/or coach basketball in the winter months. But apart from that, I do not play or watch sports at all. With one exception.

NFL football and my Patriots.

Like most Canadians, I grew up watching hockey and cheering on my local team. I’d spend evenings shooting a tennis ball against the wall in our basement while listening to the Canucks game on the radio. This was long before season subscriptions and every game of every major sport being televised. I’d stay up until the 11:40 Late News hoping for a couple of clips from the latest west coast game.

But that all changed in 1994.

I had been running a hockey pool (that’s like fantasy football, but calling it “fantasy” would get you a raised eyebrow or two) with my pals for 3–4 years when a new friend convinced us to try the same thing with the NFL. He’d grown up in Windsor, Ontario and spent his youth watching the Detroit Lions. Our crew had spent our younger years watching the occasional CFL game, but had no exposure to the NFL.

And so I headed into our first fantasy football draft with no clue that sports in my life would change forever.

I spent most of a 7 hour road trip reading a fantasy football magazine. I didn’t know any players, and barely knew the team names. But I ended up drafting Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates from the New England Patriots. I came in first or second in the league, I can’t quite recall. But I knew one thing for sure: the Patriots were my team!

Three years later, they played in the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance, losing to the Brett Favre led Green Bay Packers. But other than that, it wasn’t easy being a Patriots fan. There were some so-so seasons, and some terrible seasons (especially the Pete Carrol years, long before his time with USC and the Seahawks). But that too changed, thanks to the fateful Mo Lewis hit on Bledsoe that put Tom Brady into the role of our starting QB.

And, as the saying goes, the rest was history.

I tell you all that for one reason: although I don’t watch a lot of sports anymore, I can appreciate excellency. And we have the privilege of witnessing the greatest stretch of sustained excellence the world of professional sports has ever known. Sound superfluous? Perhaps, but I believe it to be true.

There have been other dynasties (the Yankees, the Bulls, the Oilers, plus the 49ers, Browns, Steelers, and Cowboys in the NFL), but none have been as consistent as the Patriots. Their run over the last 16 years is unprecedented. 12 division titles, 7 Super Bowl appearances (5 of them wins), 6 straight trips to the AFC championship, and a win/loss record that exceeds all dynasties before them.

That excellence is of course due in large part to two men: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. If you follow the NFL at all, you’re familiar with all of this. And I can understand that many people do not like them. Despise them even. But you cannot deny their excellence.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some other people’s thoughts on this topic.

I don’t even watch a lot of actual games any more. This year I took in one full regular season Pats game, as well as the playoffs. But the love for my team hasn’t diminished at all. It’s easy to hate on sports … there’s a lot that’s wrong with them, especially at the professional level.

But there’s also a lot that’s right. As I’ve been coaching my son’s grade 4/5 boys basketball team, I’ve been reminded of the good. It’s been a privilege to get to know 10 young guys just getting comfortable with their bodies and what they can do. Their different personalities and how they come to work together. We’ve got a really solid group with natural ability, but it’s their sportsmanship and willingness to dish out the pass as often as drive to the hoop that has impressed me most.

And that’s part of what has impressed me about the Patriots over the years. Their culture starts at the top and everyone buys in. The group works together, even when it means less for themselves (the Patriots are well known for not paying the mega dollars to players, to the point where players from other franchises who desire to win will take a smaller salary to play in New England).

Anyway, as I’ve savored the latest Super Bowl victory, it caused me to ponder how I’ve enjoyed something most sports fans can only imagine. Year after year after year of consistent excellence.


The Pursuit of God: Book Review

The Pursuit of God is a book that I’ve heard of plenty of times before, but it did not jump out to me as “must read” for quite some time. When a friend of mine was moving away, he happened to have a copy (he previously ran his own Christian book store and had a lot of great material he couldn’t bring with him … I benefitted greatly) and I was happy to add it to my collection.

But it still wasn’t one I immediately thought I needed to get to right away. That is, until I started thinking about the core content of this newsletter and my goals for 2017. As I started to flesh out the content plan for 2017 and beyond, I realized I wanted to do more learning on the topics myself and started looking for materials. And Pursuit of God seemed to fit well, so I added it to the list.

And I’m so very glad to have made that decision.

