Danny McBride’s relationship with the church is heartbreaking and familiar

The ever-hilarious Danny McBride has a new HBO show called The Righteous Gemstones in which he plays a prominent member of a “world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed and charitable work.”

 

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McBride recently appeared on Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, and due to the nature of his new show, the topic of church was raised. I was surprised to learn McBride grew up going to church, but the story he told about his experience there was all too heartbreaking but not unfamiliar.

He told Dax he grew up going to a Baptist church and his parents were both really involved. His mom even did puppet ministry. And then life happened, and his family’s relationship with the church came to an unnecessary end:

We went hardcore. We were there all the time. My parents were so involved in it. And then my parents got divorced when I was in sixth grade and my dad kind of ran out on us. Suddenly, here’s my mom who works in a department store at the mall, she’s got two kids living in an apartment, and you’re thinking “maybe this church you donated all this time to will be supportive.” Instead, the people there turned their backs on her, shamed her for getting a divorce. I can remember seeing my mom and how much the church meant to her, and now she didn’t feel like she could enter the church.

He said his mom would take the kids back to church for a couple months after her husband left, but  their relationship with the church ended altogether shortly thereafter. And while McBride didn’t exactly love going at the time, he did feel a bit of an emptiness when that it was all over.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence. All too often, the church is a place of shame and judgement when we are at our lowest points instead of a loving and supportive refuge in times of trouble.

In my life, I’ve experienced the good that church can offer, there’s no doubt. Meals delivered to the house, visits and prayers in times of need, the development of lifelong friendships to name a few.

But I’ve always witnessed my fair share of what McBride detailed above – shunning those who didn’t live up to expectations and a complete lack of love when it was needed the most.

No church is perfect because it’s made up of imperfect human beings.

But you can never, ever go wrong with love.

Introducing Beartown

It’s no secret that two of my great loves in life are hockey and books.

So when I first heard about Beartown, I was all in.

For those who don’t know, it’s the story of a middling Swedish junior team in an industrial town, both of which are slowly but surely dying out in favour of bigger and brighter markets.

This year’s Beartown team, however, is on the verge of contending for a national championship, thanks to a star talent, a tight supporting cast, a young and unexpected contributor, and a former NHLer who returned home to manage hometown club.

As we all know, hockey is a beautiful game that’s all too often sullied by the boys club culture that’s built up around it, and Beartown doesn’t escape the ugly effects. As a result, this book becomes less about the game and more about the people and their failures and successes, rights and wrongs, virtues and victimization both on and off the ice.

Author Frederick Backman weaves it all together with masterful storytelling and careful exposition, and I’m excited to read this book again and share some thoughts about it here as my part of my Beartown Book Club.

I grabbed my copy today and invite you to read along (both the book and my posts) and share your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter.

I’ve got one book to finish, and will start later this week, so no rush picking up. Once you do, you won’t be able to put it down.

Beartown book club

Beartown (Beartown, #1)With Disney announcing so much new content for their streaming service, it got me wishing for a Mighty Ducks reboot but with a Friday Night Lights meets hockey vibe.

That reminded me that HBO Europe is developing a Swedish-language series adaptation of Beartown, the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman.

Then I remembered it’s been way too long since I read that amazing book.

So, while we continue to wait for hockey to start up again here in North America, I’m going to work my way through it again, posting some thoughts on here from time to time.

I’d love for you to join me! Please feel free to read along and comment here or on Twitter as I post.

If you love hockey and have yet to experience this book, you won’t regret it; if it’s a second, third or fourth reading, you’ll still get something out of it. I know I do every time I pick it up.

Let’s Beartown together, shall we?

 

 

What draws me to hockey

Working as a full-time hockey writer changed the way I look at hockey.

When you have to cover all the teams and players objectively, you really begin to shed the binary nature of hockey fandom.

It’s no longer about “us vs. them.” You actually begin to appreciate and even root for  teams and players that you would not have in the past.

