Monday, December 18, 2006

Merry Christmas!

The strikingly beautiful aspect of the "Happy Holidays" situation at work (see Thursday's post) is that "Merry Christmas" has wrecklessly torn itself from the prison of cliche.

For most of my life, "Merry Christmas" has been the default greeting in December. It had very little meaning to me though, a Decemberfied "what's up?". With H^2 now becoming the purposeful go-to cliche this time of year, MC has become rarer than Hammer. And with rarity comes preciousness. Diamonds, to us the Econ101 example. Or wins for the Carolina Panthers.

One must work to say "Merry Christmas" these days. It no longer just rolls off the tongue of the masses. I've heard it from customers maybe five times in the past 10 days at work, and, to my surprise, nothing makes my face light up more - not even a Kris Jenkins sighting these days. I feel a sense of connection with folks when they tell me Merry Christmas because I know that they share what I claim to be most important in my life - love for Jesus.

When someone tells me "Merry Christmas," they no longer just want me to have a good day or enjoy my presents or take some time off of work. They are wishing me the internal peace Jesus brings to a restless soul, the purpose the manager brings into my rut every day, the salvation that the cross made possible, the new life which exists in an empty tomb. The greeting tells me that yes, I am a stranger among the masses, an exile in a faraway land, a pilgrim not yet arrived, but that this person is one with me.

In the end, I think this is what most moves me about the greeting. A lot can be said for Christian community. I think this is one blatant advantage the Christian life has against a dog-eat-dog, self-reliant, not me-first but me-only world. But that's for another day. All I know today about community is that I like it. When people greet me with "Merry Christmas," they tell me that they too believe Jesus is coming and has come and that that makes all the difference in the world.

So use your "Merry Christmas"'s carefully this week but use them in abundance. The world has ceased wearing the phrase out, so let us use it often. It may mean a whole lot to a nameless face out there, especially one checking you out at a register or putting books on a shelf in the back corner of the store.

On another note, my blog year ends here. I'm going to try to spend the better part of next week working on an application, forcing half-marathon training into my schedule, and enjoying Christmastime with my family. Thanks to all of you who have read along with me. Writers love nothing more than readers (and editors!). If anything irresistable comes along, I might drop in occasionally, but if not, I'll start posting again the first Monday of the new year.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Holi. . . . ugh

My "Happy Holidays" experiment at work is crumbling like a Santa Claus sugar cookie in February.

For those who missed it, I decided a couple of months ago to use the phrase "Happy Holidays" in lieu of "Merry Christmas" at work in order to convey my best wishes to all customers regardless of religious persuasion. I figured that saying "Happy Holidays" did not consitute denying Christ while berating people with "Merry Christmas" could cause indifference at best and alienation at worst. Instead, I hoped that they would see Christ in the way I interacted with them. Greetings are always trite when compared to actions anyways.

Now in the front lines of what the media portrays as this cultural trench warfare, I find myself unable to use "H^2." My heart just isn't in it. It feels fake. For whatever reason, telling customers to have a good rest of their afternoon and to enjoy their day seems more genuine than "Happy Holidays." Maybe it's the vagueness of the phrase or the cliche it has become - both of what destroy any meaning the phrase may have.

The big thing though is that this debate has become so part of the season that the phrase has become politicized. "Happy Holidays" no longer means "Enjoy the December month with your family, friends, and time off from work." In the retail world, it more closely means "Hey, I'm being politically correct and don't really care how December goes for you. I just want to flaunt how progressive I am." At least, it feels this way to me. When I say "Happy Holidays," it implies that I don't celebrate Christmas and thus am not a Christian. That more closely resembles denying Christ in this particular environment. By faith I am clothed in Christ. I don't want to don a secular parka.

I still do not wish people "Merry Christmas" when I check them out at the registers because I still do not want to come across as a heavy-handed and alienating. I do not think these are the ways of Christ. In lieu of any holiday greeting, I simply wish them the best for the day or the afternoon or the night. I am satisfied with this because it is genuine. I really do desire that the customers that come in with good attitudes continue to smile and that those who are grumpy will find a reason to laugh.

