Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ben vs. Prison, Round 2

Odd Encounter of the Week: an increasingly less odd encounter

I wore my Tar Heel t-shirt to work Monday morning. The really obnoxious one that's all blue with the huge interlocking NC on the front. When put over a large light source, I imagine this shirt would work similarly to the Bat Signal. We could have used this Sunday night. We sure needed a superhero those last 12 minutes.

I had worn this same attire after the Heels had beaten Duke and after their victorious sprint through the ACC Tournament. Many customers ribbed me, "You wouldn't be wearing that shirt if they had lost!" Well, they lost Sunday night, so I wore the shirt, not to support my school, mind you, but to prove all those customers wrong. Ha!

So after work, I go to the grocery to get my domestic on as I'm wont to do this days. As I push my burdened cart full of cereal, Coca-Cola Zero, and frozen chicken to my car, a voice stops me.

"Way to rock the shirt, man. Loyal to your team."

The mid-20's male driver of a nice black car (don't know what type; I'm not a car guy) has stopped in the middle of the parking lot to encourage me. He is in a lot of people's ways but sits indifferently nonetheless. How precious. Turns out he is an Ohio St. fan from Michigan who went to Notre Dame, so his team is still alive (and how could it not be with three choices!). He repeats that he finds it impressive I am "loyal to [my] team." After a little small talk about basketball and jobs, I am ready to disengage and go home. Adam will not allow this though. He has not fulfilled his purpose.

"I work for this marketing firm. Well, not exactly. I work for myself. If you're looking for something. . . ."

I must look gullible. Either that or ambitious. I seem to attract these fellas who have found easy, though potentially illegal, ways to make lots of money and drive nice cars. For those of you new to "Redeeming Prufrock," I met a similarly-minded gentleman in Target my first week in Charlotte way back in September. I was looking for a can-opener. He was looking for a hand-held ice crusher. It seemed like destiny that we should be together. Until I told him I was not interested in his marketing "pyramid," and we went our separate ways, me afraid, him disappointed.

Adam talks fast so I did not have a chance to let him know I had been through this before. He hands me his business card, which, like the one I received in September, has a website and a password. I do not know why a marketing website needs a password. Unless something exists on it which you desire some people not to see. Maybe one day "Redeeming Prufrock" will be dangerous enough to merit a password. But I hope not.

Adam e-mails me later that night trying to set up a time and a place to meet. I reply that I have experienced this process before and discovered that money does not motivate me enough to take a job that I do not want and could potentially land me in the slammer (though I did not tell him this last part). He implicitly calls me a liar: "If money doesn't motivate you then why do you chase a pay check around every week? Actually you just stated the complete opposite."

Free advice of the week: When trying to convince someone to do something you want them to do, refrain from calling them a liar. It does not go over well.

Thus ended our interaction.

In hindsight, it all makes some sense. Perhaps I do not appear greedy, ambitious, or gullible. Perhaps Adam was simply drawn to my loyalty to my team. You know, the kind of loyalty it takes to refrain from ratting out teammates in an illegal pyramid marketing scam when being questioned by the authorities.

So the pyramiders came after me again, this time utilizing the powers of sports and flattery. They are beginning to know me all too well. Yet, once again I succeeded in fighting off them and their promises of Duck Talesian financial gain. Once again, I dodged the slammer.

For all you keeping score at home, that would be:

Ben: 2 Prison: 0

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ben There, Donne That

X

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

-John Donne, "Holy Sonnet X," 1633

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jason's Cross

If you knew him, it's not hard to envision Jason Ray in Heaven. Nearly without exception, he was overly-excited about life, which is to say he was closer to being properly excited than the rest of us. Sometimes when he was around, you had to remind yourself that this was still the fallen, painful world. He exuded that kind of joy.

Since the accident Friday afternoon, a lot of internet, newspaper, and television space has broadcast how many lives Jason touched. Leadership for Bible studies. Love for friends and family. Birthday parties for strangers. At one point, Jesus describes us as branches which produce fruit when grafted into the vine, the vine being himself. Jason's branch bore good fruit.

I have thought about the cross a lot in the last 24 hours. The story of the crucifixion made me interested in Jesus. I was, and still am, a huge Civil War nut, drawn to the tragedy of men dying for others which moves me like little else. Into my life strode this man Jesus who claimed to have died on the cross for all humanity. No other man or god had claimed to do such a thing. The cross soon became very dear to me.

In the past 12 months, I have heard many simplify and demean the cross, even if unintentionally. Merely a consequent-less symbol of God's love for us, one said. Jesus reaching out to the oppressed by becoming one of them, another told me. The result of corrupt politics, someone mentioned. Not a real event but an allegory, I heard.

The past five days, this cannot be true. Forever, this cannot be true.

When the life of a friend, someone with plans and potential, ends what seems all too early, hope does not come easy. When I got off the phone after hearing the news from my brother, I cried. I was angry with God that I risked having hope and that he failed me. I was angry that so many people about whom I cared so much were and would hurt. Jason had died. After days of hope in the face of worldly reality, I had none left.

Until I was reminded of the cross. There is no hope save in the cross of Christ, and I mean that today more literally than words can express. Where is the hope when the parents of a 21-year old, soon-to-be college graduate have to make the decision to take him off life support? Oprah has no answer for this. The "heal yourself in 30 days" books at Borders have no answer for this. As my friend, Alex Kirk put it on his blog yesterday, "Either [Jesus] is alive, and so is Jason, or all is fruitless, empty, just a random SUV hitting a random person on the side of the road." Furthermore from the Heidelberg Cathecism, "Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?. . . . A. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life. . ."

The god-man Jesus Christ walked this Earth and gave up his life (mind you, it was not taken from him) on the cross in a fiercely loving moment of physical and spiritual pain I will never fathom. He stared death, even the tragically painful death of a 21-year old, in the face and took it all head on. He bled and died because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, no justice. Without the forgiveness of sins there is no Heaven. Without Heaven there is no hope.

On that cross, unspeakable power pried open the doors of eternal life, the doors of hope.

Jason's life bore much fruit. More than he knew and probably more than we even know. My hope today is not found in these stories though. My hope today is not that Jason was a "good guy." My hope today stands staunchly in the fact that Jason accepted this cross. He did the work of the believer, that is to believe in Jesus, the one who God sent. Jason claimed the cross as his.

I still have some tears left in me. I can feel them. Plus, I stay well-hydrated (an old cross country habit). But the tears will not be the tears of hopelessness like they were yesterday. The tears will be for his family who misses their son and brother. They will be for my brother and those at UNC who have an empty chair at the lunch table. They will be for my sophomore year Bible study who have experienced the first loss of a BOFFO orange and green shirt.

