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

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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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clock game

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Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. It begins in the middle of the story, and ends before it’s over.

Mark begins John baptizing people in the Jordan River. There’s no wise men, no manger or shepherds. There’s no virgin Mary or stunned Joseph. There’s no Christmas at all. There’s just John, the wild and wooly prophet telling people to change their lives and minds, and look forward to the coming one. Jesus shows up pretty quickly, and is baptized. As he comes out of the water, Jesus hears a voice from the heavens, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Thus marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Thus marks the beginning of the musical Godspell. Thus marks our beginning of Lent, and our photo journal. For the next few weeks I will be writing and reflecting on different themes, songs, and stories that are found in Godspell. After a prologue, Godspell begins with John the Baptist blowing the shofar and calling the people to baptism. In our production, the children are the first ones up. Then they bring the adults with them to the stage. We sing joyfully, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” until Jesus comes to be baptized as well. It is the start of the musical. More importantly, it is the start of our journey. We are invited this week to take pictures of things that makes us think of “Prepare the Way,” and words like begin, embark, baptize, water, and Spirit. Some began the journey by sharing pictures, all of which you can see on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter using the hashtag #tryLENT. These are some that were shared on various social media:

Announce

Announce

Begin

Begin

Start

Start

Water

Water

The Jordan River

The Jordan River

 

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It begins with these words: “From dust were you formed, and to dust you will return. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” These were the words I used as I applied ashes to the foreheads and hands of those that came forward on Ash Wednesday. As the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday is a chance to take the sign of the cross in ash, and begin the journey toward Easter. We begin the season of Lent with reminder of our own mortality, a call to repentance, and a call to faith.

Why then, on the first Sunday of Lent do we share the story of Jesus being baptized? Why the sudden shift from Death, mortality, and repentance to baptism? Because it really isn’t that much of a shift. The words of the imposition of ashes are a poignant reminder, and an apt starting point for the journey of Lent.

“From dust you were formed and to dust you will return.” This has not only a theological truth rooted in the second creation story as found in Genesis 2. It has a scientific truth in our understanding of the cosmos. Carl Sagan is famously quoted as saying, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” All of this is to say that we are mortal. The human body was made as a fragile vessel.

When we take on the ash of the cross we are reminded of the simple fact that we will die. The truth of death is one of the only universals of life. It is something we all share. Yet it it is a truth we seldom want to acknowledge. It is good, every now and then, to be reminded of our own mortality. Not to dwell in morbidity or to scare people into believing. Instead, I like to remind myself and others of our mortality so as to savor every breath. Yes, we were formed from dust and to dust we will return. But in between, we are fill with breath. We are filled with life. We are filled with spirit.

On Ash Wednesday my daughter came forward to receive ashes. I placed my finger on her forehead, rubbed some dirt on her and said, “From dust you were formed, and to dust you will return.” I looked into her deep brown eyes and I could scarcely get the words out. It was too much. It was the truth, but in that moment it felt like too much truth. Somehow I got the words out. I was thankful that this was not the end of the imposition. I had more words to speak. Through my tears, I put my hand on her shoulder and continued, “Repent, and believe in the good news.”

And thus we get back to the beginning. “Repent and believe in the good news,” was the heart of John’s message while he was baptizing. It was Jesus’ first message after coming back from the wilderness. In Mark 1:16, Jesus says, “Now is the time! Here comes the God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust the good news” (Common English Bible). This translation gives us the meaning for repent. For too many teachers and preachers repentance has to do with shame and guilt. Repentance though, is not about shame. It is about orienting. It is not about looking back, it is about looking ahead. It acknowledges that we have fallen short, but repentance does not allow us dwell on sin. When we repent, we turn. At the beginning of Lent, and at the beginning of this journey, we are invited to repent.

Turn away from those things that distract us from God. Turn away from the things that pull us away from life. Turn away from the things that get in the way of loving God and loving others. Turn toward forgiveness and reconciliation. Turn toward justice, healing, and peace. Turn toward grace. Repent, and believe the good news. And what is that good news? It goes back to Jesus being baptized. When he got out of the water, there was a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11, Common English Bible).