That being said, Redeeming Prufrock isn't retail. So Merry Christmas to you all. And I do mean that.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas in Da House

Around the Christmas holiday, my old high school raises money for impoverished families in the area who have children in the county school system. The money funds presents, essentials, and meals for the family's Christmas. It's a simultanously impressive and humbling program. The amount of money raised by this far-from-wealthy community simply from 1500 students asking for donations is astounding. As a former student who shopped for these children as well as delivered the food and presents on a late December morning, very few other things will move a high schooler quite like it. It still stirs emotion in this college grad, as these students and the community work to fill empty chairs that exist in their community around the holidays.

The school and it's efforts were recognized by Rep. Sue Myrick in the United States House of Representatives last Friday. I don't know much about what goes on in the House. I've been told a lot of absenteeism and newspaper reading. But I like this.





Friday, December 8, 2006

Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, I would like to honor and recognize the students, teachers and administrators at Sun Valley High School located in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the past two weeks, Sun Valley students have given more than $23,000 out of their pockets to help the less fortunate in their area. This money will go to a program called the Sun Valley Children's Christmas Party, which will help needy elementary children in their area who won't have a Christmas.

The Sun Valley Children's Christmas Party has been helping impoverished children for more than three decades. It began as a small project to help a handful of needy families experience the joy of Christmas. Today, thanks to the generosity of the Sun Valley community, 30 to 35 needy elementary children, and their families, will have a Happy Christmas this year.

I am most impressed by this effort because it is student driven. Not only do Sun Valley students raise the money, but on December 14th, a group of students will actually pick up the children at school and take them to Monroe Mall where they will purchase them new clothes, shoes, and coats. They take the children to visit Santa, have lunch at Chick- Fil-A, and end their visit by taking the kids to get ice cream. Later, Sun Valley students will shop for essential items, food, and new school supplies for the children, as well as toys and gifts for their brothers and sisters. Then on December 16th, the students will deliver all the gifts to the family as well as food for a Christmas feast.

Leading this student driven program are the co-chairs of the Children's Christmas Party, Student Council President Alexandra Knight Efird, and Student Council Vice-President Paige Lillia Donham. Their hard work has not gone unnoticed. Likewise, the Student Council faculty advisors, James P. Wall IV and Christopher Martin, have also worked countless hours to help the students in their effort. I would like to recognize the efforts of students in the classes of Mr. Wall, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Faulkner. They raised the most money out of all the classes at Sun Valley, and Mr. Reynolds class alone raised over $2,000 for this effort.

Mr. Speaker, I am honored to say that I represent Sun Valley High School. In a day and age where people tend to think only of themselves, here is a shining example of a group of young people who know what Christmas is really all about. I commend them for their efforts to make their community a better place by helping the less fortunate during this holiday season. I hope that this wonderful effort will continue at Sun Valley for many years to come.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Life-Blood of Christmas

My brother, one of those great people who possess both wisdom and compassion, talked with me last night about the commercialization of Christmas. The amazing thing about the holiday season, he said and I eggregiously paraphrase, is that people actually run around crazy and spend money for others rather than themselves. I countered with haughty retail experience: "The real reason these people buy stuff. . . grumble grumble grumble. . . You ought to see their attitudes. . . grumble grumble grumble. . . Don't even get me started. . . grumble grumble grumble. . ."

How often I forget that my cynicism belongs on the cross, crucified with Christ, along with the rest of my sins.

The truth is my brother is right. A lot of people really do spend so much of their free time thinking about what to buy other people, taking the time to actually go pick it, and agonizing over the deicisions. I am grateful for last night's conversation that opened my eyes to reality today at work.

This morning, a woman came in looking for a specific book. She wanted it for a gift, so she came to this bookseller, and more importantly his database-ridden computer, to find where said book might sit. The computer did its job, and I did mine. I left her trailing me back up to the front of the store, book in hand, mission accomplished. Ten minutes later, I see this same customer back in the section where we had found our book. Her body seemed pulled both towards replacing the book and towards the check-out line, the physical manifestation of an internal struggle that kept her from committing to this book because it might not be perfect enough to convey her feelings for a person she loved.