That was my experience, at least, because what draws me to hockey the most is the stories the game produces.

As I’ve written before, my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has told ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me then (and still do), and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

Look, it’s not hard to see how messed this sport can be. Despite declaring it to be fully so, the NHL clearly is not yet for everyone, and hockey culture has a ways to go before women, people of colour and the LGBTQI community feels welcome, supported and appreciated.

There are moments when I’ve been tempted to walk away from a sport that doesn’t know what it has in these faithful fans, but I can never quite pack it in.

A couple years ago, I pitched a story for theScore that was fairly well received – Season in a sentence: 1 positive storyline for every NHL team. It was so fun and rewarding to write, I did it again on this prior to last season.

That’s the stuff that keeps me coming back to this game.

Here’s a couple more recent examples for good measure.

Full disclosure: I’m not yet over Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and as much as I don’t want it to bother me, I cringe at the thought of Boston losing to St. Louis. And then I think about what that win meant for Lalia Anderson, and it all gets put back in perspective.

And let’s not forget the game itself can be magical to watch. Again, I use another instance where my favourite team was at the wrong end of things. Yes, shit went off the rails between these two players off the ice, but how can you watch this and not fall in love with hockey?

This all doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s a start.

Being a hockey fan can be maddening and upsetting, but I truly believe it’s the greatest sport in the world and I’m happy to be a very tiny part of the community.

Here’s to making it a better place in 2019-20.

The NHL is a Lazy Susan

Picture a large dining table surrounded by 31 white rich dudes.

They’re all gathered together anticipating varying degrees of cuisine – some are prepared to spend top dollar for the best possible food experience, while others are happy to spend the bare minimum on appetizers, content just to have a seat.

In the middle of a table is a Lazy Susan, replete with all that is needed to help make the meal a success – condiments, cutlery, serviettes etc.

One man plucks something that catches his eye off the Lazy Susan. He pours what he think is gourmet sauce on his steak, and right in front of his eyes, it becomes ketchup garnishing a Cheeseburger Happy Meal.

Unsatisfied, he puts the sauce right back on the turntable.

The man seated to his right, having just witnessed what happened to his colleague, recalls a time when this particular sauce actually helped improve a meal. And so he grabs the exact same bottle, adds some to his plate, but experiences the exact same disappointing result.

Others around the table catch wind of what’s going on, but instead of requesting something new from off the table in order to avoid the same plight, they simply keep repeating the cycle.

And so the Lazy Susan keeps going around and around the table, with the same bland results.

This is the National Hockey League whenever a general manager or coach is fired and the list of replacement candidates is named.

Sermon Notes: Thoughts on Philippians 1:9-11

I’ve spoken in church a handful of times in my life. This one is from 2011. Does it hold up? Maybe, except for the outdated Wii reference.

This morning, we are going to take a look at a few sentences written by Paul to the people in Philippi, a very important prayer that I believe has much to say to us this morning.

Before we get started, I just want to share this quote as a bit of a compass for where we are going together this morning. It’s from Dallas Willard, who has written some great stuff about faith, discipleship and spirituality over the years.

The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – student, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ.

In the first part of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes this prayer:

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (NIV)

 And again from The Message:

9-11 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Before we take a closer look at these words, let’s take a brief look back at few important details about the author.

Paul, of course, was born as Saul, probably within 10 years of the birth of Jesus. It’s believed that he was born in Tarsus, a centre for Roman imperial activity and Greek culture back in his day. At some point, he moved to Jerusalem, whether with his family or sent there by them to be educated. He studied under the renowned Rabbi Gamaliel I, was extremely well versed in the Old Testament (as any young Jewish student would have been). For those not familiar with the Rabbinic educational system, basically how it worked was that Rabbis would study and meditate and pray over the scriptures, deciding how certain passages were to be interpreted, trying to get as close to the original meaning as possible. He would then come up with set rules and regulations of how to live out the scriptures, and this was called his yoke. If you followed or studied under a certain rabbi, it was because you believed in his interpretations and were prepared to live according to them. This was called a Rabbi’s yoke, which helps us to understand what Jesus meant when he said his yoke is easy.