Tozer reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis (this book reminds me a lot of Lewis’s Mere Christianity). They both have a way with words; they can communicate massive concepts in simple fashion. Their writing is unlike how you are used to people speaking, yet it’s not hard to read or comprehend. At all. I started on Pursuit of God just after finishing the Confessions of St Augustine and there is a marked difference between the language used. Where as something like Confessions is hard to follow from one sentence to the next, Tozer’s writing flows and I found myself swept away in the ideas he was expressing.

What were those ideas? Chiefly, how each person in Christ can (and should) exercise the gift they’ve been given and deepen their relationship with God. Tozer helps the reader to better understand that God is not far off, he is all around, and is seeking communion with his children. And he does a lovely job of communicating that truth through this short book (126 pages of middling length).

To be sure, the author is also lamenting the spiritual state of the nation at the time. Set in the late 1940’s, he remarks often about the lack of fervour, the lack of the Spirit in the American church. I don’t think he’d be too pleased with things today either, so it was easy to imagine that he was writing to us here and now.

How does this all fit in with The Weekly Review? Going back to the thoughts I shared on the paradox of Christianity, how do our works contribute to our faith and our walk with God, I was glad to see Tozer contribute some fantastic thinking to this subject. Specifically, he makes a great point in the chapter titled The Universal Presence.

In this chapter, he remarks how there have been people throughout history, both in the Biblical account and in the centuries since, who have seemed to experience God in a deeper way than most. He asks the following questions:

Why do some persons “find” God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience?

He goes on to answer the question by stating that the difference does not lie with God, but with us. He goes further, stating that these people, the likes of the apostle Paul, the prophets Elijah and Moses, but also Luther and St. Francis and Thomas a Kempis, all had something in a greater degree: spiritual receptivity.

Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward … They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response.

This begins to sound like shaky ground, putting more emphasis on our works than I am comfortable with. But Tozer immediately refutes that idea:

As with everything good in human life, back of this receptivity is God. The sovereignty of God is here, and is felt even by those who have not placed particular stress upon it theologically.

So if this spiritual receptivity originates with God, what are we to do ourselves? This comes back to the heart of my point in the piece I linked to above. And Tozer’s response is what caused my heart to soar, so glad to have found someone who has articulated the multi-faceted truth so well (emphasis mine):

Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements with the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more or less, depending on the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect … It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given.

And this gets at the heart of my focus for 2017. Yes, our faith is a gift from God. And our receptivity to him also starts with him. But that gift, like a piece of art you receive from a friend, can be either displayed prominently in your home, or tucked away in the least used room in the basement.

We require godly exercise. This is only possible because of the work of Christ, but it also leads to the sharpening of our spirit, an increase of the receptivity Tozer speaks of.

And so I would heartily recommend The Pursuit of God. It’s the best book I’ve read in some time!


Socks from Icebreaker

I have two short but seemingly contrasting convictions.

  1. Live simply
  2. Spend well when buying products

The first helps me to remember that life is not enjoyed through an abundance of things. Indeed, the older I get, the less I want the headache of managing more “things”.

The second may sound like a contrast, but in reality it supports the first. If you have a need, then make a purchase that will cost you more upfront, but save you time and energy in the long run. A good recent example for me is the socks from Icebreaker.

Now, I realize not everyone gets excited about socks. But I happen to be one who does: there are not many things more enjoyable than pulling on a good pair of socks. And I’ve never experienced better socks than the ones I’ve gotten from Icebreaker.

This is a company where you pay a premium price. I made my first purchase from Icebreaker 3+ years ago, a light jacket that cost over $300. That’s not an insignificant cost for a single income family of six. But it was a great investment: it’s the best jacket I’ve ever owned and is holding up very well.

Fast forward to Christmas 2015 and I receive a pair of Icebreaker socks from my wife. These are amazing socks. They lasted almost an entire year, which is far better than the average 10–12 weeks I might see from the kinds of socks you get in a pack of 6 at Costco. Not only that, but the socks from Icebreaker felt great all year. They begin to form themselves to your feet and, being a good part Merino wool, they rarely had to be washed and did not smell. At all.

So when it came to Christmas 2016, I insisted my wife get me another pair. She got me two, bless her soul. And I followed up on Boxing Day and purchased 3 more pairs. I’m tired of hunting through pairs of polyester bargain socks to find 2 with no holes in them. I’d rather pay $25 a pair than $15 for a six pack of junk that doesn’t last.

You get what you pay for.