I will not weep for Jason or because of hopelessness. The cross, real and powerful, will not allow it. It moves me to hope. No, it DEMANDS that I hope. It has taken Jason to a place where he is finally fully completed and fully satisfied in God, the only anything that can fully satisfy.

It has taken Jason to a place where friends don't die.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Ray of Hope

(Ed.'s note: My brother sent this to me last night and said I could post it if I wanted to. I want to.)

I’m proud to say that Jason Ray knows me. That’s about the best way to sum up how I feel about him. My freshman year, he was the cool, funny guy leading my small group. My sophomore year, he was the mature, experienced co-leader who taught me how to lead. Both years he was one of the few guys I could go to with any problem. And he is always the friend with the coolest introduction tag-line.

To most of the world (and to new acquaintances whom I want to impress), Jason is Ramses. In the past few days, I have almost wished that he weren’t. At one point during this three-day roller coaster of ups-and-downs, of tears, anger, smiles, and hope, I vented to my brother that Jason was so much more than a costume. The world would see the headlines about the tragedy of the Carolina mascot; but they wouldn’t see the Jason whose openness in small group led me to address issues that ultimately saved my relationship with the girl I love, the Jason whose vibrant demeanor could only be outdone by his quiet humility when receiving praise and compliments, the Jason whose love for his friends and family came second only to his love for his Lord and Savior.

“Yeah, that’s my friend Jason. He’s Ramses,” I would tell people.

But I only learned the deeper truth of this statement yesterday. Scrolling through some insidecarolina.com message boards looking for some kind of update (even a rumor) on his condition, I came across story after story about Jason as Ramses. Moms with pictures of Ramses holding their sons. Dads with pictures of Ramses from their daughters’ birthday parties. A married couple with a story of Ramses introducing them at their wedding reception. Ramses bringing joy. That’s when it hit me. Jason IS Ramses. He IS a larger-than-life guy who brings happiness and light to all he encounters. He IS the sort of person to clamber up an inflatable slide in a sweatbox of an outfit just to bring a smile to a child’s face. He IS a man working to get people excited about something bigger than himself.

Jason’s body has been hanging onto life for two more days than it probably should have. Fighting a battle that the doctors now want to say his brain cannot win. So I guess in that sense, Jason Ray is not home yet. Not medically at least.

But somehow I’d like to believe that Jason’s been outside of his body from that first moment. Not because I’ve given up hope that he’ll come back to us. It’s just that I would like to think that Jason knows we’re all here for him. I would like to think that Jesus took him in his arms after that tragic second and said, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.” I would like to think that He then showed Jason the outpouring of love, faith, and prayer of the past few days. The bedside vigil. The tears. The renewed faith. And I would like to think that Jason now realizes just how much he meant to so many, including his former co-leader who never had the courage to tell him. And I would like to think that his life inspires all those he has touched to tap into the source of Jason’s strength and purpose, to see the power of Christ working in Jason and take the first step towards understanding how it should guide our own steps. And I would like to think that Jesus still has plans for Jason on this earth.

So as of now, at the end of my own private prayer vigil, I’m all out of sad tears. My brother and my pastor have continued to inspire me to keep hoping for recovery. “Don’t insult God by asking for a little bit. Ask him for a lot,” J.D. said. So I encourage us all to keep hoping period, not to talk about our brother in the past tense…not now…not ever. However this ends, it will do so with the power of the Lord of the Universe on our side, on Jason’s side. Either way, because of his relationship with Christ and because of our love for him, Jason will always “be”. And either way, either by his loved ones or by his Lord, Jason will be welcomed home. And that is a truly hopeful thought.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
And young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord
Will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prayer Request

The young man who plays the Tar Heels's mascot, Jason Ray, was struck by a vehicle yesterday and is currently in critical condition. What little information that has trickled out about his condition is not encouraging, yet as of 2:00pm, News 14 reported that he was still in critical condition.

This guy is a good friend of my brother. I have spent substantial time with him in Intervarsity and the business school as well. I believe that God can heal him, and I think he will. I refuse to give up hope.

Accordingly, I'm asking anyone who reads this to pray for him. In Philippians, Paul writes that his friend Epaphroditus "was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow." Jason has a lot of love for Lord and to die would be his gain. Yet, like Paul, I pray for healing for him, that he may have mercy on him and on us.

Please join with me.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Other Side of Dungy

Tony Dungy, head coach the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, recently spoke at a meeting of the conservative Indiana Family Insitute, a group which endorses a constitutional ammendment banning gay marriage. In his comments, Dungy spoke in favor of the group's endorsement. "I appreciate the stance they're taking, and I embrace that stance," Dungy said. "We're not trying to downgrade anyone else. But we're trying to promote the family - family values the Lord's way."

His comments reminded me of his words immediately following his team's victory in January's Super Bowl. He spoke of how the credit for the victory should go to God and that he was proud to show that people could win doing things the Lord's way.

No doubt his comments in January took courage. Jim Nantz and others certainly did not ask him such questions as "Tony, what divine being, if any, should receive the glory for the Colts victory?" It took an act of intention to mention God in the postgame interview. It always takes intention to mention God's name these days, as the easier, safer, and completely acceptable path is to avoid all mention of the divine.

However, Dungy's post-Super Bowl remarks met with great laud from the media. Using tone and diction only reserved for the death of someone linked to football, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson spoke of how happy they were to see a man of integrity finally win the big one. Everyone was happy for Dungy and spoke well of him. Regardless of their religious affiliation, they respected his faith - or at least the socially acceptable way of doing things to which he subscribed.

The things of Christ do often find favor in the eye of a secular world. Very few have a beef with the goals of the Christ-motivated organization World Vision which labors to alleviate child poverty in numerous countries all over the world. When the joy that Christ gives to his followers spills over into moments of laughter with those around them, the world is eager to share, even if they do not recognize the work behind the joy. Our society founds itself on submission to judicial law (except in the instance of bookstore shoplifting where vigilante justice is necessary), and the Christian worldview encourages following these laws.

Thus, Dungy found praise from the masses after the Super Bowl for doing things the Lord's way (or "the right way," as the pundits said). This was right and good. Praise God.

Fastforward to this week where Dungy's comments showed the other reality of the Christian life. Regardless of our opinions on the proposed amendment, we must agree that one finds very little favor when speaking out against it. Dungy is a smart man. He knew, and knows, this. The easy way out would have been to avoid the situation or, at the very least, give lipservice to the safe opinion, the one that would land him in the least amount of trouble with the people with microphones.

But this is not the reality of the Christian life.