 It’s more than likely that Paul had the contents of the Hebrew scriptures memorized at a young age. He knew Greek, and probably Hebrew and Aramaic as well. Many scholars believe that it’s more than likely that Saul was aware of Jesus, and some even believe that “it is very possible, even probable, that the young Saul even witnessed Jesus’ death.” Saul’s upbringing brought about an entirely different reaction to these events than the original followers of Jesus, however. As Paul himself sums it up, he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Phil 3: 5-6) He was fervently religious and knew much about God and his Scriptures, but the specific way that he was taught to interpret it was far from the Way of Jesus and ultimately led him to persecute the early church.

A couple years after Jesus’ resurrection, something happened to Saul, a change that has since helped others redefine their lives.

For a few years after Jesus’ death, Saul was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus with authority from Rome to basically hunt down Jesus’ remaining followers. He was stopped dead in his tracks by a bright light, and Jesus himself appeared before him. Immediately, Saul was changed in many ways; he was given the name Paul, began following Jesus, accepting the mission to spread the good news to Gentiles. Please don’t miss this: a man who grew up devoutly studying the Hebrew scriptures was on his way to kill Christians one minute and began not only following Jesus but reaching out to Gentiles the next. Talk about a complete 180.

This brings us to Paul’s letters, which I’m sure he never would have ever guessed would have been part of a new part of the Scriptures. They came out of his missionary journeys, where Paul would travel around and help establish and sustain faith communities throughout the Roman provinces. About 50 years after the death of Jesus, Paul was able to travel to Philippi and got to know the people there, and it was this community that he would address from prison later in life after being arrested in Jerusalem and sent to prison in Rome. Paul felt very strongly about the people in Philippi, as this letter would suggest. He appeared to very much enjoy his time with them, and he was very grateful for the support they had offered him throughout the years. He is essentially writing them to reassure them that everything was going to be ok despite his imprisonment, and to encourage them to keep Christ before them as they live out the gospel that he had brought to them.

Which brings us now more specifically to the verses at hand. Paul has begun his letter with a standard greeting of “grace and peace to you”, and has reminded them that he has been remembering them and praying for them, “confident that the one who began a good work” in them would carry it on to completion. He in turn thanks them for remembering him even in his imprisonment, and then offers up this beautiful prayer on their behalf as a culmination of this opening section.

Paul begins by saying that he prays that their love would overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight. Unfortunately, in reading certain passages of the Bible that have become familiar to us in our various favorite translations, we often miss certain things that the original Greek text would have brought out and that would have been evident to the original audience. Here, Paul is speaking of agape love, a love that comes from God and is unconditional, self-sacrificing and active. The Greek word for abound is parisos, and means “no limit to the growth of increase”, or that it is “more tomorrow than it was today.” This word, or the Hebrew equivalent, is used a few times in the Old Testament, and usually addressing the same kind of theme. In Psalm 86, we read the following: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you,” and also “you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” To abound, then, isn’t about reaching a certain point; for Paul, he is praying that the people at Philippi would literally actively and sacrificially love more and more each day, qualifying it even further by adding “with knowledge and full insight.”

Now the word that Paul uses here for knowledge is epigenosis. This is not ‘about’ knowledge, or the obtaining of a certain and fixed amount of information. The knowledge that Paul is talking about here is participatory; this is not a reading or hearing about something, but intimate, deep and rich knowledge that can only come from experience.

