Friday, April 24, 2015

Starting 11 and 7 Subs

It is a road match for Liverpool at West Brom.

Can't say it is "must win" in the sense the team is probably not going to slip into 4th place unless Manchester City really collapses.

But as a matter of pride, Liverpool wants to edge out Tottenham and Southampton and keep its 5th spot so in that sense, it is "must win."

My starting XI. You can see other ideas over at the Liverpool Echo.

Goalie: Mignolet
Defensive Four: Can, Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno
Midfield Three: Henderson, Gerrard, Allen
Advance Three: Ibe, Coutinho, Sterling.

Subs:
Ballotelli, Markovic, Lambert, Johnson, Toure, Manquillo, Jones.

Fans will hotly debate Gerrard's role in the starting XI. My question is simply this, does Rodgers really have a better option sitting on the bench at this moment?

Other options I considered:
3-4-3
Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno
Ibe, Henderson, Allen, Can
Coutinho, Sterling, Balotelli.

Balotelli gives Liverpool an alleged "true" striker up front. As a sub Balotelli had a goal taken away due to a questionable off-side call in the second half of the previous match and on other occasions has caused havoc with defenders. But other times, he is a total non-factor and Rodgers has rarely started him.

4-4-2
Can, Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno
Coutinho, Henderson, Allen, Markovic
Sterling, Ibe.

Lallana and Markovic were big ticket 2014 summer signings yielding mixed results. If Lallana were healthy, he could be in the starting XI in most scenarios. In any case, Gerrard could be substituted out in the second half it he looks winded since in EPL games you won't need to keep him in for potential PK in a shootout as in the case of the FA Cup match against Aston Villa. Alas, Liverpool was dreadful in the second half and couldn't get the equalizer to even force extra-time.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Association and separation?

In life, we rarely find ourselves in 100% agreement with people. We may share similar faith perspectives but disagree on some political matters. We might side with one political party in most issues but not all issues. We might hold certain doctrines of the Christian faith with greater firmness and less on others. On lighter concerns, like sporting matters, a Dodger fan probably could not root for the SF Giants with the possible exception of the Giants vs. NY Yankees!

We face the question on bigger issues: when do we associate even if we might disagree? When do we separate because the issue of disagreement is too large.

How do we provide a framework of choosing?

In USA political life, there are two major parties and though one can be a member of the myriad of small parties, realistically, the only candidates getting elected come from the two major parties. Thus, one chooses a party based on which is most inline with one's views. No party matches us 100% so we live with this association but separate on particular issues.

The same would be true for aspects of the Christian realm.

A simple example is the divide over infant vs. adult baptism. Some Christians feel very strongly on this point and would use that as one factor in selecting a church to be a part of. While others don't feel so strongly and it isn't a consideration in the choice of a church to associate with.

I am still working out frames to analyze the issue trying to balance ideals and practical realities.

Here is where I am at right now.....

On issues of broad social interest I think the net of association should be pretty broad. As an example, the battle against human traffic draws people from many points-of-view. On this issue, Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics, secularists, feminists, liberals, and conservatives can all work together to fight this.

When it comes to the overall peace and prosperity of our city and nation, I would support the capable candidate regardless of their individual faith/non-faith. Thus, I'd rather vote for a capable atheist than a sincere but in-over-their-head Christian to be mayor of my town or whatever the post might be.

If the audience and concern is a bit more narrow then I would cast a narrower net. For example, a group of Christians are gathering together to have a conference on how to communicate the value of faith to youth. On this matter, my filter for association might be as broad as does the group and individuals in the group subscribe to the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed. I might add that I would want participants to hold that the Scriptures are a trustworthy and authoritative guide to doctrine and practice. Beyond that we might have differences in points-of-view on other more specific areas of Christian faith and practice.

Where I am beginning to see some clouds in this analysis in that there are Christians who would probably affirm the Nicene/Apostle's Creed but demure on the high view of the Scriptures. Additionally, there are a number of "denominational distinctive" issues. In some cases, disagreement on one issue might be discomforting to me personally but not a cause to break association. As an example, I think adult baptism makes the most Scriptural sense but I would not separate from a church that practices infant baptism over that issue. But what happens when there are a multitude of issues? At what point is there too many disagreements leading to a need for separation?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Final 6 Games of the Season for Liverpool FC - Is Rodgers on the Firing Line?

