Feb 5, 2012

My Super Bowl Pick

The Super Bowl is today.  It is the biggest sporting event of the year.  (Wait, that's debatable.  The Olympics are this year.)  It's the biggest sporting event of the month.  (Hold on, isn't the Daytona 500 this month?  I'll tick off all the rednecks if I make that claim.)  It's the biggest sporting event of the week.  (Let me check...  Australian Open... Some stupid NBA games... We're good.)  As I've documented in other posts on this and my Darth Fatso blog, the Super Bowl has always been a very special day.  I loved watching it with my dad.  We were allowed to eat in the TV room instead of at the dining room table.  We got pizzas from Publix or TV dinners.  My dad my tons of snacks.  It was great.

As I got older, I started to get into the Super Bowl Party circuit.  As a minister, I had to orchestrate several of these things.  Those are great - this huge game and two hundred of your closest people you sort of know.  The problem I have with these things is that it is very hard to keep track of the game, the commercials (the best part), and enjoy yourself.  I really prefer staying home with my family, having fun food, watching the game and the commercials together, and just enjoying the time together.  My kids don't care about the game at all - they like the event.

This year, I am faced with a dilemma.  I couldn't care less about the teams playing.  This isn't like, "My favorite team isn't playing, so I have to pick someone else."  This year, it's like, "These two teams are in my bottom tier of teams.  I detest both of them."  You have to have some kind of rooting interest in the game. So, how do I decide who to cheer for?  Just like when I went through an exhaustive decision making process to pick my favorite NHL team (They wear yellow! Their mascot is a freaking saber toothed tiger!), I knew I needed to go that deep.  So, here is my analysis of who I should cheer for.

Personal Favorite Teams: My favorite team is the Jaguars.  They were eliminated in August.  Like many non-die-hard fans, I have several auxiliary teams.  The Bucs were eliminated right after the Jags.  The Saints made it into the playoffs and then got ousted in the divisional round.  No help there.  Advantage: EVEN

Personal Favorite Teams Rivalries:  The Jaguars don't really have a rival.  Their biggest nemesis is empty seats.  You could argue, I suppose, that the Titans or the Colts are their biggest enemies.  So that dosen't assist in any way.  The Jaguars have very little opinion on the Patriots and Giants - other than they are two teams they enjoy losing to.  Advantage: EVEN

Franchise Like-ability:  Let's face it, neither of these teams are especially likable.  Both teams have had a lot of recent success, so there isn't a lot of sympathy for either team.  You have a ton of rabid fans for both teams, so I can't pull the newcomer or the underdog card.  And the teams are located in New York and Boston - the two most obnoxious, self-obsessed cities in all of sports.  It seems like every other sportswriter is from those two cities.  There is relentless coverage of Boston and New York teams.  And the sports machines thinks that the rest of the country is as interested in Boston and New York sports as the New England area.  What they fail to realize is that there are tens of millions of sports fans just like me who HATE every team from those cities, just because they are from those cities.  If it is from Boston, I hate it.  If it is from NYC, I hate it.  And for good measure, I hate all the teams that are even close.  As far as I'm concerned, these two teams could sport losing records for the next one hundred years and I would be glad.  It still wouldn't make up for having to hear about David Tyree and the Perfect Season that never was. Advantage: EVEN

Player Like-ability: Umm...  There are two levels of athletes out there.  There are the blue-collar tough nameless guys who do their jobs and you never hear about.  Most cynical sports fans like myself don't mind these guys.  Yes, they are still making more than I will ever make in my life.  But they don't flaunt it.  Generally, they pass themselves off well.  Then there are the stars of varying intensities.  These are the guys we get tired.  They have the monster contracts and matching egos.  I have a theory that the stars we like a whole lot are the ones that are able to make themselves look like that other, larger, more relatable group.  Look at some of the more popular athletes out there - Drew Brees, Peyton Manning - and they are big shots who pass themselves off as more common guys.  The stars we turn on - LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard (recently) - are the ones who start to act like they deserve the big bucks and flaunt their importance and wealth.  Yes, some people like that attitude, which is why there is a marketing vein capitalizing on those guys.  But, to people like me, (and this about my decision making) I can't stand guys like that.  There are a bunch of fans out there who loved Albert Pujols when he was still just doing his job, and who now don't like him because he gave in to the lure of big money elsewhere.  (Although, most of us will always have a soft spot for him because it is fun to say his name.  "Poo-holes.")  That all being said, the hard working Giants and Patriots are going to balance each other out.  The question comes down to how obnoxious those teams' stars are.

