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.)

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