Jackson and Football Dreams


Nate Jackson.  2013.  Slow Getting Up:  A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The best manager that I ever worked with, who later became a good friend, knew how to motivate his staff—he focused on their aspirations.  He worked the dream.  The job was not about the money;  it was not about agency goals; it was not about the team; it was not even about the work per se; it was about the dream.  In spite of an oppressive work environment where we were ignored and our work forgotten, he kept the dream alive and we loved him.  In his book, Slow Getting Up, Nate Jackson talks about living the football dream.


What is the football dream?  Jackson writes:

A footback dream is easy to spot.  Turn on SportsCenter and they’ll show what it looks like.  Tom Brady’s life.  Peyton Manning’s life.  Fairy tales.  Storybooks.  The football dream I had as a child unfolded much differently.  But it has still unfolded.  Every crease and every line, every grunt and every pop.  I’m playing the game I love. The grass is still green, the hits still hurt, and the ball in flight is still the most beautiful sight I know.  I will chase it to the ends of the earth (69).

The dream justifies every sacrifice, every injury, every set back.  Along with the dream comes a cool uniform, TV time, money, respect, easy sex, and all the things that go with it.  The dream and its evil twin—the nightmare—battle for our attention throughout Jackson’s book.

Mom Factor

Sprinkled throughout the book are references to mom—the silent, ever-present observer.  For example, on signing his first National Football League (NFL) contract, Jackson blurts out:  Look, Ma, I’m a 49er! (15).  This comment seems like a throw-away cliché the first couple times it appears, but then Jackson writes:

My mom has three criteria that she uses to judge a game.  One, did I stay healthy?  Two, was I happy with my performance? Three, did we win?  Moms are ahead of the curve.  The NFL is momless (178-179).

NFL players chase the dream; NFL moms live the nightmare.

Tension between the Dream and the Nightmare

This tension between dream and nightmare fuels Jackson’s plot.  The sagas of the games compete with injury reports to build excitement—will the NFL sign Jackson another season or will his injuries permanently disqualify him ?  Injury report after injury report chronicles his career from 2002 with the 49ers to 2003-2008 with the Denver Broncos.  While the career continues, the bloom is off the rose after Darrent Will is shot to death after a Broncos game in 2006 (130).  Jackson writes:  After D-Will died I sank into a hole (133).  The nightmare finally gets the upper-hand over the dream—the dream was no longer enough (134).


In Slow Getting Up Jackson writes an autobiographical account of his 6 years in the NFL in 12 chapters.  These chapters are preceded by a prologue describing his last days as a professional football player and followed by a short acknowledgments section which describes his writing career.  Although Jackson has written for a number of periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal [1], this is his first book.

Jackson is an accomplished writer whose autobiography reads like an action thriller.  This is because he pays attention to pacing and salts his personal story with skillfully articulated character sketches of the people that populate his life.  He is coy about telling the reader that he is a Christian [2], but it comes out in his account of prayers in the showers—written in the third person—where the entire Lord’s Prayer is recited (171-172).


Interestingly, Slow Getting Up can be read as an allegory symbolizing the dark underside of the postmodern era.  An era where work is just a text away, image matters more than reality, and masculinity is defined by doing stupid things just because you can. To see this, reflect on the Apostle Paul’s description of the old self and the new self in Christ:

…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).

In this reading, football dreams are actually a nightmare masquerading as something positive. You think that you control your life—your fate—but it is an obsession wrapped in a brazen lie. The old self thrives, dominates, and poisons our life because we love the illusion of self-determination. This is Paul’s old self.

But as the truth keeps interjecting itself into our lives, the nightmare slowly emerges in full horror.  We discover that, not only are we not in control, we cannot even break out of the chains that we have forged for ourselves in our obsession. For Jackson, the nightmare manifests itself when he finds himself playing football for the Las Vegas Locos stripped of his youth & health and offered little compensation or future prospects (235). Only God through Jesus Christ can remove those chains and set us free.  This is Paul’s new self in Christ.

By highlighting the old self, Jackson invites us to consider something new, something better.  Thank you Nate.


[1] www.WSJ.com.

[2] Christian quarterback, Tim Tebow, played for the Denver Broncos after Jackson retired during 2010-2012 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Tebow).

Jackson and Football Dreams

Also see:

Tebow Encourages Those Shaken  

Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com


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Parks: Mentoring Matters

Big_review_07212014 New York:  John Wiley & Sons.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As the father of three 20-somethings, I have frequently been torn between repressed anger, guilt, and a feeling of total inadequacy as a parent. Thanks to the influence of Sharon D. Parks, Big Questions; Worthy Dreams, I have found mentoring to be a reasonable response to my parenting situation.