Liverpool didn't have any answers against Aston Villa.

Was it a matter of Liverpool being "found out?"

Or was it that Villa was more motivated?

In reading various match reports, it sounds like since March 16 against Swansea, Liverpool's 3-4-3 formation magic spell over opponents has been broken. Though Swansea lost that contest 1-0, I recall post-game comments suggesting that Liverpool was lucky to get the win.

Since then:
Losses to Man U, Arsenal, Aston Villa
Wins over Blackburn, Newcastle.

Hard core fans wanted wins over Man U and Arsenal. But realistically, beating them is asking a lot. Wins over Blackburn and Newcastle continued the positive trend of beating the teams Liverpool is supposed to beat. Theoretically, on paper, Villa is a team Liverpool should beat.

Thus, losing to Villa and the manner of the defeat was troubling. It is hard to believe that Liverpool was "out motivated" but perhaps Villa manager Sherwood has got his side believing and more committed.

Tactically, there was always the question about how Gerrard could be plugged back into the team without disrupting how the team got used to playing without him. With his ill-fated entry as a substitute against Man U, this game was the first time he was back in play and it was generally felt he was rusty and ineffective. One also has to wonder if Rodgers wanted Lambert in for more offense, why wait to the 89th minute to bring him in? And there was the multiple changes in formation during the game that showed indecision probably adding to the loss of on-field confidence of the team.

Obviously, the ownership group will wait for the conclusion of the season before deciding Rodgers' fate.

The final six games include two teams in relegation battles (QPR & Hull), three mid-bottom table clubs (West Brom, Crystal Palace, Stoke), and one all but crowned EPL champion (Chelsea). Four of the matches are on the road but on paper, Liverpool should go 5 wins and 1 loss in this stretch.

If Liverpool were to take 3 losses in this stretch, the ownership group may look to sack Rodgers. Clearly, unless the team falls to a rash of injuries, they should get 4 to 5 wins over the next 6. Failure to do so would represent a failure to motivate the team which would be a firing offense. 

Another factor in the ownership group discussions is how much of the summer signings were Rodgers' doing? By all accounts, the feeling is the money was not well spent. As fans, we can only speculate how many of those players were selected at his request versus choices pressed on him by some version of soccer Sabermetrics used by the transfer committee? If Rodgers was primarily responsible for those choices then Rodgers maybe let go on that basis alone.

If Rodgers was not solely or mostly responsible for the dreadful summer signings and the team finishes in 5th place (current position), I think FSG will give him at least another year.

Can Liverpool sneak into 4th place?

Five wins gets Liverpool to 72 points. Can't see Tottenham (currently 6th) going 6-0 to leap past Liverpool going 5-1.

Arsenal is in second place with 66. They would only need 2 wins in 6 to get to 72. With the exception of games against Man U and Chelsea, they would be heavily favored in the other 4 matches.

Man U is in third with 65. They need 2 wins and a draw over the final 5 to get to 72. In 4 of the final 5, Man U would be heavily favored to win. 

Man City is in fourth with 64. They would need 2 wins and 2 draws in their last 5 matches to get to 72. Could a resurgent Villa knock them off? Might they stumble at White Hart Lane against Tottenham? Would it be too much to ask for relegation bound QPR to pull off the upset? Could the Swans give the fans at Liberty Stadium reason to sing all night long? Will Southampton cap off the unexpectedly good season with a win at Man City's home pitch?

If Liverpool were to finish sixth or seventh, the fan base will go ballistic. Many are there already!

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Apostolic Reformation Movement - Beware?

Have occasionally heard of churches and organizations that claim they have modern day prophets and apostles. My immediate reaction is skepticism. I confess that this is an "occupational" hazard of anyone who is trained in the sciences.

Nonetheless, my concerns are two-fold, these apostles/prophets would be authority figures who could (1) potentially abuse their authority and (2) teach "novel" doctrines inconsistent or opposed to Scripture.

Have dug around a little bit and have discovered that the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) Movement is actually quite large and count some notable figures see the Wikipedia article for a quick run-down.

My first in-depth exposure to the movement was a Stand to Reason Podcast on 2/24/2015 when Greg Koukl interviewed Doug Geivett who co-authored two books on the subject. Am in the process of listening to a two-part interview by Michael Boehm of Geivett's co-author Holly Pivec.