Closer to lunch, another woman came up to the info desk wanting a recommendation. You see, an elderly couple she knows had just received some bad news. Not bad news like 3-months-to-live bad news, she assured me. It's just that the retirement home might the wife's lot for a long time. She wanted a book that the husband could read while he visited, maybe even read out-loud to the wife. Emotion was written all over her face. We wandered around for a while, as I threw out any option I could think of, wondering which ones might lighten the mood, which ones had sad endings, which ones might be a vehicle of comfort. Eventually, the woman decided on five books, you know, just to give her some options. She thanked me, and I head back to work as she walks slowly to the registers. Thirty minutes later, I finally see her leave the store.

Why are these books such a big deal? Why can't people just pick something and go? It's a fast-paced world out there anyways. What is it that makes them linger?

It is love. I hate cliches, but it can't be avoided here. These folks, and so many more who I see and who I don't see, spend hours picking out gifts, agonizing over the decisions because they recognize what I often miss in the holiday blur of retail. Gift-giving is a rare opportunity in a world that hates awkwardness and vulnerability to show that you love someone. These customers exert so much of their time, their money, and their emotion, yes, their emotion, picking out silly books because they love.

In terms of macro-economics, Christmas fuels commercialization. Borders beat its $22,000 plan last Friday by $8000. The craziness leaves many of my co-workers frazzled, stressed, and angry. The Smith's often do shop in order to keep up with the Jones's (no offense to any readers named Smith or Jones). And honestly, no one really needs a Playstation 3.

But when I look at the micro-economics behind each transaction, economics exit stage left. Gift-giving this time of year allows people to show love, love that may have been bottled up since the last birthday or maybe even since last Christmas. And people take advantage of the opportunity, trying to find the gift that is just perfect enough to convey their feelings towards others.

Commercialization is merely the skin which the world wears during Christmas time. If I take time to stop and actually take the world's pulse, I find that something indescribably beautiful is flowing through its veins.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Very Silent Night

I'm have trouble getting in the Christmas spirit. Heck, I always have trouble getting in the Christmas spirit. And this year I don't have the month-long academic siesta that usually provides the supreme jolliness in my holiday season. I'm trying though - going to the children's choir program at church, listening to the Christmas radio station, wrapping presents on Dec. 10, wearing my Santa hat around the apartment.

So as Johnny Mathis's version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" cycles ad naseum through my head, I started thinking if this is really the most wonderful time of the year, and my mind runs across those who will never get in the holiday spirit this year. Or more precisely, those whose holiday spirit will be one of misery and not of joy.

I hear it said often that the holidays are a very difficult time for lots of folks. This has never really been the case for me, except the year Grandpa passed away a few weeks before Christmas, so this statement usually hits my face and bounces off into nothingness - the former part of the infamous "I am rubber, you are glue" assertion. This year though, it's hit home really hard, as I encounter person after person who is hurting, just hurting. The holidays only add to this pain, as the world tells us to run around in glee and joy and presents. It must be like Valentine's Day for a lot of singles except this time is's a month long and much more obnoxious.

I don't know what to do about this, as the holidays will be a time of great joy for me. My family will be under the same roof, healthy, for the first time since summer. Grandma is coming. And to top it all off, I learned today that I will have Christmas Eve off from work. So much anticipation, so many blessings.

Yet, my mind is haunted at night and in solitude by the empty chairs that will be around the Christmas tables of my friends. The family with an empty chair for a child who is passing time on Christmas Day in the deadly hornet's nest of Iraq. A co-worker who won't even put out another chair this lonely Christmas because her family lives in Massachusetts and someone has to be at Borders to sell gift cards on Christmas Eve and to redeem them on the 26th. Someone's first Christmas without a parent, the chair only filled with memories. Another Christmas without a child taken by cancer, the simple word "Why?" taking the seat instead. Multiple other co-workers going through Christmas alone for the first time, divorce papers seated where a committed spouse was once thought to have sat. My friend's boss who will have an empty high chair where a 2-month old child should be experiencing his first Christmas. The nanny, who put the child to sleep the night that he died, and the permanent empty chair that self-forgiveness will never take.