Parks makes two points that clarify the mentoring task at hand.

The first point is her definition of a young adult. She asks: When does one cross the threshold into adulthood? The response of North American culture is ambiguous (4). Finding work and a spouse are still important, but the time required to become educated and increasing problem of downward mobility make it harder to become settled. The ambiguity and instability of the young adult situation in society are reflected in the greater challenge facing mentors, including parents.

The second point is reflected in her title. Young adulthood is a life-stage where the formation of meaning is particularly important. Parks writes: in the years from seventeen to thirty a distinctive mode of meaning-making can emerge, one that has certain adult characteristics but understandably lacks others (6).

The importance of challenging the young adult to take new faith steps is captured in her prescription–develop and expand a worthy, young adult dream. Parks writes: If the young adult Dream is to have mature power and serve the full potential of self and world, then it must be critically reexamined from time to time throughout adulthood (219). The role of mentors is to help the young adult craft, refine, and be true to this dream.

Parks writes Big Questions, Worthy Dreams in 10 chapters:

  1. Young Adulthood in a Changing World:  Promise and Vulnerability;
  2. Meaning and Faith;
  3. Becoming at Home in the Universe;
  4. It Matters How We Think;
  5. It All Depends…;
  6. …On Belonging;
  7.  Imagination:  The Power of Adult Faith;
  8. The Gifts of a Mentoring Environoment;
  9. Mentoring Communities; and
  10. Culture as a Mentor (vii).

These chapters are bracketed by a preface and various references at the end.  At the time of publication, Parks was an associate director at the Whidbey Institute near Seattle, WA [1].  She is now involved with an effort called the Leadership for the New Commons [2].  Formerly, she was with Harvard Divinity School and other noteworthy institutions.

The scope and depth of Park’s scholarship suggests that this book targets graduate students and professionals focused on counseling young adults. Most readers looking for advice on parenting are likely to find this book a challenging read. The gap between these two ready audiences suggests an opportunity for a follow up text focused on aid and comfort for the typical parents of young adults.


[1] http://whidbeyinstitute.org.

[2] www.newcommons.org.

Parks: Mentoring Matters

Also See:

Friedman: Families Matter 

Turansky and Miller: Hope for Parents 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com


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Poet Gary L. Alston Dreams Big, Shares Pain

Dreams_framed_01202015Gary L. Alston.  2011. Dreams—Poems and Short Stores.  Xlibris:  United States.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Pastors love to illustrate their points by telling stories.  Stories communicate—we remember stories—because stories define who we are and why.  We all tell stories[1].

Earlier this month I attended an interesting presentation on non-fiction, Christian narrative[2]. Author Catherine Claire Larson defines non-fiction, Christian narrative as: a story of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he/she confronts and solves[3].

Sitting next to me during this presentation was author Gary L. Alston. Alston lives in Riverdale, Maryland where I grew up and attended high school.  We had an immediate connection. Before the evening was over we had traded books.

Gary’s title, Dreams—Poems and Short Stores, describes his book’s content and structure.  After dedicating the book to his mother, wife, and friends that encouraged him, there is a foreword by Adrienne Felton. Then, Gary provides a series of poem (13-44), a section of personal photographs (44-53), and a series of short-stories.

Gary’s writing is highly personal recording his personal experiences—many quite painful—and maintaining a keen eye to the human condition.  Although Gary is African American (and I am not), I found my own experiences among his poems and stories growing up in Washington DC.  In reading along, Gary’s first love is obviously poetry because even his short stories have a poetic character, if not meter.

A personal favorite is his story:  I’ll Be Seeing You (55-57).  In this story with three moves, he starts out by describing eye glasses:  “They come in many colors and shapes” (55). He then describes his first encounter where he noticed glasses—on a young woman in the third grade:  Etta Mae (55).  His final and most lengthy move describes a glasses-wearing cousin, Fred, whose nickname, Puddin, was unappreciated and required a scuffle with bullies to prove his mettle (55-57). Fred’s coming of age story took me back to my youth in an unexpected turn of events.

None of us control the world that we live in, but we control our response to it.  Do we respond to tragedy with God’s grace and dignity or do we melt before the refiner’s fire[4] and become embittered?  Gary’s response has been to welcome us into his world where grace and dignity are lived out.

[1]John Savage makes this point in his book: Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-4e).

[2]Billy Graham’s writing and preaching make extensive use of non-fiction, Christian narrative (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-52).

[3] Catherine Claire Larson–Author, Reporter, Feature Writer, Script Writer, Monday, January 12, 2015: “Stories of Reality: Finding and Telling the True Stories That Matter” (http://bit.ly/1CVHxq7).

[4]“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Mal 3:1-4 ESV)

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