Remix- Bracket

Posted on March 15, 2011


In honor of March Madness kicking off, here’s a remix of an essay from back in November.

Every March, madness begins.

I’m not talking about the beginning of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament here.  I’m talking about Luther Vandross.  More specifically, I’m talking about the thing my body does at the tournament’s end, when CBS runs  its highlight montage over the song “One Shining Moment”, Luther Vandross’ ode to college basketball.  I confess when I first heard the song, I didn’t know it was Luther, and I’m not convinced CBS knew either.

TV Executive: Luther, thanks so much for recording “One Shining Moment. “  After all, you’re a Grammy nominated artist, a multi-platinum record seller, and I respect that.  I’m just such a fan.  I really love that one song you sing about how cotton feels on your body.  That’s phenomenal.

Luther:  How’s that one go?

Exec:  You know, “something something something, the fabric of our liiiiives.”

Luther: I think you’re talking about Aaron Neville.

When ‘One Shining Moment” starts playing, I become a musical werewolf, and that song is the moon.  I morph into the lost white member of New Edition.  All it takes is for the first words to hit my ears and the spirit of David Ruffin takes over my body, commanding me to dip my shoulder and sway like the first-ever white member of the Four Tops.  So by the time Luther gets firing on all pistons and sings “…ONE SHINING MOMENT!” I’ve got a full blown case of ‘diva hand’.

Here’s what the Harvard Journal of Musical Diseases has listed under ‘diva hand:

Condition presents abruptly and with few known triggers.  Initial presentation is a slight quiver of the hand at the wrist, with accompanying factors of humming and/or foot-tapping.  In more advanced cases, the hand become rigid and moves up or down in tandem with loud, ‘You only live once, go for it!’ styles of singing.  Diva hand is not communicable except in large groups such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Is a sister disease to air guitar.  Belongs to a family of diseases known as auto-pavlovian musical responses.  See also, ‘Beatlemania’ and ‘Bieber Fever’”

The other madness that March brings is the madness of understanding how exactly your VP of Sales’ wife won the office NCAA bracket pool.  This is the same person who once asked if the NFL should draw a face on the football so wide receivers could improve their catching skills by imagining it as a loved one.  In her bracket she correctly picked the champion, called several of the first round upsets, and nailed the Elite Eight Cinderella team, all by asking which university in any given match-up is more haunted by ghosts.

Meanwhile, the genuine college basketball fan in the pool, you-  the one who took in enough basketball to see Seth Davis’ entire wardrobe more often than his immediate family, the one who watched Holy Cross play Bucknell on your iPhone during your son’s dedication ceremony- had your bracket trashed by the end of the second round.  It makes no sense.  You made intelligent, rational picks based on spreadsheets and calculations.  You selected a sleeper based on hours of intense scouting and matchup comparisons.  Yet your bracket is in flames and you’re assailed by self-doubt like some sports-crazed Hamlet, wondering how you could be losing to someone whose sleeper team is called the ‘Banana Pelicans’.  It’s madness.

This madness is part of the NCAA tournament’s appeal.  Year after year, we celebrate its unpredictability- the upsets, the Cinderella runs by mid-majors, and the number of times a ref will ignore a blatant charge by a Duke player because Duke is God’s new chosen people.  Tournament time causes college basketball enthusiasts to yank out their hair as their so-called expertise is laid siege to by a sophomore shooting guard from New Mexico A&M suddenly getting hot from 3 and upsetting the 2 seed.  Chaos reigns.  Nobody, but nobody, has any idea what’s going on, least of all the experts.

Rece Davis: Digger, recap the upset of North Carolina by unheralded Wyoming Rodeo University.

Digger Phelps.  Rece, I watched a lot of tape on North Carolina coming into this game.  They looked unbeatable.  But nothing in that tape suggested that their shooting guard would go 0 for 24 from the field and then curl up on the floor sobbing like a basket case.

Rece:  When he lay down at center court with his blankie, that was a real turning point in the game.

Digger:  All the momentum shifted when that happened.  You could see Wyoming Rodeo start to play with some extra confidence.

