Extreme Makeover: Doll Edition

A mother started to play with second-hand dolls on a lark. She wasn’t trying to make a statement. She just wanted to create a doll that had a more natural look. Then the internet happened. From what I can tell, this whole thing started in January 2015. As of right now, just four months later, the Tree Change Doll Facebook page has over 300,000 likes.

The before and after pictures are remarkable. A little nail polish remover, a steady painting hand, and some hand made clothes have created a movement.

treechangedoll

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Stations of the Gospel – Reflections for Good Friday

The idea that I am presenting here is a series of ten reflections. In my setting, I will be printing several small books with these ten reflections on it. The booklets will be placed right inside the entry of our church. At each station there will be a number, and each number will have a corresponding page. Some of the stations have objects to place there. All could be easily modified to not include the object in case you are doing some last-minute planning. All of the Scripture passages come from the Common English Bible.


BEGIN – BAPTISM

Object: A small table with a bowl of water.

Instructions:

You are invited to dip your fingers in the water before you, and place a drop on your own forehead. Feel the water, and remember your baptism.

Mark 1:4, 9-11

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection

This journey begins where Jesus’ journey began—at the water. The water of baptism is a sign of rebirth. To be baptized is to die to your old self, and to rise out of the water as a new creation.

In the United Methodist Church we baptize infants, not because they are sinful and need to be cleansed, but because they are members of the Body of Christ, and are worthy of being marked as such. At baptism, the Holy Spirit makes a special claim on a person. This is claim that cannot be revoked. There is never a need to be re-baptized. The first one counts. No matter what.

From here we will proceed through Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, betrayal, and death. We will reflect on these things, and may encounter trouble along the way. Know that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.


REST ONE – LIFE AND MINISTRY

bread and fishMark 6:35-44

 Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day. Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay and give it to them to eat?”

He said to them, “How much bread do you have? Take a look.” After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.”

He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  Everyone ate until they were full. They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish.  About five thousand had eaten.

Reflection

You cannot separate the life of Jesus from the bread and the fish. One of the only stories that all four gospels tell, it is clear that feeding the hungry was a vital part of what Jesus did. The people came looking for life, and he gave it to them in the form of loaves and fish.

This was so important that the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish—a reminder of how Jesus responded to those in need. The need today is no less demanding. There remains thousands of people in our midst who are hungry. They hunger for bread, comfort, forgiveness, and fellowship. Pause for a moment and ask Jesus what we can do, but know that his answer may be, “You give them something to eat.”


REST TWO – PREDICTION

Object: A blackboard, dry-erase board, or large pad of newsprint

Mark 8:27-33

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Reflection

In the matter of a few moments Peter goes from insightful disciple to vile tempter. In one breath he is able to make the bold claim that Jesus is the messiah, the anointed one of God. In the very next he demonstrates how little he understands about what the messiah must do.

Jesus understood that what he was teaching and doing would get him into trouble with the authorities. He understood that they could not let him live, and he understood that his mission could not be thwarted by their acts of violence. Peter could not accept this. He never did—on this side of the Cross.

Instructions:

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” On the chalkboard in front of you, answer this question. Who is Jesus?


REST THREE – SUNDAY: ENTRY

Object: Palm leaves, possibly saved from Palm Sunday.

Mark 11:7-11

 They brought the [donkey] colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields.

Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.

After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Reflection

This story is usually described as “Palm Sunday.” It is on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. He entered as the city was getting ready to celebrate the Passover, a festival that remembered when the people escaped the power of Egypt, and God threw the Pharaoh into the sea.

Now occupied by the forces of the Roman Emperor, this was a dangerous time. Tempers were high. Rebellious fervor was rampant. In this climate, as the Roman governor entered the city astride a war horse, Jesus entered the city on a donkey. As Pilate entered surrounded by Roman soldiers, Jesus entered while people shouted “Hosanna!” Hosanna means “Save us.”

Instructions:

The Gospel of John tells us that the people cut down palm branches and waved them. Take one, and wave it back and forth. Feel the weight of the leaf in the air. Feel the resistance. Imagine more branches like this one. Imagine the scene. Given the climate of the city, can you imagine the tension? Can you feel the weight of the moment as Jesus made his alternative entrance into the city?


REST FOUR –  MONDAY: TEMPLE

datesObject: A bowl of figs or dates

Instructions:

Take one of these fruit, and eat it as you read this story.

Mark 1:4, 9-11

From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.” The chief priests and legal experts heard this and tried to find a way to destroy him. They regarded him as dangerous because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teaching.