The point here is not the opinion Christians "should" have on this issue. I have my opinion, but minds much greater than mine disagree. The point here is that Dungy's conviction moved him to say something unpopular, and he refused to rationalize that away. I have not had the privelege (ha!) of watching hours of ESPN this week, so I do not know how this is currently playing out in the media. Given the respect Dungy commands and the humility with which he speaks, I do not know if people are castigating him. I imagine no one is supporting his comments though (see the Colt's organzational comments, complete with impotence, within the above article). Except for maybe Tim Hardaway. But when has that ever helped someone's image?

While the message of Christ is beautiful and attractive, it also separates us from the world. The Bible is full of identities for the followers of Christ - aliens, strangers, foreigners - which we have daily opportunities to experience. Eating lunch with someone who is alone, losing the validation, acceptance, and "friendship" of mean girls. Speaking a worldview of sin into an educational system founded upon the shifting sands of humanism. Proclaiming the Gospel to those who find it the scent of death.

I do not know Tony Dungy, but from what I see, I love the man. I said as much in my blog post after the Super Bowl. I loved him then because he spoke in a manner that represented my religion in a positive light to the world, communicating many of the things for which my Savior stood and died. I love him even more today, not because of the debatable political position he took, but because his example reminded me to stand firm for our God.

Even when he knew there would be no applause.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Explanation

I must seem like an arrogant jackass for leaving my "Published!" post up for a long time. And this identity may be closer to the truth than I wish to admit. Nevertheless, as Jeff said in the 12th comment, I am currently out of town, in the American Northeast, going through a series of job interviews. Accordingly, I have been unable to post. More on this to come Friday when I return to Dixieland.

Hope you all have had a wicked pissah of a week.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Published!

As my friend Jeff revealed in the yesterday's comments, the online version of Relevant Magazine published an article of mine yesterday. Those of you who consistently follow my blog will recognize most of it from Monday/Tuesday. Please check it out if you like. They added pictures and cool font to the title!

I have never had any of my writing published before. I tried once, sending an article about the racial division in high school track and field to a running magazine. They declined. I still have the rejection letter, a read badge of courage, if you will. My English teacher at the time said that we should be proud of rejection letters, as that's how all writers start out. I was expecting to be proud of another after my submission to Relevant. But sometimes, for whatever reason, God gives us moments we don't deserve.

I am still uncertain just how big a deal this is. I do not read Relevant except for a short 750-word article they send me every week. Perhaps this is the biggest irony of all of this. Relevant is way too cool for me. They write about bands I've never even heard of, much less listen to. For example, two articles to the right of mine is an interview with "Reliant K." Imagine my surprise when I found out they are not a breakfast cereal, as I initially thought, but are actually a band.

If Relevant knew me, they would have never accepted my article. They must not find out my true identity. This, my dear reader, will be our little secret.

Regardless of importance, I was really really excited that they accepted my writing. Beats the heck out of a rejection letter, regardless of what my senior English teacher says. Some writers do not care for validation; they simply write as they wish, indifferent to mass opinion. A couple writers even rage against this acceptance, thinking they have "sold out" if too many people like their stuff.

For better or worse, I am currently neither of these people. Getting published makes me excited.

So here we have it, my first publication. I just wanted to throw it out there in case any of you were interested. No blog post tomorrow. I get off work at 3:30 and won't get off my tail until after midnight, due to the tourny. See you all next week!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Handicapping the Field

(I write today with my deepest apologies to my readers who rage against the sports machine and the addictions which accompany it. In my defense though, it is March.)

Yesterday Big Mike Golic, one of the Mike's on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" morning show, said that he had filled out 26 different NCAA March Madness brackets for various pools he had joined. From what little I've heard of the show, Mike is great on the radio. From the much more I've heard from various people, Mike is great on the radio. But this multiple bracket thing is bush league. Not the actual entrance into numerous leagues, mind you. We all do that. It's the different brackets for each pool that irks me so.

How can you claim any pride in winning a pool when you have picked so many combinations that you must win at least one by default? If you pick every horse in the Kentucky Derby on a different bet, you are guaranteed to win. What's the fun in that? Moreover, it does not make financial sense. Winning one or two brackets will probably not recoup your sunk entry costs unless you win the bracket with the high rollers - which I guess could conceivably happen for an ESPN celebrity.

An old life philosophy states, "Go big or go home." Make one set of picks. Put all your money on your best effort. Go big.

Of course, most of us lose big. But at least we went.

Last night, I filled out my bracket (I have entered two pools with the same bracket). In years past, I have abstained to avoid this March and early April addiction. With fantasy basketball and Dunkin' Donuts blueberry iced coffee in my life, I do not need another one. However, this year I caved - though I am committed to attending my sister's awards ceremony DURING THE GAMES Thursday night and not text messaging for scores to demonstrate my victory over said addiction.

This year, the bracket became more difficult to fill out as I progressed but not because of the bounty of good teams out there as ESPN would have one believe. It's that most of the high seeded teams have a fatal flaw which made it increasingly difficult to pick the winner. When I can see why so many will lose, I find it difficult to choose one that will win.

I believe this year's tournament (if won by a 1 or 2 seed) will be won by the team which most adeptly overcomes it's fatal flaw. I understand this may be a fancy way of articulating the obvious, that "The team that plays the best/makes the fewest mistakes will win." But run with me here, people.

The top seeds with their fatal flaws as I see them:

#1 Florida: I don't see them losing anytime soon. It's just REALLY REALLY hard (and thus unlikely) to repeat.

#1 Kansas: Can anyone remember the last time a Kansas team got out of the first round? I can - 3 years ago in 2004. Since then, they have lost as a 3 seed to Bradley and Bucknell. Once is a mistake, twice may be a pattern. . . . Their hope (besides the fact that this team is better than either of the previous 3): no team in their region begins with the letter "B."

#1 UNC: They have consistently been inconsistent all season, losing to teams they shoud have beaten, losing in places they should have won (read: the Dean Dome), and keeping bad teams in games for longer than they should have. The odds of them putting together six consecutive winning efforts against good teams are not good. Plus, if the seeds hold, their path is trecherous. Marquette and their Virginia Tech-esque guards scare me.

#1 Ohio St.: They haven't lost in a loooooonnnnnnggggg time. Law of averages says they lose soon.

#2 UCLA: Cold at the wrong time; they haven't won since March 1. Plus, they play in the Pac-10 which, as my friend Brad recently told me, is only a notch above a Mid-Major conference with Reggie Bush now departed.