Jay Bilas:  The fact that Wyoming Rodeo was allowed to use their lariats in this game also gave them an edge.  Their zone defense really gained an extra dimension when they roped the Carolina center and tied him up like a baby calf.  Several of those were borderline fouls.

Davis:  Yeah, that was a gray area in the rules.  Those referees probably won’t ref another game in this tournament.

Digger:  Jay, do you think Wyoming Rodeo’s strategy of bringing the North Carolina shooting guard’s long-lost father to the game and introducing them moments before tip-off, had any effect on his play?  Remember, he believed his father died in a rafting accident before his birth.

Bilas:  Absolutely, I think it was a factor.

Christians love to know what’s going on.  Nothing makes us happier than to absolutely, totally, without question know what God is doing at any given time.  If you asked a random sampling of non-Christians what the overall purpose of something or anything that’s happening in their life at the moment, you would get an awful lot of “Oh, I don’t know, man” and “Why did you bring me to Hardee’s just to ask this?”  But if you ask any Christian, without fail the majority will tell you that there is a one-to-one correlation between a life event and what God is trying to tell or teach them.

“Tyler won’t sleep through the night.  I’m just really being taught to be patient right now.”

“My Hawaiian Shave Ice kiosk is not flourishing.  I think God’s trying to tell me to work in His strength and not my own.”

“I wasn’t picked to go on that short-term missions project.  God just wants me to focus on my relationship with Him right now.”

It’s not just in our own lives where this tendency comes out; it’s in the wider world as well.  For example, there have been enough pop eschatology books written in the history of Christianity that we could wallpaper Thailand with the pages.  I don’t think Jesus could have spoken much more plainly when he said that nobody knew the day or the hour.  Yet we call President Obama the anti-Christ and name Belgium as one of the seven stars on the crown because their waffles are too delicious, all in an effort to predict the end of the world.  Why?  It’s not because we eagerly expect Christ’s return.  It’s because we have to know what’s going on.  Always.

I’m the king of needing to know what’s going on.  I always have to know what God is up to in my life, to the point of acting in ways that are completely irrational.  I can’t even listen to the car radio because I get convinced that whatever song is currently playing is talking directly about my situation and has been ordained by God to communicate to me in that moment.  I can’t tell you how many times, like a bona fide crazy person, I’ve parsed a random Nichole Nordeman song for secret application meant just for my spiritual and earthly guidance.

Why?  Because I can’t just let life happen and let God be at work on my heart in His mysterious ways.  I have to know- am compelled to know- what’s going on all the time.  Is He tackling my anger?  What about my lust?  Is He working on my patience, or my many idols, or my doubts, or my fearfulness?  Which events in my life correspond to each?  Which books can I read to better assist the process?  How can I be more repentant so that the Holy Spirit’s work isn’t checked by me?  And so on it goes, ad infinitum.

I try to know because I think it’s spiritual to know.  Nobody wants to sit in church and admit “I have no idea what God is doing in my life, and I haven’t for some time.  Or ever, really.”  That looks like we’re not trying, and if there’s a cardinal sin in church, it’s that one.

The madness of God’s work in the world and in our lives is that we honestly don’t know what’s going on most of the time.  Consider that confusion is one of the most common themes in the Bible.  Imagine Abraham looking at the stars and trying to count them.  Or Moses standing before the burning bush.  Or the Israelites pleading with God in the book of  Lamentations.  Or Jonah responding to Nineveh’s mass conversion.  Or Mary talking to the angel Gabriel.  Or Jesus’ disciples practically all the time. Do any of them seem to have a firm grasp on what God is up to?  Could they have written a book on knowing the will of God that would sell in LifeWay?  Could they deliver a sermon that would satisfy the congregation, or tear up the lecture circuit, or double as a successful podcast?  I doubt it.

The NCAA tournament is fun because it mocks our ability to analyze it and predict the outcome.  How it unfolds is always completely different from the way we think it will.  We smile when a true sleeper surprises us, or when a result baffles the experts.  We never know what’s happening, and so we don’t obsess about analyzing it, which gives us the freedom to enjoy the madness.  God asks the same attitude of us- even though I still wonder if bracket-picking is a spiritual gift.

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