The Patriots sport Tom Brady - who simultaneously comes across as smug and arrogant AND down to earth and humble.  He is married to a supermodel and dresses in designer clothes, but then wears an undershirt with a notch cut into it to Media Day.  He is a spokesperson for Ugg Boots, but his choices in hair styles is slightly worse than mine.  Tough call.  They also have Chad Ochocinco - one of the most annoying athletes of all time.  However, this year he has been so quiet I forgot he was on the team.  They are a mixed bag.  The Giants have Eli Manning, the not as nice brother.  As much as people try to package him as Peyton Lite, he has an edge to him that rubs people the wrong way.  Maybe it was his demand to play for the Giants on draft day.  Maybe it is his perceived weakness.  I just don't like him for some reason.  The other stars are also mixed bag.  I'm not sure if either team provides enough positive energy to make a difference.  Advantage: EVEN (maybe slight Giants edge)

Coach Like-ability: Yep.  Both Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin are obviously great coaches.  You don't get to multiple Super Bowls without knowing what you are doing.  But they both have a lot of baggage.  Belichick has so much stacked against him.  He is churlish.  He dresses like a hobo.  He tries to use every borderline cheating trick out there to get an advantage.  He is about as warm and cuddly as a candiru.  (I dare you to click on that link and not wince.)  But, he is obviously brilliant.  And his players love him.  And what he has done with Tom Brady is absolutely incredible.  Tom Coughlin is another coach with a lot of baggage.  He was such an angry, totalitarian, and verbally abusive coach he had TWO teams completely quit on him.  His teams never seem to excel - they do enough to scrape by.  Plus, hardly a year goes by without an ugly losing streak and a big call to fire Coughlin.  On the plus side, though, Coughlin did listen to the criticism and change his methods, becoming a better coach.  He had family members die in the 9/11 attacks.  And, you can't overlook this, he has the Jaguars connection that makes him keep the "hometown discount" that fans of teams offer their obnoxious players/coaches.  Advantage: GIANTS

Uniforms: To some of you, this may not matter.  But I am a big uniform fan.  I read the Uni Watch Blog every day.  When it comes to these teams, their uniforms are not in my top ten - or top twenty.  Sure, they aren't the Oregon Ducks and their rotating clown outfits.  But I don't like them.  I can't stand football teams that wear matching dark shirts and pants - which the Patriots do.  I don't like their new logo.  And I just don't care for their mostly boring uniform.  I like their socks, and I love their throwbacks.  But overall, they are not a winner.  The Giants, though, sport one of my most hated uniforms in all of sports.  I know some people hail them for their classic look.  I just can't stand them.  I hate the texture of their pants.  I hate how their shirts all look sloppy and stretched on.  Seriously, I hate the Giants' uniforms.  They aren't the worst (Ravens and Seahawks, looking at you).  But I hate them.  Advantage: PATRIOTS

Personal History: I grew up a Cowboys fan.  That alone should tell you where this is going.  As a Dallas fan for nearly twenty years (before I bailed, thank to Jerry Jones), there were some indisputable facts.  First, you hate the Redskins with every fiber of your being.  (The fact they were my brother's favorite team only added to the intensity.)  Second, hate the 49ers.  Third, hate the Giants.  Fourth, hate the Eagles.  I have rooted against the New York Giants since I knew what football was.  They are one of my absolutely least favorite teams.  It isn't a mild dislike, either.  It is a complete loathing.  You know those teams you get angry thinking about?  I have those.  In football, that would include the Dolphins, the 49ers, the Jets, the Giants, the Raiders.  I detest those teams.  Personally, I don't have any bad experiences with the Patriots.  They beat the Dolphins and Jets on a regular basis, which I appreciate.  So, this one, the Patriots win by default.  Advantage: PATRIOTS