#2 Wisconsin: You must score to win. Plus, a blow-out loss to Ohio St. is cause for concern heading into a tournament of good teams. Beware of Georgia Tech in Round 2, one of the few teams in the country who can bang with this Big 10 team.

#2 Memphis: Name two of their starters.

#2 Georgetown: Currently, a favorite among the masses. Unfortunately for them, no one ever gets these brackets right.

So who survives their weaknesses and advances to the Final Four in Hotlanta in my humble and historically incorrect opinion?

Florida is too good to justify a loss and advances to play last year's runner-up, UCLA, who has both talent and experience. With no noticeable flaw, Georgetown emerges to face Texas A&M who gets hot at the right time. Like last year, Flordia beats UCLA; A&M ends Georgetown's run and destroys the final remaining intact brackets. Florida then repeats.

When a team wins it all and returns everyone, I find it difficult and illogical to pick against them.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Love of My Life

The frustrating thing about blogging is that I am unable to participate in my favorite part of the writing process - editting. My senior English professor always said that no one writes a good essay the first time around. An ancient Greek who I cannot remember entreated us to write, let the work sit around for seven years, and then return to it. If it was still worthwhile, then you might have something with which to work.

Today, I editted. In reflecting on yesterday's post, I realized my great need to apologize to you all for the embarrassing mixture of metaphors in yesterday's post (this stylistic sin ranks as the third most egregious behind the passive voice and comma splices). Unfortunately, I fear mixed metaphors and verbosity are a result of my lack of blog editting. Today, I remedied at least the former concern.

I also came across an opportunity to submit something to a publication that was looking for contributive articles. This sounds like fun, so I figured I'd give it a shot by sending yesterday's post. One cannot do such a thing and save any face with mixed metaphors.

More than all of this though, it feels good to have something clean, something tweaked, something a little more final than the brain vomit which is most of my posts.

So today's post is an edition. If the redundancy and legnth bore you, my apologies. I will return to normal tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.

Bracketology Faith

I cannot remember a world without Bracketology. The word first emerged in college basketball circles some years ago to describe the annual, addiction-inducing process of selecting the 65 teams for the final championship tournament. Everything before that time in my life exists as darkness and chaos.

In the early days, I used to read this word as tongue-in-cheek, a cute exageration of one of life's trivialities. But Bracketology is no longer a flippant matter.

The word is everywhere. Once solely the possession of ESPN, other networks have seized upon it because us viewers cannot grasp the magnitude of March without it. If ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi has a business card, the title under his name would be "Bracketologist," and it would not be a joke. A new book has even hit the shelves entitled "The Enlightened Bracketologist" which utilizes brackets to determine what we really love and hate in various categories ranging from Fruit to Inventions to Tell Me Again Why They're Famous.

(As an aside, Peach edged Apple for the Fruit Championship, Sliced Break won easily over Paper in the Invention competition, and favorite Nicole Ritchie beat out cinderella Jeffrey Dahmer for the Tell Me Again Why They're Famous title.)

This book describes the science known as "Bracketology" in its introduction:

"What is enlightment?

Better question: What is Bracketology?

Bracketology is a way of seeing the world so that we can become more enlightened - about what we like, favor, prefer, abhor, or abjure. (Bracketology can even help us determine if we prefer the word 'abhor' to 'abjure'.) It is a system that helps us make clearer and cleaner decisions about what is good, better, best in our world. . . .

Bracketology - the practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine which of the two is superior or preferable - works because it is simple. What could be simpler than breaking down a choice into either/or, black or white, this one or that one?"

The book is incorrect about the simplicity of Bracketology when one speaks of field selection for basketball's NCAA tournament. Bracketology has become standard linguistic fare these days because choosing the 65-team field has become a science. A group of people, known simply as The Committee, compiles mounds of evidence about every team and uses these heaps to whittle the 300+ college basketball teams down to 65. The statistics are mind-boggling - conference record, RPI rating (which, like the NFL's quarterback rating, no one understands), strength of schedule, balance of the conference schedule, record against tournament teams, conference tournament performance, "good" wins, "bad" losses, total team height, average shoe size, grade point average, number of pizzas eaten during the year. . . . the list goes on. The Committee supposedly uses all these statistics to determine the best 65 teams. Then, onward we march.

ESPN analyist Jay Bilas, a Spartan commentator amidst mere Persians (by "300"'s historical interpretation at least), commented during one segment of ESPN's daily 25-hour coverage that he just wished the chairman of The Committee had defended the selections, not with bracketological stats, but with the simple statement that they thought these were the best 65 teams in the country. Bilas's point: with all of this "bracketology" science, one tends to miss the forest for the trees.

As usual, Bilas's point was as solid as a Greg Oden blocked shot. Statistical arguments about the worthiness of teams are futile. With such an array of data available, anyone can make a case for any team. Except, of course, for the Clemson Tigers.

Bilas's comment convicted me of the "bracketology faith" to which I often subscribe. I spend so much time trying to understand theological RPI ratings, attempting to figure out God by looking at a variety of details. How does God want me to feel about the death penalty? Is the Calvanistic worldview more correct than the Arminian one or can there exist a dizzying combination of the two? Should I go volunteer at the church nursery or spend that time in Sunday school?

Now do not get me wrong, I believe these are valid and important questions. After all, the average margin of victory does provide information about a team just as coming to grips with certain questions helps to better understand God's character. However, a tendancy exists in my life to lean legalistic, often times placing too much emphasis and too much stress on these questions at the expense of something greater. This is why the book of Galatians and its is so easy for me to read yet so hard for me to live.

God is not a science. He is not bracketology (though I bet he understands the RPI rating). When I focus soley on logical and empirical evidence, when I use him to try to make the right 65 decisions, when I refuse to pull my eyes away from one tertiary detail, I miss the majesty and beauty of the Almighty Sovereign.

God is big.

Jesus died on a cross for me and rose from the dead so that I do not have to die.

The Holy Spirit lives in me.

To use a phrase from UNC basketball coach Roy Williams, Team Trinity is pretty doggone good.

Theology has great utility; divine questions deserve much attention; the search for God's desires demands real sacrifice. But these things will never satisfy. The person of Jesus is the living water for which I thirst, not any logic or any ministry or any political opinion. These will never be enough.

Here's to resting in the reality of the living God, to being still and knowing God, to adhering to Bilas's encouragement to say that God is best and refusing to stress over the static reasons why I know this to be true.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bracketology Faith

I cannot remember a world without Bracketology. The word first emerged some years ago; everything before that time exists as darkness and chaos. In the early days, I used to read this word as tongue in cheek, a cute exageration of one of life's trivialities.

But Bracketology is no longer a flippant matter. It is serious business.