Take, for example, the Nintendo Wii. When it first came out, it revolutionized video gaming because, more than any other system in the past, it actually made you go through the motions of the game that you were playing. The two that I enjoyed the most were tennis and bowling. You would pick up that controller, make sure that it was safely fastened to your wrist to avoid having it fly across the room and break a lamp, and you would stand at a safe distance from your opponent to avoid popping them in the face with your backswing. As the game would start, you would flick your writs just right and rip an ace down the line – game, set, match, and you’re a tennis player. In bowling, you line up the ball just right, put the perfect curve on it, and bam … you’ve bowled a perfect game. Two sports mastered, just like that. But hold on. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to play Wii tennis, and actually knowing how to play tennis. Who among us didn’t figure out pretty quickly that you could get the same result sitting on the couch and barely moving your arm as you did standing up and swinging away with reckless abandon? But to step outside onto a court, with an actual racket and a tennis ball, and to actually fire a ball hard enough and straight enough for your opponent to not be able to send it back over the net … that’s the epigenosis of tennis. It’s the same difference as watching the running of the bulls on TV, and actually running with the bulls; or seeing a picture of the Eiffel tower and actually looking down on Paris from its heights. The kind of knowledge that Paul is talking about here is not something you can read in a book or see on TV; it must be experienced.

In a more technical sense, Paul here is addressing the differences between the understanding of knowledge in the Hebrew sense vs. that of the more contemporary Greek world in which he lived. As author Alan Hirsch describes it in his new book “On The Verge”, whereas the Greek model was very education and information based, concerned with concepts, ideas, and (dare I say it) doctrines, the ancient Near East worldview, on the other hand, was more life-oriented, concerned with the practical outworking of the interrelationship of all things under God. Essentially, the Greek approach was based on the idea that if people have all the right information, it will change how they act; we are to think our way into a new way of acting or being. Based on the Hebrew approach, we act our way into a new kind of thinking, and this is what Paul is getting at when he is writing about love overflowing with knowledge.

Think about another one of Paul’s letter, this time to the church in Corinth. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” And Paul is speaking from deep experience here. Remember, he had accumulated just about as much knowledge as he could, about the scriptures no less. But all that knowledge failed to translate into a way of living that was congruent with the call that God has upon his people, the call to love that which he has created, and to show others what he is like. Again, we can listen to all the right sermons, read the best books, attend conferences, but it all means nothing if we are not engaged in acts of love, then, Paul is saying, we don’t really have a full or meaningful knowledge of God and what he is all about.

But of course it’s not just knowledge that Paul is praying for, but also “depth of insight.” The word in Greek is esthesis, and this is the only time that this particular word is used in the Bible. It essentially means having the ability to know what to do in difficult situations, or discerning what the next right thing to do would be. It also involves a keen awareness of what the consequences of these actions will be. Again, this does not revolve around being able to pick out bits of information and dissecting them for the sake of knowledge. This is not about theoretical insight, or, like Paul in his earlier days, having a set list of rules and regulations to live by. This is deeply rooted in the present, in experience, in the daily realities of life, in seeking Christ and hearing His Word spoken to us in fresh ways. It involves being called to and immersed in difficult situations in the first place, and having the courage to step out in loving action on behalf of those who are in need, even when we don’t know what to expect or how it will work out.

This is all about the difference between hearing and acting, between knowing about God and knowing God; it’s about knowledge and insight that affects every area of our lives, so that we are every day living out the love of God and putting it on full display to those around us in meaningful and exciting ways.

Paul finishes off the prayer with 3 pieces that serve to qualify why this kind of knowledge and insight is so important. First, he prays that the people in Philippi would be able to ‘discern what is best”. The Greek word used here is ‘dokimozo’, and was used primarily in reference to money. The other week, I stopped in at Tim Horton’s, and the guy in front of me pulled out a $100 bill. I was hoping that he was going on some sort of pay it forward rampage and would be paying for everyone in line, but sadly this was not the case. The cashier took the bill and placed it under the purple light to make sure that it was not a fake, to examine and check its authenticity. This is ‘dokimozo.’ Paul is praying that the Philippians would be able to check and examine their hearts so that they would be able to live in a way that reflects an authentic and genuine walk with Christ.