When you hear of some interesting churches or organizations or movements that seem novel and spectacular, look closer. Some might say I'm violating 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Don't quench the Spirit. Indeed, but don't over look verse 21-22, test them all hold onto what is good reject every kind of evil.

Pivec describes why she thinks people are drawn to the movement and why they leave the movement.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Learning to be a Liverpool Fan, Part IV - The Hillsborough Tragedy





15. April 15, 1989 was a dark day for football fans the world over but especially for Liverpool when 96 Liverpool fans attending the FA Cup semi-finals at Nottingham Forest were killed and 766 injured during a crowd crush.

On April 13, 2015 before the start of the match with Newcastle, all in attendance at Anfield observed a minute of silence (see video).

For more details of the disaster, see the Wikipedia article and at the Liverpool web site.

The incident is under a new investigation initiated in 2014 after many years of charges that earlier investigations were inadequate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

150 years ago - Lincoln Assassination

Lincoln at his death bed

The AP is reprinting the original story of that fateful evening.

excerpt:
The parting of his family with the dying President is too sad for description.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Learning to be a Liverpool Fan, Part III

12. Liverpool is an iconic UK soccer club even in the USA.

There is a North American distributor of their official merchandise http://www.anfieldshop.com. There is an Irish Pub that is the headquarters of the LA LFC Supporter Club http://joxerdalysirishpub.com.
Undoubtedly, there are pubs across the world that cater to Liverpool fans.
There are officially recognized supporter clubs throughout the world http://www.liverpoolfc.com/fans/lfc-official-supporters-clubs.

13. The Liverpool fan base has a love-hate relationship with Brendan Rodgers, the current manager since 2012.

Sounds very much like how LA Dodger fans view Don Mattingly and UCLA Basketball fans view every coach not named John Wooden.

14. Continuing on the theme of similarities to teams I follow, Liverpool (like the Dodgers and UCLA basketball) has a storied history with occasional tastes of success in recent years but yet falling short of the biggest prize.

Liverpool's most recent heartbreak was the ill-fated defeat to Chelsea on April 27, 2014 that led to a spiral that cost them a shot at the Premier League Championship for the 2013-2014 season.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

No time to panic?!


LA King fans are on the ledge. Two games left and scenarios for the Kings making the playoffs are getting thin. How about just win the next two games! Let's Go Kings!

Meanwhile LA Dodger fans in game one of the season saw the bullpen do alright. In game two, yesterday, they had a meltdown. No time to panic only two data points.

Liverpool needs a win today in FA Cup competition to restore the confidence of the team. The thrashing at the hands of Manchester United and Arsenal in their last two matches were devastating but in the end not surprising. The team needs to play its game and put away the Blackburn Rovers. I would guess the Rovers will "park the bus" and if Liverpool gets frustrated failing to score early the Rovers could steal a goal and pull off the upset. And, of course, the other scenario is for the Rovers to play to 0-0 for 120 minutes and roll the dice on PKs. My guess is that Rodgers will stick with the 3-4-3 formation for at least the first half and see how it goes. If it isn't working he will change it up and go for the win in regular time. Wonder if at any point in the game will Sterling, Sturidge, and Baloteli be on the field? I suspect if that triple is in, Liverpool is in trouble!

UPDATE: Looks like the usual 3-4-3.
UPDATE: The line-up was a 4-3-3 and a 1-0 victory for Liverpool!

Lakers are going nowhere except hopefully a good draft pick.

LA Galaxy are off to a slow start which isn't unusual for them. Replacing Landon Donovan isn't easy and in the end the pieces they have this year might not add up to what they had last year. Much rests on the continued development of their young star Zardes and asking more of their experienced (though not star powered) role players in the mid-field (Juninho, Hasidic, Ishizaki, Vayrynen, and others).

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sports Roundup - Final Four

Well, UCLA got to the Sweet 16 but Gonzaga was too much for them.

Anteaters got to the last possession and a no call finished them.

Thus, as a fan of both programs, they got farther than I could have hoped.

In the end, the big upsets were in the first round but that was pretty much it. By the end of the first weekend, only UCLA was a double-digit seed still playing. And by the Final Four, it was three one-seeds (Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky) and one seven (Michigan State). For all the talk of parity, it really still does come down big names from the big conferences that make the Final Four.