The word is everywhere. Once solely the possession of ESPN, other networks have grabbed onto it because us viewers cannot grasp the magnitude of March without it. If Joe Lunardi has a business card, the title under his name would be "Bracketologist" (at least that's what remains under his name on the ESPN graphic). A book has even come out entitled "The Enlightened Bracketologist" which utilizes brackets to determine what we really love and hate in various categories ranging from Fruit to Inventions to Tell Me Again Why They're Famous.

The book acutely describes this science known as "Bracketology" in its introduction:

"What is enlightment?

Better question: What is Bracketology?

Bracketology is a way of seeing the world so that we can become more enlightened - about what we like, favor, prefer, abhor, or abjure. (Bracketology cna even help us determine if we prefer the word abhor to abjure.) It is a system that helps us make clearer and cleaner decisions about what is good, better, best in our world. . . .

Bracketology - the practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine which of the two is superior or preferable - works because it is simple. What could be simpler than breaking down a choice into either/or, black or white, this one or that one?"

The book is incorrect about the simplicity of Bracketology when we speak about selecting the field for the NCAA tournament. Bracketology has become standard linguistic fare these days because choosing the 65-team field has become a science. The committee piles as much evidence together about every team and uses this to whittle the 300+ NCAA basketball teams down to 65. The mountains of evidence are mind-boggling - conference record, RPI, strengthen of schedule, the balance of the conference schedule, record against tournament teams, conference tournament performance, "good" wins, "bad" losses, total team height, average shoe size, grade point average, number of pizzas eaten during the year. . . . the list goes on. The committee supposedly uses all these statistics to determine the best 65 teams and onward we march.

ESPN analyist Jay Bilas, a Spartan analyst amidst mere Persians, commented last night during one segment of the 25-hour per day coverage that he just wished the chairman of the committee had defended the selections, not with bracketological stats, but by simply saying that they thought these were the best 65 teams in the country. Bilas's point: with all of this "bracketology" science, we tend to miss the forest for the trees. As usual, Bilas is on point. Statistical arguments about the worthiness of teams are futile. With such an array of statistics available, anyone can make a case for any team. Except, of course, for the Clemson Tigers.

Bilas's comment reminded me of the "bracketology faith" to which I often subscribe. I spend so much time peering at tree bark, trying to figure out God by looking at a variety of details. How does God want me to feel about the death penalty? Is the Calvanistic worldview more correct than the Arminian one or is it a dizzying combination of the two? Should I go volunteer at the church nursery or spend that time in a Sunday school class?

Now do not get me wrong, I believe this are all valid and important questions. After all, a knowledge of bark and leaves does provide us with information about the forest just as coming to grips with these questions helps us to better understand God's character. But those of you who know me or have read me for a while know that I lean legalistic, often times placing too much emphasis and too much stress on these questions at the expense of something greater. This is why Jenn's book of Galatians (see Thursday's comments) and the freedom which it confers on the believer can enter into my mind but find resistance moving south towards the heart.

God is not a science. He is not bracketology. When I focus soley on logical and empirical evidence, when I use him to try to make the right 65 decisions, when I peer endlessly at one piece of bark, I miss the majesty and beauty of the forest.

God is big.

God is love.

Jesus died on a cross for me.

Jesus rose from the dead so that I do not have to die.

God knows my name.

The forest is breath-taking.

Theology is good; wrestling with questions of the divine deserves great merit; and asking what God wants me to do is always a good thing. But these things will never satisfy. The person of Jesus is the living water for which I thirst, not any logic or any ministry or any political opinion. They will never be enough.

Here's to resting in the reality of the living God, to being still and knowing God, to adhering to Bilas's encouragement to say God is best and not stressing over the static reasons why I know this to be true.

(P.S. Peach edged Apple for the Fruit Championship, Sliced Break won easily over Paper in the Invention competition, and favorite Nicole Ritchie beat out cinderella Jeffrey Dahmer for the Tell Me Again Why They're Famous title.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Little About A Lot

Because I do not want to put forth the effort to string together continuous coherent thought on a Friday:

-When I turned on my car leaving work for the weekend, Mariah Carey's "Sweet Sweet Fantasy" had just begun on the radio. What ecstasy. Unfortunately, it was not the remix which features the late ODB. Yet, when one is given a mile, 'tis unrestrained greed to demand a mile and an inch.

-A few years ago, UNC coach Roy Williams dismissed the ACC Tournament as a "cocktail party." His comments were aggressively frowned upon, not because they were definitively false but because they insulted and discouraged corporate sponsorship (in my opinion). Speaking poorly of rich (who else attends cocktail parties?) corporate sponsors is tantamount to blasphemy or bigotry in 21st century America. We were reminded yesterday, though, of what the ACC Tournament will always be good for (besides making loads of money): giving Clemson one final opportunity to show the selection committee why it does not belong in the NCAA tournament.

-I'm still reeling from the sub-par three week series of "Grey's A." Redemption requires a new episode. Word on the street is that our wait ends next week.

-If Grey had died a couple weeks ago and Addison had become the show's new namesake as I requested on "RP," they could have called that episode "Addison by Subtraction."

-Borders Quote of the Week #1: Two construction workers helping to convert our cafe to the strict Kremlin's, er, Seattle's Best requirements came into the back room Wednesday morning talking about all the "freaky places" they had "done it," "it" presumably being sexual intercourse. I felt like I was the middle of a Ludacris song - except I don't think these fellas had ever been in a library. The conversation was raunchy. I had been exceedingly tired all day until I overheard them. I laughed on the inside during the conversation, not wanting to appear unmanly, and was in a good mood the rest of the day. Go figure.

-Borders Quote of the Week #2: "I gave up going to the gym in favor of doing sit-ups, push-ups, and Dance Dance Revolution. I lost 20 pounds!" -my inventory co-worker. Who knew?

-Check this out. The best part: Move your mouse over each turtle for a link to their own myspace pages. Raphael has 4507 friends including Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Tom. The best message left is from Malus, The Horseman of War, who writes: "You sir, kick so much ass! If there was a Hall of Fame for Kick-Assery, you would be King Master Champion!" Couldn't have said it better myself.

-A co-worker of mine came into work unhappy and late today. She said she realized this morning that this (this being working two jobs at Borders and Duke Energy) was going to be the rest of her life. I think we've all had this Sisyphusian feeling at some point. In our affluent 21st century American society, how we respond to this realization shapes our lives. I'm excited for her because she did not run from the reality of felt hopelessness in her life. She is encountering it, even though it is difficult and despairing. She wants to go to Africa someday and "do some good." I hope today was her first step.