Friends: Sometimes, I will cheer for a team because friends of mine like it.  I like my friends and want them to be happy.  As long as that doesn't come at the expense of my happiness, naturally.  Since I don't really care about this game, this would be a perfect example of a filial rooting interest.  So, I have some Patriot fan friends.  Eric Soucy was the first Patriots fan I ever met, back in Elementary school.  The kid, John Stemples, who sat behind me in math class in eighth grade was a Patriots fan.  And now I have a few people who like the Pats.  One of my newer friends, Eddie (a fellow stay at home dad) likes them.  As for Giants fans, Damani Collier is a big G-Man fan.  So is Robyn Daly German.  (Both of those were friends of mine in college.)  Aside from that, I don't know many others.  Advantage: PATRIOTS

Conference Affiliation: I know a lot of people who will root for whatever team represents the conference of their favorite team.  I see tons of Gator fans cheer for any SEC school once Florida gets eliminated.  I don't entirely get that.  How can you go from hoping the ground opens up and swallows Tennessee and then root for them?  If you hate a team, shouldn't you also revel in their misery?  Not only would I want my biggest rivals to lose against us, I would want them to lose every game ever.  But, trying to give this some credence, I have always considered myself an NFC fan.  This probably came from the era where I liked teams from the NFC for about 25 years.  Now that I root for an AFC team, that still hasn't changed much.  I still root for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.  So I guess that means something.  Advantage: GIANTS

UCF Alumni: There aren't any UCF graduates on either team.  There also aren't any players who attended UCF and never graduated.  There are two USF players on the Giants.  But, USF is turning into a rival for UCF.  So that doesn't help the Giants.  Advantage: EVEN (Maybe slight Patriots)

So, that's about it.  My interest in these playoffs basically ended when Tim Tebow threw his last wounded duck into the turf.  How do these category shake out?  As you can see, there isn't a whole lot to go on.  But, based on this highly scientific study, I have decided to root for the Patriots - just like the last time these teams played in the Big Game.  Let's hope that this time it turns out better.

Feb 2, 2012

Eight Deadly Words

I've made no secret over the years of my fondness for sportswriter Bill Simmons.  Anyone who can get me to read a 736 page book on basketball - a sport I really don't even care for that much - must be a pretty good writer.  I've been reading just about everything he has written for close to ten years now.  Recently he launched a new website - GRANTLAND.COM - that has a bunch of super-talented writers covering all kinds of sports and cultural topics.  I don't agree with everything they write, nor do I agree with everything Simmons writes.  But I enjoy reading their stuff and it gets you thinking.

The other day, Simmons wrote about the NBA (naturally) and included what he called "the eight deadliest words in sports."  Because that's the way we've always done it.  It really got me thinking about how that phrase in not just deadly in sports, it can be deadly in every area of life.  It kills new ideas, hampers innovation, thwarts progress.  Now, I can relate to what Professor Umbridge says in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  We don't need progress for the sake of progress.  But...  There is a time and a place for staying the main road.  And there is a time to find a new road.

Because that's the way we've always done it.  Isn't that how I got so fat?  Isn't that what nearly killed American car companies?  Isn't that what has (probably) irreparably damaged the newspaper industry and the music industry?  How many businesses have gone under because that phrase seemed to be tacked onto their mission statement?  How many churches are struggling because they won't change to meet their new neighbors or the new culture? I'm not talking about changing the inherent values or heart of something.  But we certainly can look at changing the way things are done.

There are times when we face a situation and there is a logical solution.  It makes sense.  It is just what to do.  Years ago, I asked myself why no one ever used waffles as a bread substitute in breakfast sandwiches.  No one could give me a good answer.  So I tried it and it was glorious.  Waffles, cheese, sausage, eggs.  Amazing stuff.  Thinking myself a genius, I went one further and asked why no one ever used Toaster Strudels as the bread substitute in breakfast sandwiches.  So I tried it.  Blueberry strudels, egg, cheese.  It was one of the most disgusting things I ever ate.  There was a very good reason why no one used glorified Pop Tarts in a breakfast sandwich.  [Years later, some brilliant person would go through this same question process with donuts and a hamburger.  The jury is still out on that one.  All the people who have tried it are dead.]