For these folks and so many more, Christmas night will be a little too silent.

Ignoring the abundant blessings God has given me would make me an ingrate. Ignoring the abundant pain of those around me would make me a robot. My prayer this holiday season is for balance, to be humbly thankful and humbly compassionate.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, behold, You are there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

One Look, One Touch

Two men, stymied by the crowd.

People don't like me. Taking money from the poor, my poor, people of Israel just like me. It feeds me though - and provides a little extra. I am despised because of my job, collecting taxes for the government. Their share and mine. People don't like me. Today, though, there is a crowd, and I can hide in a crowd. No one will see me today. No one will cut their eyes or slice their spit my way. A man who calls himself God is coming, and they won't have time for me. They just want to see. I cannot see.

We used to run, play, laugh. Back before the worries of this world pressed in on us. Seems like ages ago, way back before the accident. A simple twist of fate that left my friend paralyzed. Wrong place, wrong time, as they say. But love forged over time does not change with circumstance, and I love my friend. Would do anything for him. He suffers daily, has suffered daily for years. We no longer run or play together. Hell, he can't run or play at all. We no longer laugh. But still I stand. A crowd has gathered to see a man who calls himself God, a man who heals, who performs miracles with power. I am part of that crowd. My friend is too, lying here on his mat. Hope is dim, has been for a while. We no longer laugh.

I cannot see. It's hard being 5'4". I want to see. They say this man eats with sinners, with the lonely, and I have not had a friend in a long time. The crowd is dense. My short frame, stocky from years of good food, can squeeze between bodies no further. I still cannot see. Yet through the gaps I see hope. A tree.

We no longer laugh. Paralysis is not a laughing matter. The burlap mat rubbing sores into an atrophied body. The desire to do what once came so easily, and restlessness, bluntly grinding away at the soul. Futility, knowing this will be my friend's lot until death. Yet today, a glimmer of hope exists in this man, the one who has healed fevers, spirits, demons. I do not laugh because of the hundreds, nay thousands, that stand between my friend and the front door. The door I can just barely see through the bodies. Then through the gaps I see hope. The roof.

A tree? What self-respecting man climbs a tree? Why would I expose myself to the people? They spit on me, curse at me, strike at me when I can flee; what shall they do when I am caged in limbs and leaves? I will look foolish. Have I no shame? Why risk for one look at this man? What will the people say?

The roof? Who tears a hole in his neighbor's roof? What will the onlookers say about a destroyer of property, about one who cuts in line? What will the owner say? How can a modest man like me pay the damage? And what if my friend falls as I lower him and his mat down to the ground? I will look foolish. Have I no shame? Why risk for one touch from this man? What might the people say?

What the people might say ceases to matter when he calls me down from the tree. Not out of disgust or discipline but for dinner. He wants to dine with me. Me! A wee little man. Who am I? Not a politician or a religious leader. I have not had a friend in a very long time. This man who calls himself God wants to eat with me. A sign of friendship, a sign of commitment, a sign of acceptance. I am accepted.

What the people might say ceases to matter when my friend stands. He stands! And this man says by my faith. Certainly only little faith have I, no larger than a mustard seed. More questions than faith, actually. Who am I? A poor man, no doubt, but my friend stands! We laugh, overjoyed, amazed and filled with awe. We laugh. He is healed.

I am accepted. Me of no account. Greedy, selfish, having little to offer and giving nothing. Despised by men because reputations don't change, and maybe rightfully so. I am a wee little man, after all, small and insecure, a point of ridicule now and always. And yet, there is something about that man Jesus. A little belief, a refusal to stay passive. One climb up a tree. Forevermore, never to be friendless.