-We "spring forward" for Daylight Savings on Saturday night. Though this sounds happy and energetic, it will make me grumpy and tired when (read: if) I get up for church Sunday morning sans one hour of sleep. Yet, Sunday begins a really great time of year when the sun stays out hours past the drive home from work. This, my friends, puts a spring in my forward step.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Yes God

I would venture to guess that one of the primary reasons people want nothing to do with religion, and to a larger extent God, is the set of rules that seems to come along with it or him.

Perhaps the most famous passage in the Bible lists ten "Thou shalt not"'s, the so-called Ten Commandments. At one time, schools posted these on walls, and courtrooms displayed them in lobbies. At a time before that, Hollywood made a movie about them. These babies get a lot of press time and thus become a primary association with religion or God. Extrapolating the divine character solely from this famous Scripture passage, we discover God to be a Catholic school teacher, an angry parent, or the police. He tells us what we cannot do and whoops our tails when we do just that.

Not surprisingly, this idea of the "No" God drives people from him, especially in our society of individualism and tolerance. We hate nothing more these days than for someone to tell us what we can and cannot do. We have no need for some fella (who we cannot even prove exists) dropping a list of No-No's on us.

What a shame that we have allowed a Charlton Heston movie to dominate our view of God.

A friend of mine likes to say that God is a "Yes God," and I think Scripture bears this out. God deals in things like joy and hope. He promises to hold back no good thing from his children, that he always says "Yes" to what is good for them. He very actively works for the best interests of his people. He says "Yes" to the promised land, "Yes" to the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scripture, "Yes" to our reconciliation with him and with each other.

But then we come these "Thou shalt not"'s, which are present not only in the Ten Commandments but throughout the Bible. A faithful reading of the text cannot deny that the Bible sets forth life standards for us, including many restrictions and prohiibtions. Rules, as we like to call them. These big No's, supposed to be divinely inspired, stand contrary to a Yes God.

Yet, these "No's" are not "No's" at all, except for the rebellious interpretation we impose on them. The "No's" which we see and complain about are actually powerful examples of the "Yes" which he offers to us. For example, Jesus commands me not to lust. When I lust, I am looking for the intimacy that it promises me. But what do I get? Not intimacy. Guilt, broken relationship, slavery, unfulfillment. But not intimacy. And what do we call something when it does not come through on it's promise? Folks, we call that a lie. 'Tis no wonder Scripture calls the enemy the great deceiver.

When God says "No" to lust, he is actually saying "Yes" to intimacy. In fact, I believe he never said "No" in the first place but that he always wanted me to find the latter gift. 'Tis my rebellious heart projected on the situation that makes me say, "Well, God didn't let me lust" when in actuality God said, "Ben, love and know intimacy."

Even in the garden when, one could argue, God gave the most resounding "No" of all time, he told us to avoid the tree because "in the day that you eat from [the tree] you will surely die." God's words were a "Yes" to life, a "Yes" to the paradise he had already blessed us with.

I believe this is always the case with the Bible's so-called rules. A "No" to murder is a "Yes" to companionship and self-control. A "No" to selfishness is a "Yes" to companionship for others and freedom from unsatisfying stuff. A "No" to pride is a "Yes" to truth.

We have always been meant to live for good things, not from bad ones.

God is not a pain-loving disciplinarian, an angry parent, or the po-po. He wants that which is best for us. He always has. What a shame we have imposed "No" onto his character. May he give us the grace to always, always hear his "Yes."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Noct Up

Odd Encounter of the Week: The Nocturnal

Occupationally speaking, nothing creates more despair than reading a schedule that proclaims: "Sunday: 7pm-5am". Nothing, that is, except for the same phrase followed by: "Monday: 11:30pm-7:30am".

Alack and alas, this was my lot for the early days of this week. I was going nocturnal. I knew one person in college who went nocturnal on purpose. But only one. For a week, he stayed up all night watching movies and then shut his glazed eyes to grab some sleep during the day. When he went to class, I do not know. I ran into him one afternoon right after his experiment ended, and it was wierd. All he could say was "Hoot."

Unlike my owlish friend, work, not will, forced me into the school of hard nocs. We had a huge inventory count Sunday night during which an outside company called RGIS (pronounced like "Regis and Kelly" without the "and Kelly") descended upon the store and counted every single item we had. Nothing was exempt. Not even Nibbles, the stuffed Borders bunny. All 85 of him (currently on sale for $5.99!). RGIS brought 60 workers to the "Who Wants to be a Million Book Counter?" show going on in our store that night.

The primary reason I had to live the hard-noc life stood, or stumbled, in our store cafe. Borders had just begun its switch to Seattle's Best coffee. Seattle's Best, being a totalitarian regime which forces its employees to shave and wear uniforms, requires the cafe to physically conform to its standards. Accordingly, our old cafe model had to disappear. Large men with even larger sledgehammers arrived that night to perform this disappearing act.

These fellas have a great job. They destroy stuff with sledgehammers. What's more, they do not have to put it back together or clean up the mess. To celebrate their great fortune at landing such an occupation, they apparently go drinking before coming in to work. Many of them reeked of liquor that night which made it quite enjoyable to greet with a "How's it going?" or other such introductory question. I always received a happy, if incoherent, response.

The night's work was a hoot. The RGIS folks worked their way to a million, scanning every book with an electronic radar gun similar to those used at check-out lines. In Zen-like fashion I simultaneously heard one long beep and thousands of individual beeps all night. The drunken sledgehammers laid down the percussion line as the consistent sound of tool on cabinet pounded from the cafe. I kept time in my head, endlessly counting books to check the accuracy of the RGIS folks - 86, 87, 88, . . . . All the while, the store speakers mindlessly played a variety of newly released music, dropping the likes of Bob Dylan, Katherine McPhee, and Josh Grobin into the montage.

On and on through the night, we played our wage-labor symphony.

Boredom and the accompanying fatigue set in early - early being 11:00pm. This, loved ones, is futility. Yawning at 11:00pm and knowing that six hours of monotonous work still awaits. We tried everything to stay awake. We ordered pizza. We drank lukewarm Coca-Cola. We told noc-noc jokes. Nothing worked. Onward we counted books. It felt as if we were counting sheep.

Around 2:00am, the sledgehammers stopped, and the workers left, presumably to now go celebrate not only their great jobs but also their completed task. A little after 3:00am, the RGIS folks began to trickle out. They had reached the million mark but left with no prize money save for their wages. I stayed with boss until the bitter end, tidying up the store and preparing for the next day's opening. We noct off at 4:15am and locked the store. As I walked past the Animal books section, an owl peered at me from the cover of a book faced out on display.

