Posted on 3/19/2013 4:43 PM By Trevor Sides
The human tendency – habit? addiction? – to transcend
is insatiable. Instead of multi-layered ziggurats built to reach the heavens, our postmodern Babels can take on strange forms. Or, to be more precise, formless forms full of meaning – no matter how trivial or contrived.
I include myself in this insatiable climb for glory. If you’re like me, then you’ve been analyzing nonstop the NCAA Tournament since Sunday in hopes of putting together the perfect bracket.
Do you know what the odds are to pick the perfect NCAA Tournament bracket? One in 9.2 quintillion.
Yet we think it’s possible. We respond like Lloyd Christmas.
Variation after variation, crazy scenario after crazy scenario (the Rams win it all!), our sideways pyramids promise us a chance to master the most intense form of the American sports industrial complex: I picked the perfect tournament. I saw what none could see.
It’s completely ridiculous. March Madness is, to a large degree, a construction of modern television and the NCAA’s desire to make lots of money. Not that any of that is wrong per se, but when you get right down to it, the NCAA Tournament has become what it’s become because it has been ascribed
meaning – by the media, by athletic directors, by us. It’s not “real,” you might say. But we all want to see our name on the last line of the bracket.
A Digital Tower to the Heavens
Speaking of non-reality, how 'bout the comeback of classic arcade games? Over at Grantland today
, there is a fascinating piece by Michael Weinreb about a man named George Leutz who played Q*bert
for 84 hours straight – breaking the 30-year, all-time Q*bert
high score in the process.
When George Leutz was a kid, long before he completed the most epic Q*bert game anyone has ever played, he dreamed of climbing a pyramid without end. … He remembers how he couldn't see the top or the bottom of the pyramid, and he remembers how he thought about walking down but then chose to climb straight up, and he remembers how eventually his view pulled back into a wide shot until he was not much more than a speck, and still he had no sense of where the whole thing began or ended.
"I remember the frightening feeling of the massive vastness of the pyramid," he says, "and how insignificant I was on it."
For Leutz and others like him, they seek an “extremist extension of the quest for the high score,” even if they don’t really know why they do it. But I think they know why. As Weinreb notes:
And the central question this whole movement [classic arcade gaming] seems to raise … is whether playing a video game might be a legitimate method to gauge the limits of human potential, or whether men like Leutz, in a desperate quest to achieve a brief flash of immortality, are merely devising creative methods for stretching the boundaries of frivolous human preoccupation.
In the middle of Leutz’s 84-hour marathon, another man, Ed Heemskerk, tried to catch him, but only lasted 68.5 hours. His motivation? “… he needed to accomplish something no one else had before he died.” As a teenager, Heemskerk played Q*bert at a Daytona Beach arcade from opening to closing and thought, “What if I played the longest game anyone's ever played?”
Weinreb quotes him as saying, "My wife doesn't understand why I do it, and I don't either. About the closest I can come to is, 'Because it's there.'"
The tricky thing about our Babels – whether they be brackets or pixels in the shape of a pyramid – is that they actually do offer a tingling sensation of transcendence. You and I feel it – in our work, with our finances, with our kids, with our recreation. George Leutz felt it playing a decades-old arcade game:
In that moment, he was no longer a speck on a staggeringly high pyramid; in that moment, he felt like he was accomplishing something significant, even if it was a narrow task in a narrow subculture that might not amount to anything in the grand scheme of human existence. … It was an entirely atheistic religious awakening.
But eventually the game ended. It always does. And if our religious awakenings are nothing more than the self-satisfying swell of pride in our high score or in how close we came to picking perfection, we’ll have wished the game and the madness hadn’t ended yet.