When it was evening, Jesus and his disciples went outside the city. Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up.

Reflection

On the surface, the odd exchange with the fig tree seems random and out of place. Placed here, before and after Jesus goes into the Temple, its meaning becomes more clear: Worship without justice is like a fig tree with no figs.

All things are to bear fruit. The fruit of the Temple is not idle worship, it is the realization of justice. The Temple is a place of sanctuary. When the worship leads to justice, then it is the house of God. When the worship perpetuates injustice, it is just a hideout for crooks.

Jesus came on Sunday to mock the power of Rome. He came on Monday to disrupt the religious capitulation with that power. The withered fig tree was a sign of the impending doom of the Temple.


REST FIVE – TUESDAY: TESTED

Mark 12:28-34

One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Reflection

“You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

When do you feel close to God’s kingdom?

This passage is the last of a series of contentious questions. The legal experts and religious authorities have had enough of him. He is stirring things up too much. He made trouble at the Temple, and they are afraid. They question his authority. They try to trap him with tough questions. Tuesday is full of these kinds of exchanges, but this one is different.

The adversary seems to become an ally, and the rest of the leaders quit while they’re ahead.

“You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

Are you far or near to the Kingdom? Do you understand this commandment? Understanding it draws you near. Live out the commandment, and the Kingdom is at hand.


REST SIX – THURSDAY: BREAD AND CUP

Object: A large loaf of bread and cups of grape juice

Instructions:

Take a piece of bread off of the loaf. Please, don’t be shy. Take a good piece. Take off a piece that you actually have to chew. Eat it slowly. Taste it. Drink the cup of grape juice. Allow the sweet tang to fill your mouth. Breathe deeply as you chew and as your drink. Read this story as you eat your piece of bread. Really—take a big piece, even a second piece if you want. It’s okay. Remember, it only took two loaves to feed 5000.

Linger here with the bread. Linger here with the story. Hear Jesus’ words and know that YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Read them again and know that YOU ARE FORGIVEN. This is not just some symbol. This is the very real presence of God in the bread and cup. Allow that fact to fill you as you read.

Mark 14:22-26

That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.” Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, “It’s not me, is it?” Jesus answered, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl.

The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”

He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.” After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Post Script

As you were eating, did you notice who else was invited? Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by Judas, and what did he do? He broke bread with him. Sometimes the hardest part of the Gospel is realizing who else is invited to this table.


REST SEVEN – THURSDAY: DENIAL

Instructions:

Simply read this story of Jesus’ trial. Do not read it all silently. Read Peter’s words, the ones in bold, out loud.

Mark 6:35-44

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ”

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and “coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.”

But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.”

But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.


REST EIGHT – FRIDAY: TRIAL

Object: Bowl of nails

Mark 15:6-15

During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did.

Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead.

Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?” They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!” Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

Reflection

The crowd had a choice. This crowd, which had kept Jesus protected through much of the week, could now free him. Fear of the crowd’s reaction had kept the chief priests from arresting Jesus earlier in the week. The chief priests understood something about crowds though, they could be swayed.

So the choice was offered. Barabbas was a known insurrectionist. He had been “locked up with rebels.” The people were still looking for the messiah, the one who would deliver them. They could choose between the one willing to kill, or the one willing to die. They could choose between the rebel arrested for insurrection, or the teacher arrested for jealousy.

The choice goes down in history, but it is one we continue to face. What is our path for deliverance? Is it revenge or is it grace? Who do we want to crucify today?

Instruction

If you’ve ever chosen the path of Barabbas, pick up a nail.


REST NINE – FRIDAY: DEATH

Object: Baptismal font in the sanctuary

Instruction

Hold the nail in your hand as you read. Press it into your hand; into your wrist. Not hard enough to hurt you, but hard enough to feel it as you read.

Mark 15:25-41

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left. People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!” In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts.

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark.

At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.

The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.” Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.

Instruction

As you leave, stop by the baptismal font. Touch the waters again. Baptism is death and rebirth. There is no resurrection without death. Go forth knowing that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.


A Maundy Thursday Liturgy

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2015 Mascot Bracket: Final Four

Review all of the other Regions:

Midwest Region

East Region

South Region

West Region

West Virginia Mountaineers, Wyoming Cowboys, Oklahoma State Cowboys, and Duke Blue Devils.

The two cowboys prevail because of the superiority in a closed-quarters fight of a hand gun over a huge musket or a trident. We have a classic Cowboy versus Cowboy matchup. How can we choose? How can we pick orange or yellow?