Furthermore, he prays that they would be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” A few months back, I was listening to an interview with Dan Rather, former anchor for the CBS Evening News and currently the managing editor and anchor of the television news magazine Dan Rather Reports. In these reports, Rather takes a deeper look at certain political and cultural stories, at times shedding some light on or exposing certain injustices going on in the world. In this interview, he had a great line that speaks to what Paul means when he writes about being pure and blameless. What Rather said was this: “I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Paul is urging the people in Philippi to love in such a way that if all was brought into the light, they would have nothing to worry about. When the full splendor of the sun shines, darkness cannot exist; light and dark are not opposites, but rather the absence of the other. Light cleans all the dark and dirty areas of our lives, and Paul was saying to them and saying to us today – what if the sun were to shine on our jokes, the websites we visit, the things we spend our money on. Live in such a way shows that you have nothing to hide in the dark spaces, and also in such a way that those around you are not tripped up by your actions and attitudes. This is what it means to be pure and blameless.

And finally, Paul prays that they would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” To understand this, we must return to the beginning of the prayer, and the word parisos – “no limit to the growth of increase”, or that it is “more tomorrow than it was today.” Paul is calling the people at Philippi to be ever growing, ever reaping a harvest of spiritual fruit. We must look at another letter to see what this might look like. In Galatians, we read that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These are habitual attitudes must be developed in order to gain the epigenosis and esthesis that Paul is writing about. As Dallas Willard notes, “if we take note of and follow Jesus in what he did when he was not ministering or teaching, we will find ourselves led and enabled to behave as he did when he was ‘on the spot’”. Remember the example of Jesus; in the Gospels we read was regularly engaged in such spiritual practices as prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, practices which led into transformative, missional encounters with those in need. In order to be ready, to display esthesis or to know what the next right thing is to do it is important to adopt various practices and habits according to the Way of Jesus. For, as Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann says, “discipleship fundamentally entails a set of disciplines, habits and practices that are undertaken as regular, concrete, daily practices.” Harvesting fruit takes time and hard work, but if done right, it can be pretty sweet. And as Paul qualifies it at the end, we are to ever be growing in these things, putting them into practice as we interact with the world around us, not merely for the sake of self-improvement or knowledge, but for the glory and praise of God. It is through this, as the Message puts it, that we will make “Jesus Christ attractive to all.”

If you read the NT closely, you will find that the term Christian is found only once in its pages. The more common designation was simply ‘the Way’; Jesus came to show us again who God is, what he cares about, and how to go about making the prayer ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ a reality. What Dallas Willard is calling us back to and what Paul has reminded us this morning is that as God has demonstrated his abounding love to us in Christ, so to are we to abound in love to all those that we come into contact with through our day-to-day lives. It is this abounding love that leads to knowledge; the Way of Jesus must be lived out before it is mapped out. And as we step out in loving action on behalf of those who are in need, even when we don’t know what to expect or how it will work out, it is then that we will truly begin to know God, our neighbors and ourselves in the esthesis sense of the word.

*note: the info re: Greek translations was borrowed from Rob Bell’s sermon in the same passage a couple years ago.

Agony and Ecstasy: On 2 Nights of Sports That Pulled Me Through the Ringer

It was almost perfect.

Anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my three sports loves: the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Bruins, and the Toronto Raptors.

I was fortunate enough to be of an age where I was able to appreciate the baseball team’s World Series wins back in 1992 and 1993, but it was a good while before one of that trio came out on top of its respective league.

18 years, in fact, and I’ve written about how I cried when the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and what it meant to me to be able to celebrate the win when Rich Peverley brought hockey’s holy grail to Guelph that summer.

The Bruins reached the Final again in 2013 (let’s not talk about that), but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d see this group – or any other in black and gold – get very far anytime soon.

The Blue Jays unexpectedly offered two straight years of playoff baseball, and I truly thought they’d get another win in 2015 – let’s not talk about that either.

As for the Raptors, the greatest joys I had previously experienced in all the time spent rooting for them since Day One resulted in a missed buzzer beater back in 2001 and an inability to get past LeBron James in more recent times, even with the best regular season teams assembled to date.