Posted on 2/21/2013 8:09 AM By Nathan Hrouda
Caffeine tends to make me crazy. I once drank a tall (small) latte around 8:30 p.m. at night because I had quite a bit of work to do that night. Knowing that I am really sensitive to the effects of caffeine, I still took the plunge, reasoning that it would heighten my senses and make my mind sharper. While those things did happen, they happened a bit too much. After finishing my work around 1 a.m., my fully caffeinated and super-heightened awareness ended up hurting me. As I was walking toward my bedroom, I heard a noise close to me, and shadows start to move. I yelled out, “HEY!” The noise continued and the shadows kept moving, so I yelled, “WHO’S THERE!?” By this time, my wife was fully awake and sitting up in bed. And as I turned the lights on in the hallway, the houseplant that she had rolled into the hallway earlier that day to get more sunlight laughed at me. I was so fearful of the unknown noise and shadows that I yelled at the top of my lungs at a houseplant in the middle of the night. I’m at a point now that I can laugh about it, but only after having told the story many times in great shame.
Somewhat related, but with a much different outcome, is the sad, tragic story of Oscar Pistorius
. Perhaps you've been keeping up with this story. But with more details emerging almost daily, it appears that the South African Olympic track star shot his own girlfriend multiple times on the night of February 14, mistaking her for an intruder. The devastating truth is that he and his girlfriend, super model Reeva Steenkamp, were the only ones inside his mansion that night. According to his bail hearing testimony
, he thought Ms. Steenkamp was still in bed and that the noise coming from the bathroom was that of an intruder. He shot four times through the closed bathroom door. Because of fear.
Fear is the underlying cause of Pistorius’ tragedy. South Africa, according to a World Competitiveness Survey, ranked worst out of 133 countries for crime
. Going by the numbers, 50 murders, 100 rapes, 330 armed robberies and 550 violent assaults happen every day. There is no country or location on this planet where crime is not a risk. But certainly we can feel safer in certain places than others. The realities of the conditions in South Africa no doubt contributed to the fearful thoughts that ran through Pistorius’ mind as he heard mysterious noises and shadows. Stories he’s heard about intruders and the like made his mind crawl with the possibilities of what could be going on in his own home. And it triggered a fearful response to the situation.
Certainly there are things that God intended to be awe-inspiring and fearful that aren’t criminally related. A tornado. A tiger stalking in the jungle. A volcano exploding.
But even in these God-made situations, there is an antidote to fear, one that can be used in the moment to harken us back to reality and rational faith. As a tornado approaches, my fearful first thought is to run for my life. It’s a selfish thought. But if I were to have no fear of death because my life is not the end-all, be-all, then I could look at a tornado and think rationally: “How is my family? Are there others who might need help reaching safety? How can I bring good here?” Granted, I haven’t been faced with this situation and I yelled at a houseplant. But the antidote is still there for the taking. The author of Hebrews (and God) puts it this way:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
The fear of death enslaves us to living for ourselves in the here-and-now. It makes us crazy, because all that is meaningful and worth living for goes out the window when we operate out of fear. I’m sure Pistorius was thinking of one day marrying his girlfriend. But through fear, it made him crazy enough to kill her. Again, in the heat of the moment, it is so difficult to second guess. But knowing that others have navigated these waters in similar situations proves that it is possible.
In the day-to-day mundane lives that we live, there are small opportunities to live in faith and to live in fear. Will I lose my job? Will my children be successful? Will my life matter? We can approach both traumatic and mundane events either in faith or in fear. Is keeping your job your source for ultimate joy? Are your children’s successes your justification for the decisions you make?
The traumatic events are never scheduled into our day planner. What will happen when I walk into one myself? If I have been living my days in fear of what death may bring, I will probably live my nights that way, too.
By faith, because Jesus died so that I would not have to taste hell and eternal death, I will live for him. My biggest concern in life is taken care of. My greatest need has been met. My life is now not the most precious thing for me to hold onto; rather, it is my salvation in the cross and resurrection of Christ that I hold most dear. You can take the whole world, just give me Jesus.
(Photo credit: Jim Thurston)
Posted on 2/7/2013 8:59 AM By Nathan Hrouda
In Genesis chapter 11, some 4,500 years ago or so, we’re told that the whole earth got together for one thing: to build a tower that would stretch to the heavens in order to make a name for themselves. In an attempt for glory and renown, they worked together to build for themselves a way to God. It would point to their genius, their skill, their acclaim. Ultimately, God confused them and scattered them.