The 2015 Mascot Bracket comes down to Orange Power Ranger versus Yellow Power Ranger. There's no way to choose.

The 2015 Mascot Bracket comes down to Orange Power Ranger versus Yellow Power Ranger. There’s no way to choose.

The only way to decide is to go to the tie breaker, which is higher seed. Oklahoma State is a 9 seed. Wyoming is a 12 seed. Neither is exactly a powerhouse, but the winner of the 2015 Mascot Bracket is: Oklahoma State.

oklahomastatemascot1

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2015 Mascot Bracket: South Region

Mascot Bracket 2015 is a new game. We’re going “Battle Royal” style. Each site in the tournament will be a separate four-team battle. Throw them all in the ring, and see which mascot emerges. A couple ground rules, this year we’re going with pure Mascots. I gather as much information as I can about the mascot from their logo or the actual running-around guy in the costume. I’m taking everything that the mascot has on its person at face value. All weapons are allowed, but only if they are depicted with a weapon in official logos.

East Region

Midwest Region

West Region

South Region

Charlotte Battle: Duke Blue Devils, North Florida Ospreys, Robert Morris Colonials, San Diego State Aztecs, St. John’s Red Storm. A bird, a man armed with a flag, an ancient warrior, a mythical creature, and a weather system. This is the stuff that makes the Mascot Bracket great. In the past, the Blue Devil and the Red Storm would have been tough to beat. The Blue Devil, based on its origins in a World War I fighting squadron. The Red Storm, being a weather system, were also difficult to outlast. This year the rules are different, and this guy isn’t particularly intimidating. That being said, the Blue Devil sometimes carries a trident, which is the only weapon in the party. Duke moves on.

lumberjack

Portland Battle: Utah Utes, SF Austin Lumberjacks, Georgetown Hoyas, Eastern Washington Eagles. Another team gets a boost from this year’s rule changes. The Hoyas, being basically a Latin preposition, have never fared well. Now though, they’ve got a dog in the fight. The Ute mascot is a motorcycle-riding red-tailed hawk. I’m not allowing the motorcycle in the ring. The Lumberjack is carrying an axe, and that’s okay. It’s the only weapon in the ring.

Louisville Battle: SMU Mustangs, UCLA Bruins, Iowa State Cyclones, UAB Blazers. The Mustangs and Bruins, while formidable, don’t stand a chance here against a dragon and a hybrid tornado-Cardinal. Seriously, the UAB Dragon is one of the coolest and most unique logos in all of sports.

Seattle Battle: Iowa Hawkeyes, Davidson Wildcats, Gonzaga Bulldogs, North Dakota State Bison. This comes down to the Bulldog versus a Bison. While this seems like a one-sided matchup, I think the Bulldog can put up a good fight. In fact the breed of dog was bred to participate in a gruesome ‘sport’ that involved dogs fighting bulls. So while this might be a stretch, I’m going with it, and putting the Bulldogs through.

Houston Battle: For a berth into the Final Four, we see the Blue Devil, the Lumberjack, the Dragon and the Bulldog. If this is one-on-one, the Blazer prevails. But this is Battle Royal Mascot Bracket, so here’s how it goes down: the bulldog get singed. The Lumberjack and the Blue Devil realize their only hope is to team up on the Blazer, are able to bring it down together. Then the Blue Devil turns on the Lumberjack, and uses the extra reach of the trident to prevail.

Check out the Mascot Bracket Final Four.

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blue devil

That trident doesn’t seem super practical, but it would come in handy against a fire-breathing dragon.

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Mascot Bracket 2015: East Region

Mascot Bracket 2015 is a new game. We’re going “Battle Royal” style. Each site in the tournament will be a separate four-team battle. Throw them all in the ring, and see which mascot emerges. A couple ground rules, this year we’re going with pure Mascots. I gather as much information as I can about the mascot from their logo or the actual running-around guy in the costume. I’m taking everything that the mascot has on its person at face value. All weapons are allowed, but only if they are depicted with a weapon in official logos.

South Region

Midwest Region

West Region

The NC State Wolfpack is a tough out.

The NC State Wolfpack is a tough out.

East Region

Pittsburgh Battle: Villanova Wildcats, Lafayette Leopards, North Carolina State Wolfpack, LSU Tigers. Also known as the cats and dogs battle, this one doesn’t seem fair. If we were talking about a one man wolf pack, then the LSU Tigers would probably emerge. A wolf pack, on the other hand, is a dangerous thing.