The ashes are a reminder of our mortality. They are reminder that we must turn away from the things that keep us from life and toward the things of God. And they are reminder of this good news that we may all share. “You are God’s son. You are God’s daughter, whom God dearly loves. In you God finds happiness.” To believe this statement is as true of me as it is of Jesus is not to believe I am the messiah. It is to understand that God’s love is so full, so abundant, so steadfast, that even I am God’s son. I was formed from dust, given the breath of life, and offered the water of baptism. I am God’s son, adopted into God’s family not because I earned my way to such a distinction, but only by the grace of God.

This is good news. This is truly remarkable news. This is amazing news. It is the kind of news I want to share. It is the kind of news that makes me want to sing. “Prepare the way of the Lord. Repent, and believe in the good news. Prepare the way for a journey with Christ.”


 From February 25-March 3 we’re invited to reflect on “Day by Day.” This song in the musical comes in a time when the community coming together. The song includes the beautiful prayer “See thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.” So the words we should look for are things like follow, grow, see, community, friendship. Please share pictures using #tryLENT


 

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For as long as I am able, and for as long as you want me to

carry“Will you carry me to bed?” she asks.

“Of course,” I say. I set aside the laptop, and get up off my chair. “One, two, up,” I say as she leaps up into my arms. I hold her close, smell her hair, kiss her head.

“Wait a second,” I say as I realize something. “Weren’t you just in the bathroom brushing your teeth?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says sheepishly.

“And you came in here to ask me to carry you to bed?”

“Yes.”

The bathroom where she was brushing her teeth is across the hall from her room. She was literally 15 steps from her bed when she finished rinsing. I was sitting in my chair, down the hall, in another room.This meant she walked an extra 40 feet or so to come get me to carry her to bed instead of just crawling in herself. I chuckle, and as I squeeze her through the door, he legs hits against the frame.

“I’m sorry sweety, are you okay?” I ask her as she falls into bed. I can tell it probably hurt, and I feel terrible that I banged her into the door. “I’m not sure I can carry you any more, you’re getting so big. You don’t fit through the door.”

Now she’s got her head buried in her pillow and she doesn’t respond as I  go and get her little sister. I pick her up from in front of the sink, carry her to her lofted bed and gently toss her in. She giggles. Then I notice that her sister is still laying with her head in her pillow. Then I notice her shoulders shuddering. It’s the telltale sign of sobbing. Now I’m afraid that I really hurt her leg.

“Are you okay? Did I really hurt you?” I ask as I lower myself to her bed and place my hand on her back.

“My leg is fine,” she says through her tears.

“Then what’s the matter?”

“You said you can’t carry me any more.”

I carry my daughters a lot. I think they know that there is a rare occasion that I deny scooping them up into my arms. I know it’s a sure way to get a big hug, and usually more. “I’ll carry you, but I get tired, so you have to kiss my cheek to give me strength,” I tell them. In the morning, I’m a rickshaw as my sleepy daughter gets ready for school. Every morning I can judge how well she slept by how much I have to carry her. Sometimes it’s just from her bed to the bathroom. After some late bed times, it is to the bathroom, then back to her room, then to the kitchen before she can bring herself to use her own legs. I never mind. Like I said, it’s a great way to get some cheek kisses. My little one and I have a whole routine that is like our own secret handshake, except with ear lobes and noses.

As she sobs into her pillow I realize the mistake I made was not in being careless with her body. It was being careless with her heart.

“Oh sweetheart,” I say. “I can still carry you. Of course I can still carry you,” I say as I turn her over and scoop her into my arms. The tears slow.

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I should have said, ‘I have to be more careful with you,’ I just felt bad that I banged your leg into the door. Next time we’ll just have to go in sideways or something, okay?”

She smiles and nods and squeezes me a little tighter. I look her in the eye and say, “I will carry you for as long as I am able, and as long as you want me to. I promise.”

It is a sincere promise. I will carry her as long as I am able and as long as she wants. I know that eventually one of those things will come. Physically, there is sure to be a time when I cannot carry her. She will become a grown woman. I will become an old man. To be honest though, the ability to carry her is one of the reasons I workout. In our last house, the ability to carry them both up the stairs without getting winded was a highlight of my fitness level on par with finishing my first 5K.

I know that there will be a time when she may be physically small enough for me to carry her, but she will not want her Daddy to do such childish things any more. I seldom tell her to “grow up” in admonishment. I know that she will. There will be a time when I put out my arms, and count, “one, two, up,” and she won’t leap into my arms. There will never, however, be a time when I won’t be willing to try.

This is my promise. For as long as I am able, and for as long as you want me to; I will carry you.

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