But there are time when that solution doesn't make the best sense.  But we keep doing it.  Why?  It reminds me of a story I heard in a sermon years ago.  There was a family once that got together for Sunday dinner - a very special tradition.  The youngest son had recently gotten engaged.  This was his new fiance's first big family dinner.  To reach out to her, the mother took the new daughter-in-law-to-be aside and was showing her how to go about crafting the meal.  She explained all about what is included: mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, homemade biscuits, peach salad.  Finally, she got to the centerpiece - the roast.  She took out a magnificent piece of meat out of the fridge and laid it on the counter.  She sprinkled it with salt and spices.  Then she took a huge knife and cut the end off of it and placed it into the roasting pan and slid it into the oven.  The girl was a bit hesitant, but couldn't help herself.  "Why did you cut the end off the roast?"  The mother looked at her quizzically and replied, "I'm not sure.  Probably because that's the way we've always done it."  The other children all explained that they did the same thing.  Their spouses admitted they didn't understand why, but they did the same thing because the mother had told them to.  No one knew why.  Finally the mother said it was because her mom had told her to.  About that time, the grandmother in question arrived with her bowl of peach salad and basket of bread.  The youngest son looked over and asked her, "Why did you tell mom to cut the end off the roast?"  The grandmother thought for a minute.  "I never told her to do that."  The mother responded, "Yes you did.  Every time I watched you make Sunday dinner, you cut the end off the roast."  The grandmother started to laugh.  "I never told you to do that.  You saw me do it and copied me."  The mom was getting a little frustrated.  "Showed me, told me.  Whatever.  Same thing.  I got it from you."  The grandmother nodded, "Yes, you did.  I cut the end of the roast because I didn't have a roasting pan big enough to fit it in."

In that story, there was no good reason to continue that practice.  It had outlived its purpose.  But no one changed it because that's the way we've always done it.  We hear this all the time.  Think about some things in your life that you would answer with that phrase.  Why do you sleep on the side of the bed you do?  Why do you comb your hair the way you do?  Why do you buy a particular brand of food?  Why do you use a particular translation/version of The Bible?  I know that there are practices I have that don't necessarily need to continue.  I used a rigid folder system on my computer I developed over many year using Windows machines.  Now that I am exclusively on Macs, it isn't as important.  But I can't get over it.  [Shoot, the fact that it took me so long to switch computer brands could fall into that as well.]  We separate our clothes into separate colored loads.  That makes sense, except for the fact that we don't have many new clothes that would be bleeding, we wash in cold water to hold colors, we used detergents that hold colors, and there are new items that help catch colors.  I sleep on the right side of the bed.  I have a pattern I use when brushing my teeth.

There are habits that we get into.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  But those habits can become ruts.  And living in a rut can make you stubborn and rigid.  So when a new idea comes along that genuinely is better than ours, we fight it.  We won't acknowledge its legitimacy.  It can't be a better option because that's the way we've always done it.  This isn't about questioning every single believe or teaching.  But I think there is something to be said about questioning the methods.  Why do we vote on Tuesdays?  Why is there an Electoral College?  Why are there only two political parties?  Those made perfect sense back in the day, when transportation was harder and education was limited.  But are those the best systems now?  I don't think questioning that is the same as questioning the validity of the Constitution or freedom itself.  But some people would raise the hair on their backs just the same.

Those eight words are triggered - and often nullified - by just one word.  Why?  It seems like a bit of a cop out.  It really isn't a good answer.  And it is kind of a testimony to the fact that there may not be a good reason.  It is healthy to ask yourself why you are doing certain things from time to time.  That is how innovators and inventors get started. They look at situation and ask why it is that way.  Then they try to find out if there is a better way to do things.  That is where the Fords and Edisons and Jobses and Zuckerbergs get started.  Why?  But instead of replying the eight words, they answer just two.  Why not?

Jesus was like this.  He was approaching a religious establishment that had done things a certain way for hundreds of years.  Back in the day, when The Law was established, it made sense.  But over the centuries, traditions and teachings had added to and colored that Law.  It was barely recognizable.  And, the whole point of The Law was to point to the coming Messiah.  So when Jesus showed up, there was a whole lot of people who could only answer His appearance with because that's the way we've always done it.  The leaders would ask Jesus why he was doing certain things.  And He would more often than not respond back with a variation of "Why aren't you?"  Why was He hanging around with sinners?  Why was He talking to women?  Why was He hanging out with Gentiles?  Why was He wasting time on children?