Seattle Battle: North Iowa Panthers, Wyoming Cowboys, Louisville Cardinals, UC Irvine Anteaters. I so want the Anteaters to do well. I fear however, that while the anteaters could presumably defeat a cardinal, they could not stand up to a Cowboy. If we get to Wyoming versus Oklahoma State, we could have a problem. Which would win in a fight, yellow or orange?

Columbus Battle: Providence Friars, Boise State Broncos, Dayton Flyers, Oklahoma Sooners, Albany Great Danes While the Friars logo reveals a pretty cool mysterious character, there’s nothing to suggest he could do much damage here. The Flyer too seems to be an unarmed man. The Sooner always poses a problem for the Mascot. The history of the Sooner name suggests a rough-and-tumble pioneer character that would be willing to fight, and was probably packing heat. The logo is simply a wagon, which wouldn’t be much good in a fight. The mascot is a horse, which causes a problem in this battle since there is also a bronco in the mix. I love the Great Danes, but there just aren’t enough Scooby Snacks to power the doggies over a couple of horses. Neither unarmed man can beat a horse either, so this looks like the dreaded tie. Tie goes to the higher seed, and the Sooner Schooner rolls on.

Charlotte Battle: Michigan State Spartans, Georgia Bulldogs, Virginia Cavaliers, Belmont Bruins. Two armed men against two tough animals. This one boils down to the weaponry of the Spartans and Cavaliers. I take the Spartan over just about any gunpowderless human.

Syracuse Battle: In the battle for the Final Four, we have Wolf Pack, a Cowboy, a horse, and a Spartan. It’s hard to dismiss the Wolf Pack, even against a gun-carrying cowboy. I just think the pack would break up after one or two of their comrades fell. Wolves are tough, but they aren’t heartless. Any longtime reader of the Mascot Bracket knows that I love me some Spartans, I just don’t see them standing up to a bullet. Yellow Cowboys cut down the nets.

Check out the Mascot Bracket Final Four.

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Pistol Pete is going to be cutting down the nets.

Pistol Pete is going to be cutting down the nets.

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Mascot Bracket 2015: West Region

Mascot Bracket 2015 is a new game. We’re going “Battle Royal” style. Each site in the tournament will be a separate four-team battle. Throw them all in the ring, and see which mascot emerges. A couple ground rules, this year we’re going with pure Mascots. I gather as much information as I can about the mascot from their logo or the actual running-around guy in the costume. I’m taking everything that the mascot has on its person at face value. All weapons are allowed, but only if they are depicted with a weapon in official logos.

East Region

South Region

Midwest Region

West Region

Omaha Battle: Wisconsin Badger, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma State Cowboys. This battle can be renamed, “Target Practice.” Two birds and a badger would be no match for the gun-toting cowboy.

Jacksonville Battle: Arkansas Razorbacks, Wofford Terriers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Harvard Crimson. A very interesting battle between three animals and a color. The color in the past has always meant certain doom, but since I’ve switched to mascots instead of nicknames, Harvard has a chance. The only problem, I cannot seem to find any mascot or logo for Harvard that isn’t just an H on a red shield. Wofford’s entry of a cute little Boston terrier probably wouldn’t last long. While the North Carolina nickname has roots in the Civil War, they now use a ram as a mascot. Wild boars are some of the most fearsome fighters in the animal kingdom. Rams pack an impressive amount of power, as seen in this National Geographic video. This seems like a toss-up, but I’ll lean lightly toward the Razorback because of the sharpness of those teeth. Hakunamatata.

West Region_ Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss ditched the plantation owner in favor of the preppy bear, thus missing a golden opportunity to have the greatest mascot ever.

Jacksonville Battle 2: Xavier Musketeers, Ole Miss Rebels, Baylor Bears, Georgia State Panthers. Colonel Reb, the old man leaning on his cane, was over ten years ago. In 2010, there was a contest to choose a new mascot. Some believe the rightful winner of the contest was none other than the trap-recognizing Admiral Ackbar. If they had, they would be the odds-on favorites to win this thing. The school however, adopted Rebel Black Bear as their official mascot. This leaves us with two bears, a panther, and a guy with a sword. I don’t see the sword-yielding musketeer getting very far in this battle, so I’m invoking the higher-seed rule. Plus, I think the suit coat and tie would limit Reb’s mobility in a fight.

brutusPortland Battle: VCU Rams, Ohio State Buckeyes, Arizona Wildcats, Texas Southern Tigers. Another interesting battle between three animals and a Brutus. In the past, the Ohio State Buckeyes never stood a chance. The plant always lost to everything. This year though, I’m using the mascot instead. They have a fighting chance. Brutus is basically a human with a huge head. With no visible weapon, he hardly seems like a formidable foe. This battle comes down to ram versus tiger. Another tough choice, but I think the tiger would stand down against the power of the charging ram.