Upon returning to my apartment at 4:30am, I immediately fell asleep, noct out by fatigue. The sun flooded through my window and woke me up at 6:30am, but I ignored it and rolled back to sleep. My night had just begun.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Hardwood Hack

To honor Wilson's request from Sunday and to attempt to regain his good favor, today I shall add my percussive triangle to the cacophany of sound out there concerning the now infamous Hansbrough v. Henderson (2007).

For those who do not know, in the waning seconds of UNC's victory over Duke on Sunday, UNC center Tyler Hansbrough grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and attempted to shoot. Duke player Gerald Henderson leaped in an attempt to block the shot. Amidst the tangle of bodies, Henderson heaved a hearty heavy haymaker at Hansbrough's head. This was the result.

The officials ejected Henderson from the game, saying he committed a combative foul. By rule, he is suspended for Duke's next game against N.C. State. Hansbrough has a broken nose but should play in UNC's next game, potentially with a facemask that will protect his schnoz while also ensuring his contact lenses do not fall out.

In my exhaustive research for this post (read: laying on the couch watching Sportscenter and reading the Charlotte Observor sports section), I have come across varying opinions concerning the incident. ESPN's Jay Bilas, who for my money is the most complete analysist in college basketball, says the officials made the right call, that the foul was excessively flagrant and that intent has nothing to do with the ruling. Scott Fowler, columnist for the Charlotte Observor, concurs, saying that Henderson's foul was reckless though probably not intentional. Like wrecking at 85 MPH. You did not intend to do it, but your recklessness was the primary cause. Billy Packer, the CBS color guy who called the game, claims the officials botched the call, that two fellas were simply playing hard and bumped into one another.

At the risk of alienating my Tar Heel brethren and worse, agreeing with Billy Packer, I think the referees should have called a personal foul and left it at that. The play was utter chaos. When Hansbrough went up for the putback, he was undercut by another Duke player. Henderson jumped into the melee and quickly lost his balance in the mess. Thus, we have Tyler falling down, Joe Duke getting fallen on, and Henderson flailing to regain balance. That anyone could have done something intentional in that split-second seems absurd. Plus, if Duke wanted to put a hit on Hansbrough, they would've sent in an insignificant like Brian Zoubek who is bigger and more terrible than Henderson (who played an excellent game Sunday).

But as Bilas states, intention may not play any role here. The flagrant nature of the foul alone stands as grounds for punishment. But come on, folks, basketball is a tough sport, and hard fouls are a central part of the game. Especially in an era of huge, strong men like Hansbrough who make a living converting three-point plays. You must foul guys like Hansbrough and Shaq hard or you will lose. Yes, Henderson went in very hard. Yes, Henderson wanted to swat Tyler's shot into orbit. Yes, this caused him to hit Tyler hard on the face, whether intentional or not. Sounds like basketball to me.

And basketball fans, given the choice, would you prefer someone with the toughness to foul a guy to prevent a layup or one who plays matador defense, waving at a big man's arm as he moves towards the basket? I would've been quite mad if Marcus Ginyard had offered Josh McSoberts a touch foul on his was to the hoop. Foul him hard! And if he bleeds, all the better. It is UNC/Duke, after all.

Perhaps the most absurd insunation of this whole ordeal is that neither player should have been in the game with the outcome all but settled. With 50 seconds left in the game, Duke called a timeout, thinking the game still up in the air. A couple years ago at Maryland, Duke made a 10-point comeback in the closing minute to win the game. More than this though, you do not bother putting the scrubs in with 13 seconds left. They get no experience in that amount of time, and it takes longer to call timeout to make the substitution than it would to simply run out the last seconds. The fact that Henderson and Hansbrough were still in the game is status quo and nothing else.

The blood was the most transformational aspect of the whole situation. If Hansbrough gets off the floor with a huge knot on his nose, Henderson may receive a flagrant foul and we move on. The bloody scene made everything look worse than it perhaps may have been. Both teams seemed shocked by the sight which seems to explain why they showed no animosity towards one another as the officials sorted out the play. The Duke bench looked like four-year olds waiting for punishment while a Tar Heel player joked with his teammates.

Hardly the stuff of fierce rivals. Dare I say it, where is Matt Doherty when you need him?

Hansbrough's reaction was colored by the red too. He absorbs a lot of physical violence during games, much of it intentional (Georgia Tech, we're looking at you). Yet, he rarely loses his cool. Not so on Sunday, as he leaped up with great passion. There was more fear in his eyes than anger though. Seeing your own blood is a scary thing.

All that to say, the blood made this a bigger deal than it should have been. Blood changes things.

Perhaps that is the story of this whole incident. A lot of noise over something that really was not a big deal. No wonder the media has gobbled it up. In the end, Henderson will miss one game that Duke will probably win against the consistently hapless and unhappy N.C. State Wolfpack. Hansbrough will wear a mask and look even more psycho than ever but miss no playing time. UNC fans will boo Henderson for as long as he plays in the Dean Dome, but let's be honest, would it be different had the incident not happened?

In the spirit of these conclusions, I follow suit and give you lots of important sounding noise on a subject of absolutely no consequence.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Gospel is for Me

My first few months away from college have proven difficult for me spiritually. I think about this often, mainly trying to figure out why this is so I can "fix" it and feel better. Fortunately for me, God has my good in mind and has kept me in this place until he concludes doing the work and teaching the lessons he so deisres. This weekend, though, he gave me a glimpse into one of the reasons for this dry spell.

For nearly all of my final two and a half years in college, I found myself in some sort of official ministry. Now we all have personal ministries which are continuously ongoing, but during this time I had a label. Summershiner. Small Group Leader. C-Team Member. Activities Director. Large Group Coordinator. I took these labels and their consequent positions very seriously. Much of what I did during this time was done with the spiritual well-being of others in mind whether it were campers or small group members or large group attenders. I genuinely cared about these folks and that motivated me to work very hard out of my love for them. A large part of this work included maintaining my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

In September, my life situation pulled this large and rather supportive carpet out from under me. I promptly fell on my bum. Since returning from Boston, I have had no ministry label. I am now Ben, UNC graduate, Charlotte resident, Borders employee. This is a lie, as I am currently Ben, beloved child of God, servant of Jesus Christ, member of the advancement of the heavenly kingdom, but one finds it easy to forget these things amidst 40 hour work weeks.

These days, I no longer have a group of people to officially care for. I am around people all of the time, but my interactions with them are not nearly as in depth or intentional. The primary person that I have the opporutnity to care for at this moment in life is myself. The battles are no longer sacrificing my time for a friend or mustering up the courage to tell someone that Jesus is on their side. The battles are now sacrificing my time in order to spend time in prayer and scripture or resisting the tempations that come with too much free time.