He is healed. By my faith, a faith of no account. Not like the preachers or the teachers or the leaders. My lot remains to be laughed at by men from here to eternity, and maybe rightfully so. I tore a hole in my neighbor's roof, a folly for all times, to be sure. And yet, there is something about that man Jesus. A little belief, a little love. Just a little, but it was enough to overcome passivity. One climb onto a roof. Forevermore, never to be wounded.

Two men, who would refused to be stymied by the crowd.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Same Ol' B

I am currently in the process of filling out an application for a ministry position. I use the term "filling out" loosely because I all but completed the same application last year. Copy and paste has great utility, I am learning.

The questions are extensive, basically asking me who I am and what I believe in a very in-depth manner. I've been fascinated to look back at my answers from last year. It very much feels like an out-of-body experience, and on some level, I guess it is. I'm looking at the descriptions of this person and what he believes like it could be anybody. But it's me! Or more correctly, it was me.

Looking back from the future, I find that I am able to look at myself and my views more objectively and more critically. In the present, I always think I am right. Looking back at the past though, I will more objectively criticize my wayward ways because they sometimes digress from the present me, the one I am slow to criticize. I've found myself on occasion reading my answers and marveling, "Man, that was dumb." Makes me wonder about the dumb stuff I am writing nowadays.

My opinions on many things are different now than they were. Almost without fail, I have either altered my views or added depth to the reasons I hold them. My beliefs have often become clearer. My confusion has often become more gnarled. Regardless, I am different now than I was a year ago, and this encourages me. God, indeed, is not dead and has been moving and shaping me over the last year. This is very obvious in the occassional life-altering moments of the past year. But what the juxtaposition of the two applications has shown me is that he has moved in consistently subtle ways too, ways that I cannot pinpoint but which have made me a different, hopefully more mature person now than I was.

And yet, the first question of the application asks me to choose from a list of 13 the three characteristics (1-3) that most aptly describe me and the one (6) that least likely describes me. The results:

Last year: 1. Can structure my time 2. Exercise leadership 3. Know myself fairly well 6. Can function in a job where there is more to do than time to do it in

This year: 1. Can structure my time 2. Know myself fairly well 3. Have considerable drive 6. Can funciton in a job where there is more to do than time to do it in

Amidst all the change, I'm still me with similar weaknesses, stregnths, personality traits, and quirks, all seemingly woven into whatever it is that makes up me (DNA, RNA, cells, whatever it is). What a great reminder that God has wonderfully and purposefully made me. He knit me together, counted the hairs on my head, and guides my growth until its completion in the day of Christ Jesus.

Alas, as the rapper Ginuwine so eloquently put it, even though I might be on tv, cuz I got my own cd, all you will ever see, [is the] same ol' g. Or the same ol' b, to be exact.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Faith in Prayer

Prayer requires great faith. A couple weeks ago, my pastor said that, of all the spiritual disciplines, we often pray the least because it requires the greatest faith from us.

My prayer life has suffered since returning from Boston in September. I can very easily attribute this to time. After all, that's the popular thing to do in Christianity and in my life. It's not that 40 hours of work per week requires more time from me, but it makes my time more rigid and thus more inconvenient to do things like exercise, read, make phone calls, and/or spend time with the Lord. But this excuse lets me off the hook too easily.

Prayer requires too much faith from me. Don't get me wrong, I love prayer. But what I love even more than prayer is prayer and action. In fact, if I'm really honest, I think I like the action better than the prayer because I can control it. I know that I will get stuff done or at least work hard enough in trying that the world surely can only find me blameless. Prayer, on the other hand, places the action in God's hands. And, in reality, I don't like it being there. I don't trust it. I don't have the faith.

So I often believe that God exists and say that God exists but I refuse to act like he exists. Specifically, I don't pray for him to do things in my life. Functional atheism, I've heard it called.

I prayed a lot in college because I found myself in situations where I knew I was not adequate. On a daily basis, I encountered conversations and responsibilities where I knew I was utterly incompetant. Nothing I could do would guarantee success, so I obviously needed God's help. Thus, I prayed for God to do what I could not.