Los Angeles Battle: In the battle for the Final Four, I think the Cowboy has the clear advantage, if he is a good shot. The bear, ram, and razorback are all tough outs. One missed shot, and he’s in trouble. I’m not even sure if a six shooter would be enough against a bear in close-up combat, but I have to stick to the rules, and push Oklahoma State into the Final Four

Check out the Mascot Bracket Final Four.

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The OK State Cowboy has a high creepiness factor with the regular body and the plastic head, but it's that piece he's carrying that puts him into the Final Four.

The OK State Cowboy has a high creepiness factor with the regular body and the plastic head, but it’s that piece he’s carrying that puts him into the Final Four.

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Mascot Bracket 2015: Midwest Region

Mascot Bracket 2015 is a new game. We’re going “Battle Royal” style. Each site in the tournament will be a separate four-team battle. Throw them all in the ring, and see which mascot emerges. A couple ground rules, this year we’re going with pure Mascots. I gather as much information as I can about the mascot from their logo or the actual running-around guy in the costume. I’m taking everything that the mascot has on its person at face value. All weapons are allowed, but only if they are depicted with a weapon in official logos.

East Region

West Region

South Region

Midwest Region                  

Louisville Battle: Kentucky Wildcat, Hampton Pirate, Cincinnati Bearcat, Purdue Boilermaker. The Pirate and the Boilermaker are humans with weapons, and neither the wildcat nor the bearcat are particularly formidable in a fight to the death. Really, this comes down to the big guy with a big hammer versus a pirate with a sword. This is a tough battle, and I’m not sure how it would go down. I’m giving it to Purdue Pete though, because the Pirate has a tough blind-side.

valpo 1Columbus Battle: West Virginia Mountaineer, Buffalo Bull, Maryland Terrapin, Valparaiso Crusader. This is a tough group, but I don’t think that the big turtle would last very long. So we have a buffalo, an armored knight, and a guy in buckskin with a huge gun. At first glance, this seems like a clear example of a man with superior weapons beating the animal and the other guy. The buffalo however, is a pretty formidable opponent. This is where I wish I knew more about guns. All I know about the Mountaineer’s gun is that it is big. Really big. According to this article, it is enough gun to take down a black bear, so my only question is if he could reload and fire quick enough for it to be useful in the closed-quarters of the Mascot Bracket battle ring. Depending on which logo you look at, the Crusader does not appear to be armed with anything more than either a shield or his own dukes. I don’t think that shield is stopping any firepower, and armor or no, I’m picking the Mountaineer over this guy in closed-quarter combat.

Pittsburgh Battle: Butler Bulldogs, Texas Longhorns, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Northeastern Huskies. Three animals and a belligerent Irishman. If this battle was taking place on March 17, I’d probably give it to the Irish. A Longhorn however, would be pretty tough to bring down. No matter how much Guinness-fueled strength was available.

The most interesting battle of the region.

The most interesting battle of the region.

Omaha Battle: Wichita State Shockers, Indiana Hoosiers, Kansas Jayhawks, New Mexico State Aggies. This is one a tough call. We have the Lady Elaines, Ron Swansons, Foghorn Legorns, and this thing. Actually, Indiana doesn’t have a mascot or any logo beyond the IU symbol. Howie Hoosier continues to fight the good fight to be named as Indiana’s mascot, but at 127 likes on Facebook, there’s not exactly a groundswell of support. The Hoosiers are out. The Jayhawk is fried chicken after one shot. In the end, I believe that whatever dark magic that is animating the shock of wheat cannot be beaten with a simple gun shot, not matter how formidable the mustache.

Cleveland Battle: In the battle for the Final Four, we have the Boilermaker (man with hammer) Mountaineer (man with gun), Longhorn (big animal with horns), and the Shocker (magical wheat-creature). So here’s how it plays out: the Longhorn tramples the shock of wheat. A bullet might not hurt it, but a thousand pounds of hoofs would. The Mountaineer is able to take out the guy with a hammer, then has time to reload as the Longhorn plays in the hay. West Virginia makes it to the Final Four.

Check out the Mascot Bracket Final Four.

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The trophies on this hunting trip include a Buffalo, a Longhorn, and a guy with a hammer.

The trophies on this hunting trip include a Buffalo, a Longhorn, and a guy with a hammer.

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I thank God for Psalm 137

I’m thankful for Psalm 137.