To be blunt, this bores me. For a plethora of reasons, I have a skewed worldview where these battles do not matter. I do not value them. I do not get energized to fight them. I do not prayer over them. Thus, I consistently lose them. And as sin tends to do, this separates me from God. Hello, valley.

A friend told me on Friday that he works as a full-time minister of the Gospel because he cannot remember the Good News himself without telling it to people every day. Certain people can work for IBM and remember the Gospel, he said, but he is not one of them. On Saturday, another friend of mine said that perhaps the greatest spiritual gift is to have the ability to remember the Gospel in solitude. These two fellas get me. They articulate my post-September experience.

The apostle Paul, who had perhaps the most consuming ministry of anyone who ever lived, writes in Galatians 2:20 of the life which he lives "by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." For all his focus on the churches and people of the Mediterranean region, Paul knew that the Gospel was for him, that Jesus loved him and proved it on the cross. Paul's actions reveal that he knew the Gospel was for the world. This poignant phrase reveals that he knew it was for himself too.

I need to know that the Gospel is for me. Jesus loves me. He not only speaks my name; he gives it to me. He took the physical pain of the cross, the emotional pain of abandonment, and the spiritual pain of Hell for me. For me. He places his light yoke on me and goads me to live a life of faith and practical trust so that I may live an abundant life, a life free from the chains of impending death, insecurity, loneliness, purposelessness, despair, guilt - in short, a life free from all the things that plague me during times in the valley.

He cares about me that much.

This week, I want to remember Jesus and the cross. When my mind runs blank at work, I want to remember Paul's words in Galatians that Christ loved me. When the isolation of working in a world that tells me I am an alien, a foreigner, a closed mind, threatens me, I want to remember that Jesus thought enough of me to give himself up. When the dispair of 500,000 books that all flail to find some explanation for our existence begins to climb onto my narrow shoulders, I want to remember that it is a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance that Jesus Christ died for sinners among whom I am the foremost.

This week, I'm being selfish. The Gospel is mine. Not because I do not want the world to have it. It's just that I need to remember it so desperately.

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Very Odd Week

Odd Encounter of the Week #2: Molly Fan-non

On Thursday, a customer approached me at the information desk and said that Molly Shannon should have won an Oscar for her role in "Serendipity." She said they only give Oscars to "silly" people these days. The conviction in her voice and the determination in her eyes implied that she also believed Shannon should have brought home some gold for her work in "Superstar." She called this movie "fabulous" and wanted to buy its soundtrack.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Champ vs. Chump

My apologies for yesterday's silence. I woke up Wednesday morning sweaty and cold. Given that I had not engaged in hanky panky the night before nor was I afraid of what might lay under my bed, I could only assume this meant I had a fever. I also felt like crud which confirmed my postulation. Interestingly enough, illness is not conducive to blogging.

Yet today, like half-defeated strep throat, I am back. I had a fever and more cowbell did not help (though I did try). Fortunately, 11.5 hours of sleep did.

Odd Encounter of the Week #1: butt whoopin'

I never fight. Except for one time when a friend slept over. He kept putting his pillow in my face, proclaiming himself to be "Pillow Man" as I tried to go to sleep. I was tired and he was annoying, so I punched the pillow. A pillow does not bleed, but aparently the man behind it does. My friend's nose turned the pillow red. Initially I was scared - that I would get in trouble or that he would hate me. Neither happened. Thus, this is now considered one of the greatest moments of my life. I made someone bleed [insert uber-masculine roar here].

Besides that instance, I never fight. I retired 1-0, 1 TKO.

On Monday, someone tried to goad me into a fight. Apparently, they had not heard of what I had done to Pillow Man.

Nate and I decide to go to a neighborhood basketball court to shoot some hoops. The weather is beautiful, and he has a half-day off. We pull up to the court where a couple of fellas are already shooting. Nicholas and Matthew, their names turned out to be. Their sister is taking a tennis lesson at the adjacent court, so they are just "chillin," as the kids are saying these days.

Nate and I begin to shoot, hoping this would either a) make them leave so we could have more room or b) entice them to play 2-on-2. Nate and I have great chemistry and thus brim with confidence. Something just tells us we can take them, given the chance.

Our court tenants choose option c) start shooting with our ball without asking. Ok, no biggie. We are big kids; we can share. So we shoot with them for a while. Then Matthew leaves.

Nicholas, on the other hand, starts to guard me. He tries to steal the ball. I dribble away. He continues at this for a while, half-heartedly playing defense while Nate and I easily move around him and shoot. Kind of annoying but, again, no biggie. We are big kids; we can joke around.

A few minutes later, he decides it would be great to throw the ball, my ball, in a near-by mud puddle. I see him grab a rebound, look at me and smile, then move towards the soggy dirt. Oh no, I think, as I quickly hustle to fence the mud. Nicholas begins to laugh. Apparently he enjoys this. Not wanting to risk my perfect fighting record, I force a smile, but inside I'm muttering, "Damnit man, gimme my ball. We can't play with a muddy ball. Grow up."

Nicholas wins the game. He slams the ball in the mud right at my feet. The ball gets muddy. I get muddy. Gaining possession of my ball, we return to the court.

Nate thinks this is hilarious. Of course he does. It's not his ball.

We keep shooting. Nicholas proceeds to engage me in conversation. He takes tai-kwan-do, he says. Has since he was three. As evidence, he slugs me on the back.

Thump.

I fake another smile. I see you take tai-kwan-do. Great self-esteem builder, I hear. Nice.

He rears back to enter Exhibit B, but I brace myself, twisting out of the way. He responds, tossing a kick in the direction of my right shin. He misses. Barely.

Ok, man, I get it. You can and like to fight. Let's go back to shooting.

Nicholas's smile comes back. He coils up for another slug to the back. I turn again. This time he jerks his knee towards the area of my crotch. Recognizing the move, I cover up but take a glancing blow from his fist off my back.

Nate thinks this is hilarious. Of course, he does. It's not his balls.

At this point, I do not fake a smile. My ball is muddy, and I'm starting to get my ass kicked.

Needing to nip this in the bud before Nicholas evens my record at 1-1, 1 TKO, I put serious face on and start, "Hey, man, look, this. . . ."

"Nicholas, honey, it's time to go!"

"Coming, Mom!"

Nicholas's sister had finished her lesson. It was time for him to go home. The seven-year old hopped in his Hummer Big Wheels and drove away, Mom, sister, brother, and dog in tow. I go back to shooting, muddy and embarrassed.

But still undefeated.