Nowadays, life is easier. I have to put books on a shelf. Beyond that, I don't really have to do much else (except make decisions about my future, care for my co-workers, family, and friends, grow in my relationship with God - important stuff I can easily discard as tangential when it's inconvenient or hard). It is a lie that I can do anything on my own without God, but it's so much easier to believe this lie when things seem easy. My facade of control seems to work in this life of ease. Prayer is often the odd-man out because I don't functionally believe it really will do anything, certainly not anything I can't do on my own.

And then there's Nehehmiah, praying for days when he really doesn't have the time. There's Jesus, so often with the people yet consistently slipping away to pray in solitude to his father. There's the throne of Heaven, where the prayers of the saints are incense wafting before God and moving him to respond in power with thunder and lightning.

Oh Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Smut, Please

Odd Encounter of the Week: Immoral Purist

I should never complain about my job for many reasons, but here's two to start with:

1) Borders was the only place that called me back when I flooded the marketplace with my resume. Say what I will about retail wages but, without Borders, I'm in worse financial shape than the referendum-ignoring Charlotte Bobcats. For that, I am more grateful than I often act.

2) My days are rarely ever boring. One day, I think I will yearn for this aspect of my job. Take yesterday, for example. First, I got invited to a Christmas party in north Charlotte by a customer who described herself as a "marketing guro." I had known her all of 45 seconds before the invitation to this shindig; she promised there would be "divas." Hmm. Then around lunchtime, an ambulance showed up to take care of a 90-year old customer who passed out in the cafe. She came to after the medics arrived and by all accounts is fine now, but it was quite the scene for some time. Finally, a customer who constistently and loudly berates Borders employees when she shops visited the store for the first time since I started working there, and true to form, she yelled at our cashier. Her code name, given by my manager many visits ago, is "Big Bird."

My favorite from yesterday though was a phone call we got mid-afternoon from an unsatisfied customer. It seems Jane Doe had recently bought a DVD from Borders and felt she had been misled by the cover. I won't name the movie, but suffice it to say this was a movie that was a popular romance/drama and spent months in theaters. It's important you know this movie is normal.

So ma'am, what was the problem with the movie?

"It wasn't explicit enough."

Oh, sorry about that. I bet that must have been embarrassing to have been watching it with your kids and have that awkwa. . . . Wait, what was the problem?

"It wasn't as explicit as it was in the movies. I could see the editting lines during the sex scene. The cover led me to believe that it was uneditted."

Shame, dignity, anyone? Who asks a question like that? Certainly no one in the 4+ year history of the store, according to my co-workers. More importantly from my vantage point, how does one respond to a question like that?

I know for a fact the movie wasn't editted which makes me wonder what she thought she saw in the theaters. And how the cover of a dramance could hint at an increased level of sexually inappropriate content is beyond me. "You asked for more smut. We delivered!" Movies just don't do that. It's not like this was American Pie or some other flick which solely prides itself on transforming the gross into the humorous.

I've heard of the term "moral purist" before, even had it derogatorily tossed my way a couple times during my life. But never before had I encountered an immoral purist. She wanted her vulgarity, and she wanted it true, complete, and unadulterated. Moral alloy not allowed.

Her complaint continued on for minutes. This was serious business. She was very angry about her disappointment, and we eventually had to give her the phone number for corporate Borders, sending her up the chain of command. I hope she wasn't disappointed that it wasn't a pole.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Buckeyes and Gators and Wolverines, Oh My!

I really thought they would give the title shot to Michigan. I've been prepared to lambast Florida's BCS snub for weeks now. A team that goes 12-1; beats #8 Tennessee, Alabama, #9 LSU, Georgia, #8 Arkansas, Steve Spurrier, and Bobby Bowden; and only loses at #11 Auburn because their punter can't catch a snap deserves to not be left out of a championship opportunity. Given that this year's SEC was one of the toughest conferences to come along in the past decade, it's one-loss winner earned the right to play for the National Title.

Then, I got my way. OSU/Florida on January 8th for all the marbles.