I thank God for its ugliness. I thank God for the anger, the pain, and the anguish.

I thank God for the barely contained rage that drips from every word.

The Bible has its fair share of troubling passages. Perhaps none are more troubling than these nine verses that end with a cry for infanticide. It begins with these words:

Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down,

crying because we remembered Zion.

We hung our lyres up in the tree there

because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;

Our tormentors requested songs of joy:

“Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.

But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

Ravaged by the exile, the writer of Psalm 137 feels pain that goes beyond mere homesickness. His home has been destroyed. He and his people have been uprooted and taken to a foreign soil. A once proud people have seen their monarchy collapse. The glory days of David and Solomon are a distant memory. The grand Temple, the house of God on earth and center of all commercial and cultural activity, is rubble. God, who delivered the people from slavery, who gave them the Law to be the sign of their special relationship, who gave them the Land in which to dwell and worship, who made a people out of no people, cannot be heard. Everything the people knew was gone. In the midst of this devastation they are asked to sing. This is where their tormentors asked them to sing a song of joy. Psalm 137 is the response.

It continues with a plea for Jerusalem. The song longs for the memory of the city, and promises to keep it fresh. The promise of remembering is an important one. Time and again God tells the people to remember. Remembering keeps the people alive. It keeps them God’s people, and at this point, memory is all they have. Memory not only of the city, but of God’s presence in their lives. And then the Psalm goes to a more recent, bitter memory:

Remember what the Edomites did on Jerusalem’s dark day:

“Rip it down, rip it down!

All the way to its foundayions!” they yelled.

The memory of the taunt is a dark one, and it leads finally to this:

Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,

a blessing on the one who pays you back the very deed you did to us!

A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock.”

I thank God for Psalm 137.

It is a devastating plea made in the midst of a devastating time. It is easy to read these words and be horrified. How could anyone wish something such as this? How could this be in our Holy Book? How could this be in the same book that holds Jesus’ plea for love of enemy? It is easy to read these words and just slowly walk away. Instead, I invite you to sit with them. Sit with the devastation that must have come to the people. Sit with the vision of what they experienced. Sit with the defeat at the hands of the conquerors, and remember that the Psalmist asks for nothing more than what was done to them.

I thank God for Psalm 137 because it gives me a place for anger. It gives me a place for devastation. It gives me a place to cry out. It gives me permission to give God my worst. I love the gentle words of Jesus. I love to read about the Lord as my shepherd, leading me through the valley of the shadow of death. I love to hear the promise of the prophets looking forward to the time when swords will be bent into plows. Psalm 137 though, gives me a place for other emotions. It gives me a place for all my anger.

It gives me a chance to react to beheadings of healthcare workers. It gives me a way to react to school girls being kidnapped. It gives me space to want to exact my tooth from the one who abuses their spouse or child. It gives me permission to scream, because sometimes a light, well-thought-out, gentle prayer just doesn’t satisfy me. Psalm 137 gives me room to rage when grace still feels a long way off. A closer look though, reveals that grace is contained even within this poem.

This poem is about the desire for revenge. It is about the very human yearning to exact punishment for wrong doing. It is about a people looking to take an eye for an eye, or in this case, a child for a child. The people were destroyed. Their children were presumably murdered in front of them, and this poem contains within it the collective rage of a people not only destroyed, but tormented afterwards. “Sing us a song,” their captors say.

Remember though, that this is a poem about the yearning for revenge. It is not a story of revenge fulfilled. It is a plea for God to take out God’s wrath, but the pleas are left unanswered. The cries are left unheeded. God’s voice is not heard. There is no response, at least not here. Eventually Cyrus the Great of Persia overthrew Babylon, and allowed the people to return. Eventually the people were restored. Eventually the people were allowed to return home. The Temple was rebuilt. The walls of the city were remade.

Eventually a savior came.

In the face of injustice, oppression, and violence, I don’t often react like a gentle lamb. Revenge is a powerful impulse. Just ask Liam Neeson. We love the action hero going on a quest for vengeance. We love that delicious moment when the evil doers get what’s coming to them. This doesn’t happen here.

And this is another reason I love Psalm 137. God’s response to this call for vengeance goes unheeded. The people are restored, but not through vengeance. They are restored through the suffering servant. They are restored through the lamb. When I am ready to boil over, this is an important reminder.

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He drew in the sand. Godspell Lent, part 3 #tryLENT

This is part three of the Godspell journey in Lent. The theme for the week is Conflict, and the song is “By My Side.”

Part 1: Prepare Ye the Way.

