The “Best Man” I Know

When I met Drew Angotti, Jamal Mashburn was the Miami Heat’s Small Forward,and along with Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, the Heat were expected to make it all the way to the first NBA Championship in franchise history.

I was introduced to Drew Angotti at my Papa’s funeral.

I was told he was going to be my new youth minister.

Drew has been sharing the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and everything in between, with me ever since.

Drew wore his cap backwards, cussed occasionally (just the PG-13 words, Mom), and excelled at everything he touched – basketball, football, art, literature, whatever.

Drew had no clue as to what he was doing as a first-time youth minister.

But there was something about this man, his wisdom, his fresh look on things, his sincerity… he did more than just make Christianity cool, to me and the other hood rats on the Coral Gables block, he made Christianity real.


Despite what he’d say in opposition to this flattery, you could still have a very tough time convincing me that Drew Angotti doesn’t walk on water.

We used to joke about growing up and becoming friends, you know, visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame, going to Tobymac concerts, and starting a youth -not-for-profit together; and truthfully, I think that was just my hopes at talking about staying in touch at all.

Wouldn’t you know we have stayed friends! It’s been neat to feel and acknowledge God’s movement through the way we’ve grown as individuals, as friends, and as brothers.

Drew was the best man in my wedding. His kids call me “Uncle Neal”.

Drew has since “figured out” what he is doing as a youth minister. He’s led some of the largest youth programming in the country in several different states and has taken several students to different missions in different sectors of the globe including the rainforest in South America and Kenya, Africa.

We feel called to begin a partner-based ministry, “CatchFire Youth Resourcing” (Name Pending), where he and I will seek to together be a presence in the national conversation around youth and youth ministry. And even though we can’t been together in proximity, it has been a blessing to share my ministry with him in spirit from the sands of Vero Beach, to the sand on the floor of the Upper Room.

This isn’t at all to say that we don’t argue. Matter of fact, we argue daily – it’s what makes both of us better. Hopefully, our friendship is a small scale model of what our theology is about; that we stand to grow and learn more from the conversations in between what we think and what we know.

Drew argued that Jesus was a revolutionary and I much later agreed that he was right.

Drew argued that (at the time) 15 years later, Tupac Shakur would still be a legend and nobody would remember who the heck “Master P” was. Years later, I admit, he was right.

Drew argued that there was nothing un-manly about unscented candles in the living room. Again, Drew was right.

In the 15 year span, so much has changed, the Miami Heat have gone from a Big Three of Jamal Mashburn, Alonzo Mourning, and Tim Hardaway walking into the loser’s bracket once again, to a star-studded Big Three led by Small Forward All-Everything-yet-Mr-Bad-Guy Lebron James, just one win away from the franchise’s second championship.

Some things have changed drastically

and some things remain the same.

But yesterday, Drew told me that Lebron James does not deserve the hate he’s been getting.

As an avid Lebron-Hater ( I’ve been rooting for the OKC Thunder… even as a MIAMI NATIVE), I rattled off my list of reasons why Lebron James is bad for basketball:

-He’s spoiled

– He broke the “system”

– He whines alot

– He’s too Tim Tebowie

Lebron: TOO Hated?

However, once again, Drew found a way to relate basketball, my faith, and reality, in a way that made it all so clear for me:

Granted, the guy screwed up…terribly! But since then what his been his crime? What exactly has he done wrong? I never hear him speak poorly about the opposition. I never hear him too boastful or proud. He always seems to say the right thing at the right time. He works his behind off. I would not even have a problem if he were someone my son or daughter wanted to listen to or follow.

So at a time where he has played the best basketball of his career, and is on the cusp of winning his first ring (probably as the finals MVP), can we possibly just ease up on the hating…even a little bit. I am not saying that we need to love the guy, but during a time when we seem to be able to forgive sports figures for animal abuse, adultery, drunk driving and domestic violence, can’t we forgive a guy for making a poor P.R. decision when he was barely a grown up?

Forgiving Lebron is something that is going to be good for me – and it represents the type of world I want to live in. And it’s the healthy, fair, (gasp) Christian(?) thing to do.

Do me a favor, head over to Drew’s blog and show him some love for me? (Read Drew’s blog: here)

As for me, tonight, I’ll be rooting for the Miami Heat.

How about you?