During bookshelving solitude today, I realized that one could also make an argument for Michigan similar to the one I would have made for Florida. They played a similarly difficult schedule, ended up with the identical numbers of losses, and looked like the second-best team all fall. They, too, earned a right to play for the National Title.

So where do these competing arguments leave us? With a mess. A BC-Mess.

Good cases can be made for either Florida or Michigan (or 11-1 Wisconsin or even 12-0 Boise St.) to play on January 8. This is the case every year, last year excepted. The BCS always ends up with multiple one-loss teams or the truly disasterous multiple undefeated teams of 2004 when Auburn got maybe the biggest shaft in the history of college football, going undefeated and winning the SEC but not getting a chance to play for it all.

This year, it doesn't really matter who has the strongest claim on #2 because those futile arguments emerge nearly every year. We should not find surprise at the controversy. What matters is that, once again, the BCS has failed hundreds of student-athletes who have earned a chance at a dream. It fails us fans too, but I prefer to feign the noble route.

Can you imagine what a playoff would look like this year? Go 8 teams deep and your first-round match-ups are: Ohio St/Boise St, Florida/Wisconsin, Michigan/Louisville, and LSU/USC. Take it out to 16 teams, and you include Auburn, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Arkansas, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers. At least 13 of those 16 could feasibly run the table. What an amazing three weeks it would be!

To make this situation more painful, Division I-AA football pulls off a playoff system every year. Ask the folks over at Appalachain St how great it is. Furthermore, the NCAA basketball playoffs may be the most exciting sporting event on the planet.

Alack and alas, a playoff is never to be. My favorite Broadway show of all time (and it's not even close), Phantom of the Opera, includes a song with the line: "We've past the point of no return / the final threshold." The NCAA long ago crossed the final threshold, carrying its bride called Mammon with it. Money talks, and it speaks loudly in favor of the current system. Louder than fairness, competition, great games, sportswriters, fans.

Louder than the 107,501 seats in Michigan's home stadium.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Grey's Theology

At the risk of exalting the trivial and desecrating the sacred:

I think Grey's A revealed God's character last night.

I know such a claim is absurd and probably damages my authorial credibility. If you aren't still reading, I understand. If you are, wait until you stopping laughing to continue reading.

But check this out.

Christina and Burke sin, er screw up royally. Huge, consistent mistakes that hurt others, themselves, and their relationship. Bailey demands justice. After all, punishment must follow sin. . . . sorry, I mean C&B must be disciplined for disobeying the rules. Regardless of Bailey's righteous anger, my bad, I did it again, her desire for fairness, the Chief will have none of it. He chooses grace, whoops, I mean he let's them off the hook for no reason other than that he loves them and it's good for the kingdom, I mean, hospital, yeah, hospital.

I just can't keep the religious language out of there.

I've often wondered about the A's treatment of Christianity and have noticed subtle yet powerful Christian themes underlying the plot. I don't know whether this evidences an intentional insertion of Christian themes or whether we just simply can't escape God and his truth. Every character is "damaged goods" (Meredith's own words). The withholding of truth burdens the holders and hurts all. Honesty frees. Relationships are often utterly broken. Death rules, and the world has no answer for it.

And last night was an example of how God the Father interacts with his creation. In an attempt to cover our naked brokenness, we hide who we are and sin, hurting everyone around us including ourselves. Relationships break, and we buckle under the weight of our sin and the conviction it causes. All the while, we rebel against God, refusing to play by his rules while trying to hide our mistakes. God, being perfectly just, demands punishment for this rebellion, but being perfectly loving, spares us the wrath which we deserve. The punishment is poured out on Jesus at the cross, the place where justice and love meet. We receive forgiveness, love, and grace even though we don't deserve it and get to enter the Heavenly kingdom, the place we were made to be all along.

Obviously, last night's Grey's A left out the crucial part of this salvation story - the cross. But given it's context of the secular world of television, it came pretty darn close to giving us a Biblical picture of God's character which demands justice yet bestows grace.

Sin. Confession. Justice. Love. Grace. Reinstatement. Change. All the key players were there. Oddly enough, so were the characters of Grey's A.