Part 2: Jesus Plays The Clock Game.

heart in the sandHe drew in the sand.

The woman was in front of him. As were the Pharisees and legal experts who brought her to him and the regular crowds there in the Temple.

She was faced with public humiliation and scorn in the very least. Capital punishment, though unlikely, still placed on the table before her. A pawn in a game played by powerful men, the woman has no name. We know nothing of her history. Nothing of her circumstances. We know only that she is a slut, an adulteress, unworthy of being treated as a human, and we know that only because the powerful men say so.

“Caught in the act of adultery,” is what they say. How exactly they caught her is unclear. Was she set up? Was she raped? Where is the man? They claim to be holding to the Law, but the fact is, the men care little about the Law. They use it for their own good. They use it for their own benefit, setting themselves up over and above all others. They aren’t interested in justice. If they cared about the law, then where is the man? Leviticus 20:10 requires that both the man and the woman caught in adultery are to be executed. The alternative is that the woman wasn’t yet married. Adultery laws were based entirely on property rights, so if the woman wasn’t yet completely the property of another, than the man did nothing wrong. Instead, if she was simply betrothed to another man, she alone would suffer the consequences.

And while this sort of inter-gospel speculation is something I usually avoid, I cannot help but see this as a possible part of the story. While the accusers saw simply a woman who could be used in their game, perhaps Jesus saw something else. When Jesus looked at this woman, a woman pregnant and betrothed to another, perhaps he saw part of his own story. This, clearly, is pretty wild speculation, but it is speculation that fits. This whole story is wrought with speculation. There are dependable reasons to think that John 8:1-11 is not authentically John. There is good reason to think it was added later, maybe much later, than the already late writing of the Gospel of John. In most modern Bibles, the fact that this story isn’t found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of John is noted. Yet it remains a part of the story. It remains so because it feels like it fits.

In the musical Godspell this story is a turning point. It is a place where the community starts to question. This is where the community starts to wonder. The telling of this story is not done in the third person. It is not acted with frivolity and joy. It is the source of genuine discord, and a lot hangs in the balance of Jesus’ reaction. His response is a part of the cultural understanding of Jesus. Even those that know little of the man know the words that are attributed to him, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” In the musical, there is a moment of tension before the community comes back together. The response to this crisis is the song “By My Side,” a beautifully haunting song that describes the groups resolve to move forward. The song however, ends with Judas deciding once and for all he had enough. At the end of the song, the community was tested by the conflict, and most of them decide to stick with Jesus even if doing so can be difficult. Judas decides to betray Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, the passage plays an important role in seeing what is at stake. The story isn’t about the law or justice. It’s not even really about grace. The story is about the leaders operating under the system that creates winners and losers, and about how Jesus refused to play along. The leaders care nothing about the woman nor her supposed sins. All they care about is beating Jesus. They want to trap him. They put him in a situation which cannot be won. Either he picks to condemn her, which upholds the Law, but jeopardizes him in the eyes of the Roman government, who are the only ones able to inflict capital punishment; or he chooses to let her go, thus making a mockery of the Law. They think they have him cornered. Either way he breaks the law. And how does Jesus respond?

He plays in the sand.

He refuses to get caught in their trap. Instead of seeing a pawn placed in front of him as a challenge, he sees a woman. His answer befuddles those that sought to trap him, and they leave one by one.

In our story of Godspell, this is when Judas had enough. This is the moment it was just too much to take. He wanted there to be a winner and loser, and he wanted to be on the winning side. Jesus, on the other hand, is not on anyone’s side. He is not interested in winning and losing. He was not willing to get caught up in the conflict – at least not in this conflict. He was not going to choose between the Law and grace because this is a false choice. I’m not saying that Jesus avoided conflict. He simply chose to meet conflict on his ground, in his way. He faced the conflict with nonviolence, with the power of grace and forgiveness, and with a will that was in perfect union with God the Father.

He faced the ultimate conflict when he faced the cross. Those that crucified him saw that as the ultimate trap. Finally, they forced his hand. They asked him if he was king. They demanded that he either declare himself King and attempt to rule, or  face death and be defeated. When he hung from the cross they thought they finally had him, but once again, Jesus refused to play along.

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Jesus hosts The Clock Game: “Higher, Higher, Higher”

Part two of our #TryLENT journey with the Godspell, the musical. Read Part one: Prepare Ye the Way.