About two weeks ago, Lance Armstrong admitted that he lied to millions of people and to himself, and that he indeed used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Amazingly, his “confession” was quite unemotional and impenitent. You could tell that his conscience had been so seared and ignored that he was nearly forcing himself to be sorry, as if he knew that he should feel bad about it. His saga has tainted not only cycling, but more importantly, his life and supposed inspirational story.
This is just the latest occurrence in the all-too-familiar story of sports stars that come clean on their wrongdoings and use of PEDs. But in this melee, the question that is often not asked is, “Why?”
“Why use the drugs when you are a great athlete to begin with, when you are competing on a national and even international stage, and you have achieved so much already?”
Posted on 1/22/2013 2:24 PM By Nathan Hrouda
“How do I live life with no confirmation of a father?” – Ray Lewis
There are people that we love to hate. The people that we know are guilty, terrible, that will never change and that we are better than. It makes us feel better about ourselves knowing how bad a certain person is and always will be.
Ray Lewis is one of those people.
Lewis was indicted yet ultimately not convicted of murder in 2000, and is sometimes thought of as a proud, arrogant, and self-consumed linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. The first part of his career he was brash, sometimes violent and aimless.
Posted on 12/21/2012 1:39 PM By Mitch Majeski
Two days ago, I may have started off this post with a simple request.
“Please pray for my friend Trevor. He's a Yankees fan.”
It has been hard for me to see the compatibility between faith in Jesus and rooting for the Pinstripes. Verses like "what fellowship can light have with darkness" have often plagued my mind when it comes to Trevor's claim to love both Jesus and Steinbrenner's minions. Brokenhearted and burdened, I have challenged Mr. Sides repeatedly to come to his senses and repent. Over time my appeals have become more intense and, I am ashamed to admit, they have lacked gentleness.
In the midst of what could only be called persecution, I witnessed something that has changed me. Trevor stood faithful to his team – warts and all. His gracious steadiness has caused me to reconsider my position and, after he persevered through a particularly intense evening of inquisition, I wrote this to Trevor this morning:
Thinking about our discussion last night, I have concluded that I must give in. What is a fan? A true fan?
A true fan is loyal.
A true fan knows his team's weaknesses and remains loyal.
A true fan knows his team's strengths and remains loyal.
A true fan embraces his team's history in a way that he becomes a part of that team.
He stands "ever stalwart" in the midst of criticism and boldly proclaims, "Go! Go, my favorite sports team!"
And isn't that what really counts in a fan? Isn't that what we should champion?
I have to give in.
Trevor, I embrace your love of the Yankees (though I do not share it). Thank you for being a model of loyalty in the fire. May we all love His church in the same way.
There are things that divide us that should not. In Christ, a Minnesota kid who shook his "Homer Hanky" for Kirby Puckett in that magical Game 6 can remain united with one who cheers for “they-who-must-not-be-named" – who play in the house that Ruth built. We really can. Trevor himself may have said it best: "I think the ability of Yankees and Twins fans to love each other could be a stunning example of the work Christ does on our hearts."
Breaking Down Unnecessary Walls
Seriously (if I can), in this season it is appropriate for us to consider this aspect of the grace we have received in the coming of Christ.
In breaking down the dividing wall between God and man, Jesus opened up the opportunity for the fall of every unnecessary wall between man and man. No one can stand in the shadow of the Cross and maintain a division with another in the same shadow. Inconsequential differences fade away in that light. As ambassadors for Christ there are things we cannot compromise but there are also hills we needn't die on. And that is a particularly important message at Christmas.
Christmas amplifies the differences that exist among family and friends because we know there has to be something to that whole "peace on earth" thing. We want it, but around the dinner table it seems just outside our reach. I'm resolving life differently this Christmas. Instead of arguing about those differences that make me uncomfortable but have no eternal consequence, I want to grant freedom to give way to meaningful conversation about this "good news of great joy for all the people." Paul might say it this way:
" … avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." (Titus 3:9)
I only have so many Christmases left.
Please pray for me, though: I'm finding it hard to go there with Raiders fans.