Cut to two recent nights in June, and the chance to witness two more league championship wins on consecutive nights.

Too good to be true, right?

Nailed it.

I’m honestly still not over how the Bruins fell flat in Game 7. It was honestly the perfect opportunity to win another Cup, and to cement the legacies of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, the only carryovers from 2011.

I felt pretty good through the opening 15 minutes, while lamenting a few glorious missed opportunities. As hockey is wont to do, the opposition found a way to capitalize despite limited shots on goal, and a late first period goal on one of the most ill timed line changes I’ve ever seen basically sealed the deal for the St. Louis Blues.

The TV was turned off with a few minutes left in the third period, if I’m being honest. Yes, I know “it was 4-1” once upon a time, but you could tell this group was lacking that magic on this night, and it was too painful an ending to watch.

Earlier than expected to bed I went, and that rest was much needed for the night after.

The Raptors have meant a lot to me over the years. Many of my college memories revolve around this team, and they’ve remained an easy talking point, an impetus to keep in touch with good old friends.

While I usually watch Bruins games alone because nobody around that I’m close with really cares as much as I do, I went to my brother-in-law’s house to watch Game 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals with him and his wife. The energy up here had been palpable for weeks chance to see the Raptors win their first Larry OB was to be shared with others.

Kyle Lowry came out firing, and Kawhi Leonard continued to prove why he’s one of the best players in basketball, and in the end, the Raptors did the damn thing.

I cheered, we hugged, we drank celebratory scotch, I cried and took to Instagram to express how I was feeling in that moment:

It’s a night I won’t soon forget, and the days that have followed have been filled with smiles, high fives, parade viewing, a championship t-shirt order and quiet moments of contentment and thankfulness that we all got to share in that long-awaited moment.

Still, I’m bummed about the Bruins. Through the Draft, the release of next year’s schedule, and as we move into free agency, I continue to lament what could have been, and daydream what could have been with a little more puck luck in those opening minutes.

But hey – if the Bruins themselves were able to party and celebrate getting that far only a couple days after the loss, then far be it for me to dwell on it for too long from a much greater distance.

Because let’s be honest. It’s rare to see the ideal or even expected scenario play out in reality. Lord knows we’ve seen our fair share of hardship around here over the past few years. That’s what puts all this sports stuff in perspective when it doesn’t go your team’s way, and makes life all the sweeter when it does.

Those two nights were a reminder to not take anything for granted, to accept that life will include losses, to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way, and to enjoy the hell out of the big ones.

 

Favourite albums of 2019 (so far)

You wouldn’t know it by stepping outside, but it’s June and we’re nearing the halfway point of 2019. Here’s a quick look at my favourite albums of the year up to this point, with a song from each to help explain why.

Phoenix – Pedro The Lion

 

Archives – Gungor

 

Rattlesnake – The Strumbellas

 

People – Hillsong United

 

Pep Talks – Judah and the Lion

 

Living Mirage – The Head and the Heart

No, YOU’RE Kawhi-ing: On the Raptors finally doing the thing

The Toronto Raptors made me fall in love with basketball.

Sure, I watched Michael Jordan as a kid, and owned a Chicago Bulls Starter jacket, because who didn’t? But it wasn’t until Toronto got its own team that I truly embraced the game.

I was living in Ottawa at the time, and got my first taste of the Raptors on a Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, when my dad took me to see Damon Stoudamire and crew take on the New York Knicks in an exhibition game.

Cut to going nuts watching Vince’s dunk competition in one of my oldest friend’s basements, going to college in Toronto and regularly spending whatever loose cash I had on Sprite Zone tickets with my two best buds, making sure I secured the communal TV for Sunday afternoon games on CTV, taping up countless newspaper clippings outside my dorm room on the Wall of Vince, getting so pumped when the drop in centre we volunteered at let us use their season tickets, and finally getting to witness live playoff basketball and seeing them win Game 3 against the Detroit Pistons in 2002.