Remember the Clock Game? It is a The Price is Right classic, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. The premise is so simple: just name the exact price of the prize, and you win it. You have as many guesses as you can muster in the 30 seconds on the clock. The contestant says a price, and the host says simply “higher,” or “lower,” until the right price is found. Above is a video of a woman who won $1 million playing the game. It helps that she nailed the first price on the first guess. It also helped that the second price was a nice round number. Still, it was an impressive feat.

This is the second part of our Godspell journey, and there is a great part of the musical that tells the story of Matthew 18:21-35. It is the story of a servant who owes his master ten thousand talents. I think the amount, taking exchange rates and translations into account, is one bajillion dollars. Actually, it is an amount that equals 60 million days of labor, so it may as well be a bajillion. When the master wants to collect the debt, the servant begs for mercy and promises to pay the master back. Clearly this is absurd promise. It would take him over 150,000 years to pay the master back. The master though, takes compassion on the servant, and forgives the entire debt. It feels like a happy ending, but then the servant goes and sees a fellow servant who owes him money. The second servant, facing a debt of about two month’s pay, seeks the same mercy. It is refused. When the master gets wind of the refusal, he’s mad. “I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).

This is a great parable about forgiveness, and it is important to hear the echo of the Lord’s Prayer in the background, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” On its own, it is a great fable about compassion and how we should behave as a people who have been granted mercy. Our of our gratitude for the mercy we have been shown, we should show others the same mercy. Given Jesus’ intro to the story however, where he plays a little bit of the Clock Game, it takes an even greater weight.

Yes, Jesus plays the Clock Game with the disciples as a part of a long teaching about the nature of the community Jesus is forming. Back at the beginning of the chapter Jesus is asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” (Matthew 18:1). His answer includes several parables and tweetable quotes, like:

      “I assure you that if you don’t turn your life around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom.” (18:3)

 

    “Those who humble themselves like this child will be the greatest in the kingdom. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcome me.” (18:4)”If your hand causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away.” (18:8)”If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine to search for the one that wandered off?” (18:13)”If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together… But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others.” (18:15-16)

The disciples are taught that humility matters. They are taught to avoid sin as much as they can, but Jesus acknowledges that sin is going to happen. So he tells them how to work to bring people back into community. He tells individuals to do all that they can (I’m assuming that the cutting off the hand thing is hyperbole) to avoid sin. He is also telling the community to work hard at keeping in community – even in the face of those that sin against you. So Peter, who seems to be getting it, starts to play The Clock Game.

The prize: Community. It is the ability to stay together as the Body. It is nothing less than entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, which is inseparable from connection to the Community. So Peter guesses at the price of community. His first guess is seven times. Jesus’ response? “Higher.”

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive them as many as seven times?’

“Jesus said, ‘Not just seven times, but seventy and seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

So does Jesus mean 77 times?

Higher.

Does he mean 70 times 7 times?

Higher.

Does he mean a bajillion times?

Now we’re getting closer.

This feels like an impossible task, but the task of staying in community is never easy. Being in community is full of difficulty. It is full of pain, pitfalls, and disappointment. Being a community means that faulted, hurtful, selfish people are going to come together for long enough to see the faults, the hurt, and the selfishness.Yet it is only in community that we may know Christ.

The only way to God is through community. Are there moments of individual revelation? Of course. Are there moments when solitude is a holy experience? Yes. But any full pathway to God includes others. It includes doing the hard work of justice, mercy, kindness, grace, and love. And if we are going to be in community, we need to forgive. Day by day, every day. We are need of forgiveness, and called to extend forgiveness to others. It is not an easy task. It takes a lasting, growing, long-term relationship with Christ and others to be able to remain in community.

Day by day, the Godspell song says. Day by day I pray for three things, to “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.” Those things don’t come easily. They don’t come magically after saying a prayer, or after having water poured on your head at baptism. Seeing God more clearly is a process of practicing intentional grace. The only way to see God more clearly is to see God in the face of others. See God in the face of strangers, in the face of homeless man on the street, in the face of immigrants struggling to make a life, in the face of the women on your screen with nothing else on, in the face of those that want to do us harm. It is no easy task to see God clearly. I’d much prefer a caricature of God, one that looks like me, acts like me, worships like me, works hard like me, and thinks like me. So Day by day I pray. I pray for the compassion it takes to forgive. I pray that God will have the same kind of compassion on me. And I play The Clock Game.

How many times will I be forgiven? How many times am I called to forgive my brother and sister? How many times will I be invited into community? How many times can I see the face of God in another? How many days will I have to live in the Kingdom, if I but answer the call? How many times will Christ call me back?

Seven. Higher

Seventy Seven. Higher…

Seventy times Seven. Higher…

Higher…

Higher…

 

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