Went back to the history books:

If you look at the last 10 years (2006 to 2015), how many "surprise" teams made the Final Four?

2006 George Mason (Colonial, 11 seed)
2010 Butler (Horizon, 5 seed)
2011 Butler (Horizon, 8 seed)
2011 VCU (Colonial, 11 seed)
2013 Wichita State (Missouri Valley, 9 seed)

5 out of 40 spots (87.5%) in the Final Four of the last 10 years came from outside the big conferences. The rest went to big conferences teams often teams with a history of doing well. On might argue that some big conference teams with a 7 or 8 seed is a surprise team. But in the era of one-and-done players and teams less likely to have seniors, a talent laden 7/8 seed from a big conference finally getting its act together doesn't count as a true surprise team.

Anyway, who wins tonight?

Duke or Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has an experience advantage over Duke that relies on more freshman talent.

Wisconsin has defeated UNC/Arizona/Kentucky to get to the finals while Duke's only top seed (1-4) opponent was Gonzaga.

On the other hand, Duke probably has more future NBA talent on the team and Coach K on their side of the court. Not to say Bo Ryan isn't a good coach but Coach K has been on the big stage number of times.

So its clearly a toss up game.

If Wisconsin gets to run its deliberate offense (71.9 pts/game) then they win. If Duke can get the scoring higher (80.6 pts/game) then they win.

My guess:
Wisconsin 69 Duke 68.

UPDATE:  Hats off to Duke for the win 68-63. Wisconsin slowed the game down as they wanted but in the end Duke guard play delivered big in the second half and their defense forced Wisconsin into bad shots.



Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sixth Sunday in Lent - liturgy of the Palms

John 12:12-16 (NRSV) The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord --  the King of Israel!" Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: "Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.

That is one of the themes in the Gospels and here we see that the crowds saw Jesus as a King. But what follows is the Apostle John commentating on the scene: His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 

?

John's comments seem to suggest that in retrospect, after the Resurrection, the episode of Jesus' entry meant something other than what they thought at the time it happened.

I think this may have something to do with the expectations of the crowds and perhaps even of the disciples at that time. The people were under the thumb of the Romans and they hoped for liberation from their oppressors. Jesus was becoming well known and attracting crowds. In this episode, they are shouting acclaim to him and they are waving palm branches and saying, Jesus is the king. Hosanna means "please save us." Probably, anticipating a defeat of the Romans, the people would be saved from the dominating power of the era. Again, another indication that expectations were high, incredibly high. Everything seemed ripe for revolution!

Yet, in a handful of days after this frenzied scene, Jesus is arrested, beaten and carrying a cross to die on it ...

As John writes this passage decades after the events, he editorialized that they didn't truly understand this moment at that moment.

I would think the re-framing of this event works on the following levels: the meaning of "hosanna," the significance of the donkey, and the surprising role of Jesus the king.

Meaning of hosanna is, as mentioned above, please save us. The people at that time may have only had in mind "salvation" of the physical variety: deliverance from Roman, getting food (Jesus miracle of feeding the multitudes), and physical healing. However, Jesus had more in mind. In the John 3 story of his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus talks about being "born again" and John explains in John 3:16, the necessity of belief/trust in Jesus and what he did as necessary for eternal life. Instead of perishing, a life without God, there is the possibility of salvation, eternal life, eternal living, a life with God.

One wonders if anyone in the crowd thought the donkey was out of place? If the crowd expected a conquering king, wouldn't he ride in on a horse? But it would seem that that detail was overlooked by the crowds. Ironically, the Jewish people know the symbolism of a donkey was that of peace and not war. But at that moment, caught up in the exuberance, that was ignored. Thus, John editorialized the significance of the event as it is written: "Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" which is a reference to Zech 9:9-10.

And finally, King Jesus does something no ordinary earthly king would do: instead of glorious victory in battle he willingly went forward to suffer and die a humiliating death.

This is what Lent calls us to remember. Imagine a King willing to die, humbly riding in on a donkey the symbol of peace in order to bring salvation to the people whose greatest need was to be moved from alienation from God to peace with God.

That is the meaning of the Passion of the Christ: demonstrated on the Cross on Good Friday and vindicated with victory with Resurrection on Easter Sunday!