I’ll admit I haven’t watched as faithfully as I did back then – as life got busier, my main sports viewing was focused on the Boston Bruins. I’ve still kept up with the team, suffering through playoff heartbreaks through the Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan eras, even attending one of the disappointing playoff losses at the hands of the Washington Wizards a few years back. It was awesome back at theScore, getting caught up in the rabid passion and knowledge of many who worked there. So was gathering at our church to watch Game 7 against the Miami Heat when the Raptors first advanced to the Conference finals.

All of it had culminated in seemingly inevitable sadness, but this year, things felt different.

Mostly because of this guy.

Last night, some family gathered at the Albion Hotel here in downtown Guelph for my mother in law’s 60th birthday party, near the end of which I snuck downstairs to watch Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

By the time we left, the Raptors were down by 5 and things were looking not awesome.

Cut again to returning home (with a few ciders now in my belly). Toronto went on a crazy run, highlighted by the dunk above. I literally had my shirt off and was waving it over my head in our living room, and teared up when the game was over and the Raptors had clinched a berth in the NBA Finals.

Some will say it’s just an Eastern Conference championship, and the job’s not finished, and maybe won’t get done considering the opposition – the Golden State Warriors, who are in search of a threepeat.

The thing is, who cares? This straight up doesn’t happen up here, and Kawhi Leanord and Kyle Lowry have given us much more than a moment to remember.

I got texts and was tagged in Insta stories by some of my oldest and dearest friends, and was flooded with memories of good times past.

 

Screenshot_20190526-110353_Instagram

 

At its best, sports is about community; they bring people together.

Thank you for this, Raptors.

#WeTheNorth

#GuelphForever: A playoff run I won’t soon forget

I thought my hockey writing days were over. Turns out, 2019 gave me an experience I won’t soon forget.

After leaving my job at theScore over a year ago, I knew I wanted to keep plying that trade in some form, but wasn’t sure if the opportunities would be there. I wrote a bit in this space over the summer, pitched a few ideas here and there, and was later given the opportunity to provide some content over at 

Why there? Guelph Storm defenseman Ryan Merkley was selected 21st overall by the San Jose Sharks – the team FTF covers for SB Nation – and I offered to track his progress for them from the point of view of a local.

Big thanks again Sie for adding me to the team, and to the Storm for giving me thumbs up to sit in the press box. It was a very cool way to stay in the hockey writing game and a perfect little side gig for me; work at home by day, head down to the Sleeman Center the odd Friday night or Sunday afternoon, and gain some media experience that I wasn’t afforded previously.

But then *record scratch, freeze frame* I learned that Guelph had traded Merkley to Peterborough, effectively ending my assignment. Sad! Thankfully, the guys at Second City Hockey soon reached out, asking me to cover the recently acquired Chicago Blackhawks prospect MacKenzie Entwistle, as well as London Knights defenseman Adam Boqvist.

Entwistle was one of several big names the Storm brought in prior to the OHL trade deadline, along with Nick Suzuki, Sean Durzi, Fedor Gordeev and Markus Phillips. This gave the roster an entirely new look, and the hope was they could contend for a league championship. While it was very touch and go at moments during the playoffs, they were able to do the damn thing in the end, pulling off three pretty incredible comebacks in the process.

I covered a thrilling Game 4 against the London Knights, and was fortunate enough to be there for the championship clinching game, which in and of itself was a bucket list goal for me. But to be able to take it in from the press box and even hit the ice in the aftermath to interview Entwistle … that was something truly special that I won’t soon forget.

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This team reminded me how much I love this game and why,  and I wish all these guys the best as they pursue pro careers.

Guelph’s run unfortunately came to an end with a Memorial Cup semifinal loss to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Friday, but there’s no shame in losing to the top ranked team in the country, and finishing third is still something to be proud of.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do kind of the same thing next season, but Guelph certainly won’t be this good again with a number of players set to go pro.

Going all in with was well worth it in the end, and I feel pretty lucky to have been part of it in some small way.

Guelph forever, indeed.