The Best Man I Know

Everything Right with Sports

I’m still angry, and I’m tired.

I’m tired of hearing billionaires arguing with millionaires over money. (see NBA Lockout)

I’m tired of hearing Penn State (Joe Paterno’s) legal defense of an ethical wrong. ( A Response to Penn State)

I’m tired of holdouts, and hold-ups, premature celebrations and prolonged press conferences. I’m tired, and I’m still angry.

I love sports, probably more than anybody you know. But, man, it’s hard to feel like professional sports (NCAA = semi-professional) aren’t going to hell hades in a hand basket and taking our money with ‘em.

Which is why it’s so nice to be reminded of everything right about sports.

Justice, grace, passion, love, acceptance, equality, joy, touchdowns! Everything right with sports.

God bless all those teachers, coaches, volunteers who do everything they can to create everything that’s right about sports, and the American teenager. God bless the teenage spirit and all the potential that it holds inside itself. God bless Justin Weisner and the community around him, Amen.

God Help Us, Tebowmania is Here!

CALM BEFORE THE STORM

In 90 minutes, the New York Jets will play the Miami Dolphins. Now, usually, if this year’s Dolphin team was playing football in my backyard, I would close my blinds (and I’m a fan!). But tonight, I hope the game never ends.

When the fourth quarter ends tonight, it will end the sixth week of the NFL season and all eyes will be on Week 7… and I’m not sure if you’ve heard yet, but there’s this guy named Tim Tebow… and he’s been named the Denver Broncos starting quarterbackand God help us, Tebowmania is upon us.

I can see it now.

TEBOWMANIA

Tuesday’s News: (ESPN reports) Today Tim Tebow ran to the grocery store. Analysts say his cash-to-cashier delivery was a little slow, but teammates say he just has a “passion to shop.”

Wednesday’s News : (USA Today Front Page) Tim Tebow quoted as saying “I’m just trying to get better every week, work hard in practice, go out and execute the game plan and try to avoid making mistakes, you know, just try to go out there and make the next right decision…”

Thursday’s News: (ABC Evening News Headline Story) Tim Tebow completes practice, spends an additional five hours watching film at the team’s facility and still makes it home in time to prepare meal for an 11 year-old orphan in local neighborhood.

Friday’s News: (NBC cuts into previously scheduled programming to bring special address to nation) Tim Tebow declares that he doesn’t feel any added pressure. “It’s just another game, you know, I’m just going to go out there with the same enthusiasm that I’ve tried to play with since I was a boy.”

Saturday’s News: (Civilians gather across the country to hold overnight vigil in honor of Tebow’s first start) Every network and publication reads the same: “Tebowmania is here!”

Sunday: (Across the World) The world will never be the same… or maybe, if we’re lucky, we can go back to living our lives.

THE AFTERMATH

I’m going to HATE Tebowmania because I hate can’t stand Tim Tebow. The worst part about Tim Tebow, with all the scrutiny he’s been under and with all the coverage he’s been given for the last six years, is that I can’t identify one single legitimate reason to NOT like him.

It aggravates me that he seems to force a Jesus statement into any interview but I’ll give him this, he’s as consistent in his post-loss interviews as he was after his National Championships.

It aggravates me that he is such an attention-magnet but every teammate he’s ever had seems to love him.

It aggravates me that every day brings a new series of Tebow interviews that sound suspiciously the same but WE’RE the ones still sticking microphones in his face!

It aggravates me that people seem to have such an extremist, over-the-top reaction (from one side or the other) to Tebow’s every move – there is no but.

Dan Le Betard wrote an amazing article (“An Unfair Cross to Bear”) detailing and unpacking the unprecedented hype (and counter-hype) surrounding Tebow. BOTTOM LINE: Tebow has become an icon for both Evangelical Christianity and College Football – has there ever been any two things that make humans react in such irrational behavior as our religion and our College Football (our other religion)??

On Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins will play the Broncos and Tim Tebow will return to his role as a starting quarterback – a second-coming for sure.

Three hours later TebowNation, and TebowHaterNation will either feel elated and crushed, or vice versa. And we’ll argue about whether he’s a god or a devil, whether he’s a bust or a superstar, whether he’s the best or the worst – and we’ll both be hyperbolously wrong.

I just can’t wait for it to be over.