The religious establishment was so entrenched in their systems that eventually they killed Jesus.  They couldn't take Him upsetting their apple cart (or temple tables).  Their devotion to their rituals blinded them to a new way to do things.  Jesus's teachings were revolutionary only in the fact that they flew in the face of the rules and structures of the time.  But they were always in agreement with the heart of The Law - "Love God, Love Others."  Like Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart, mind, body, spirit.  Love others as yourself."  The whole of The Law distilled into those things.  But the people had gotten so caught up in only walking one mile and not working on the Sabbath.  They were so worried about keeping up with each individual rule they forgot the WHY behind it.  Why were they not working on the Sabbath?  Why were they supposed to give or pray or sacrifice?

Jesus got so angry at this.  One of the times we saw Him get super angry was when they dragged a crippled man before Jesus to see if He would heal Him on the Sabbath - breaking the Law by "working" on a healing."  Jesus got so ticked because they were so committed that to their rules that they didn't even care about this guy.  He was a pawn, a tool.  They weren't brokenhearted at this man's plight.  They weren't happy he got healed.  They weren't amazed at the miracle or demonstration of God's power.  They were angry that Jesus showed them up.  We saw this same battle time and again.  It didn't stop after Jesus returned to Heaven either.  After the Early Church started, the establishment found themselves fighting time and again with members who were asking "why" and weren't satisfied with the answer.

My great fear is that the modern Church is drifting into this same area.  So many churches are so caught up in doing what they've always done that they are completely missing the fact that the world is dying all around them.   The old programs are not reaching the new culture like they used to.  The old way of doing things is not necessarily going to have the same results.  I'm not calling for an abandonment of the core beliefs of the Church.  I'm saying we need to to examine why we are sharing those beliefs the way we are.  Again, we are becoming so attached to our rules and programs that we often are missing the core message of "Love God, Love Others."  The Bible never told us to sing from a hymnal, have Sunday evening services, have AWANA, do Tuesday night visitation, set up a children's choir, go to youth camp, sit in pews, or have a giant building.  None of those things are necessarily bad things.  BUT, WHY are we doing those things?  Is there a good reason?  If so, then keep on going.  If the answer is because that's the way we've always done it, well, that shouldn't cut it.

I think some churches have gone to the opposite extreme.  They've jettisoned everything - even the important things.  That is NOT what I am advocating.  But, we need to start asking ourselves why we insist on certain things.  Why is the offering put where it is in the order of worship?  Why do you have an invitation?  Or, why don't you ever have one?  Why do you only do Communion twice a year?  Why do you sing the first two verses of a hymn and then skip to the last?  Why do you preach on tithing?  Why do you use that particular Sunday School curriculum?  If you ask that, and at the end decide things should stay the way they are, well you are even more steadfast in your stance.  Good for you.  But if you end up with because that's the way we've always done it, then pray and ask God if there is a better way.

Our final goal should be to increase God's Kingdom, lead more people to Him, share the transformative power of God's Good News, help people grow in their walk with Christ.  The rest of that stuff is all trappings.  It is ways to accomplish those goals.  If we end up spending so much time and efforts on the programs, we'll miss the point.  The reason all of this really hit home with me this week is that I am speaking at chapel on Friday at International Community School.  This may be the last time I address the senior class there.  They are very dear to my heart.  When they were freshmen, the school made the questionable choice of letting me teach them Bible.  I was terrified and in over my head.  I thought about all the Bible classes I had taken over the years.  And I knew that they were going to get some very solid teaching from my fellow Bible teacher, Greg Willson, that would make up for any stupidity I imparted.  So, I approached the class with the simple question of "Why" hanging over everything.  Why does it matter if we believe this?  Why is this so important?  Why did this happen the way it did?  I wasn't so concerned about ramming home the exact order of the Israelite kings as I was asking why the desire to have a king was so significant.  The kids had not really been forced to look at the Bible that way.  [I can't take credit for this.  My college Sunday School teacher, Jeff Kipi, did the same thing with us.  It floored me.  And it changed my life.]  We have had a very special connection from that class onward.  I love those guys and gals.  And it is sad and thrilling to see them moving on.  I see amazing potential in that group of students.  They are the kinds of people who can change the world.  That isn't going to happen by them resorting to because that's they way we've always done it.  It is going to happen by them seeking and looking for new and better ways to do things.  So, if one of these kids comes up to you and asks you why, go on the journey with them to figure that out.  It may force you to change some things.  It may even change you.  And it will give you a better answer when someone asks you why.