Friday, March 24, 2006

how the duke blue devils steal my joy -or- how march madness reflects the mind of God

my name is jen and i'm a march madness addict. i love the games. i love making a bracket. i love keeping track of the scores. it's like having the super bowl last over several weekends. it's fabulous. when march rolls around i become a full-on guy. i handicap the teams and carefully make a bracket. i never fail to do horribly, but it's fun to cheer the teams on.

i realized the depth of my fanaticism during spring break of my senior year in college. i was enjoying a week in a time share in orlando with my girlfriends and around came final four weekend. i spent a lot of time reading about the upcoming games and attempting to talk about them with my fellow vacationers. that did not go over well. only one of the other girls cared about college basketball and her beloved kentucky had already been eliminated. but duke was still in it. duke is my team and has been since i was in 4th grade. i'm surprised i didn't attempt to go to college there, but i digress...

it was the night of the final and the girls wanted to rent a movie. what?!?! they had no comprehension of the battle that was about to ensue and the importance of being an active observer of that battle. after no short battle of our own, the majority ruled. we rented a chick movie. i don't remember what it was, but i do remember it being horribly sappy and telling them so. they all finally went to bed...and i had the big tv all to myself to watch The Game. it was wonderful, thrilling, engrossing, and horribly disappointing. i think it went to at least 1 overtime but my team lost. i cried with coach k that year. if only i'd been watching the whole time--maybe we would have won!

fast forward to present day. i attacked my bracket with vigor this year, even wagering $5 on the hopes of earning a first place prize of $190. the money didn't mean anywhere near as much as the bragging rights as the winner. work was abuzz with the distraction. comraderie and competition filled the air. updates were published. and i bragged about casting my confidence behind duke to win it all again this year. they have a tradition i said. they have an historical coach. jj redick is one of the best college players of all time. so went my marketing campaign.

duke battled their way through a tight first round game that made me nervous. they destroyed george washington in the second round. and then came lsu last night. it all fell apart at the end of the game, and for a little while, i hated basketball. i watched redick cry and hug his teammates as the seconds ground out of his last college game. then i changed the channel.

there's something entirely passionate about march madness. the conference tournaments in the weeks before and the selection show determine the 64 teams that get to play the last games of the year to determine the "best." seniors play their final games here. no name schools topple giants. no one knows what to expect at any time. nearly every game is a highlight reel on its own. the final 3 seconds are filled with talk of 2-possession games. in no other sport is it so close. at no other time is american sport so desperately primal.

the desperation is the appeal. it's a battle royale spread out over 3 weekends every spring. i wonder if the roman citizens looked forward to the tournaments in the coliseum as much. sport has been around ever since people used tools enough to gain leisure time. we played at war when we weren't actually at war. isn't that what it all is? just war games with different weapons? i think we're all hard-wired to battle in some way. if it's for a cause, the Kingdom, ourselves, or basketball, we all participate in battle. this is especially true for those of us who are believers. as we are being renewed with the mind of Christ, we see more and more the spiritual battle that rages all around us. and even more ordinarily, we feel the tension of the battle that rages within us between our flesh and the desires of God.

march madness can provide lessons for us as believers. on a basic level, we need to show the same passion for Christ as we do our favorite basketball team. the amazing thing about the spiritual battle is that our team (namely the Trinity) will always win out in the end. there's no reason to be disappointed, despite the enemy trying to tell us differently.

i think it's also notable that the teams that win the tournament aren't necessarily the ones with the best players, but those that play as one and listen to their coach. that speaks volumes to me about how we need to function as the unified body of Christ, always listening to the voice of God. we shouldn't get caught up in the spectacular talent of another "player" and let them do all the spiritual work. this battle belongs to all of us. we need to be complementary to the strengths and weaknesses of the Body in order to move forward to victory. this victory can come for the Kingdom as a whole or for each believer personally as the redeemed self wins out over the dead flesh.

i thank God that i can see Him move in something like college basketball. that He can use it to reflect His heart is a beautiful thing. And it makes me even happier that call Him Abba.

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