Vol. 1, Issue 4
I could write a few thousand words on the Fall Classic, but I’m going to resist—at least for a few more days. But mark my words: this thing is anything but over. We are two home wins away from a World Series championship!! Even more, we’re 5-1 at home this postseason, and have already beat the Giants twice with these exact pitching matchups (Games 2 & 3). And even more, when the Royals won the Series in ’85, we were down 3-1 and came back to win it all. So, no, I’m not worried. Wednesday night will be one of the top ten nights of my life!!
Elsewhere in the world of sports, culture, and spiritual life…
The AFC’s Dominance
We’re less than halfway through the NFL season, so it’s still too soon to be overly playoff-minded. Two things though just became immensely clear over the weekend: Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of all time (he passed Brett Favre for career touchdown passes), and the AFC is about as much better than the NFC as the NBA’s West was better than its East last year.
Just look at the top six teams ranked by SRS—the expected margin of victory against an average team on a neutral field.*
1. Broncos (12.1)
2. Chiefs (7.3)
3. Colts (6.2)
4. Chargers (5.3)
5. Ravens (5.0)
6. Patriots (3.4)
T-7. Cowboys/Cardinals (2.7)
9. Seahawks (2.4)
10. Eagles (0.1)
So the top six teams are in the AFC (including at #2, the CHIEFS!!!) are in the AFC, and three of the top four are in the AFC West. (For the record, Tampa Bay is dead last at a horrific –19.6.)
Three Notes on Simplicity
I’m settling into week two of a roughly four-week personal emphasis on the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Simplicity—the purposeful rejection of an ever-accumulating set of activities and possessions—is a tricky discipline. I came to sense a strong need for a simpler life this fall, as I’ve felt my mind, soul, and life become cluttered. Cluttered by responsibilities: I have a knack for saying “yes” to too much and then paying for it later. Cluttered by distractions: checking my phone even when it hadn’t buzzed or checking ESPN three or four times a day—if following sports was a spiritual discipline, I’d be the holy Saint Jeremiah of Massie Avenue. Cluttered by unnecessary intake and expenses: drinking coffee and soda to stay awake; spending a few dollars extra here and there on food, drinks, books, clothes, and activities, then wondering why we didn’t stay under budget.
None of this sounds distinctly spiritual, but the effect on my personal life in God has certainly grown larger. Quieting my mind for Scripture meditation has taken longer. Being satisfied with simple things has become more difficult. And this has led me to a place where my “insides don’t match my outsides.” I don’t feel like I have the spiritual depth and resources to wisely point others toward communion with God in my shepherding, teaching and friendships.
At some point, I hope to write a full essay on why simplicity is essential—now more than ever in Western Christianity—and how to cultivate it, but I am still very much a novice with more knowledge by failure than success, so here are just three quick notes.
First, a quote from the first chapter of Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World.
Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that “more is better.” Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more threatens frequently to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race. Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit.
Second, an encouragement toward extended Scripture meditation and prayer. One of the most common questions I’m asked is this: “How can I get more out of my 20-minute morning quiet times?” Lately, my answer has been: “You can’t.” Given our pace of life, with only 20 focused minutes with the Lord each day, you’re not going to do more than read a psalm or a chapter and pray a few simple prayers. My recommendation, then, is to not try to do more with your 20 minutes, but to schedule another longer time of devotion in the week. Start with your Sabbath or some other free morning, and put a 2-hour block of soul-feeding in your weekly calendar. (Just tell folks you have an appointment and can’t do anything during that time.) The extra time will give you more time to unwind, more depth in the Scriptures, and more time to pray for yourself and others. When I began practicing this extended devotional time once a week at a pastor-friend’s suggestion, I soon discovered that my 20-minute blocks each morning were becoming more meaningful, and I found a way to schedule in two or three 2-hour blocks of devotional time each week—simply because I wanted to.
Third, if you’re still reading and this resonates with you, invite a friend or two into the process. Chances are they’ll want to join you. I’ve shared my desire for a simpler life with my community group and a handful of others, and everyone so far has responded: Me too! As someone once said, “We can go faster alone, but we’ll go farther together.”
The Gospel According to J.J. Watt
Book of the Month: October 2014
My buddy Ben Mast has just released one of the most important Christian books of the year in his Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease. When he’s not serving as an elder at Sojourn East, running ultra-marathons, or religiously reading Fidelity Sports essays, Ben serves as the vice chair of the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville. His book reflects his life, a seamless balance between gospel centered shepherding and respected leadership in clinical psychology. A little bit from the introduction:
We are all imperfect and broken. We forget the Lord, even in the best of health. This is what I call “the second forgetting.” The first forgetting is experienced by the person with Alzheimer’s, but the second forgetting reflects a spiritual forgetting experienced not only by the person with Alzheimer’s, but more broadly by their family, friends and even the church who seeks to care for them….
We can’t do anything about the first forgetting. We cannot change the underlying damage to the brain that causes Alzheimer’s. But we can address the second forgetting…. Never forget the wonder of the good news: God never forgets us or his promises to us, even when we forget him. Throughout Scripture, God remembers first and then acts in grace to rescue his people. Even when the Israelites forgot, God rescued them and fulfilled his promises. God’s grace does not depend on what we do, including our ability to remember.
Get it, folks.
The College Football Playoff We Need
Now back to sports, and speaking of the dominance of one conference over all the others…
As I noted in my college football season previews, I’m not sold on this new four-team playoff system. Sure, New Year’s is going to be fun with 1-vs-4 and 2-vs-3 going at it. But what about the #5 team? What about the numerous 1-loss teams that still deserve a shot at the crystal pigskin? What about the fact that the four best college football teams are all in the same conference? Is “Power 5” really an accurate way to describe the current setup?
No, the playoff system still neglects the most critical elephant in the room: the SEC is so much better than the “Other 4” conferences (counting what’s left of the Big12), that the playoff scheme needs to adapt to this new reality by expanding to eight teams, at minimum. With only four teams, one or two championship-quality SEC teams are going to get left out for lower-level teams like Florida State or Michigan State.**
We just need to be objective, people. If the playoffs started today and we simply take the top eight teams according to the aforementioned SRS rankings, we’d get this bracket.
(1) Ole Miss vs. (8) TCU
(2) Auburn vs. (7) Oklahoma
(3) Miss State vs. (6) Oregon
(4) Alabama vs. (5) Georgia
Now, this is the bracket we need! Let the four best teams emerge from these eight. You really think TCU and the Sooners get wins here? No chance. And ‘Bama vs Georgia for the right to beat Ole Miss? Perfect.
Here are some other notable SRS rankings:
10. Notre Dame
11. Florida State
17. Michigan State
According to objective measures, the top five teams are in the SEC. But as long as this new four-team system is in place, we’ll probably see the two best SEC teams being ranked #1 and #4, unfairly avoiding an all-SEC finale. Let the kids play, I always say. We need to fight for equality, for fairness. Is that too much to ask in amateur athletics?
Let’s face it, folks: the SEC is the victim of serious discrimination.
Enjoy your week, friends.
* More on SRS here.
** Something tells me a few readers are going to disagree with me here! But the other really great college playoff system I came up with is even more controversial to those who aren’t good enough to play in the SEC: A 16-team playoff with seeds 1-8 going to the top SEC schools, then seeds 9-16 going to “at-large bids” from the Other 4. Anyone? Anyone? If Florida State and Oklahoma are so angry, then why not just join the SEC when we expand to 16 teams in 2017? Get your checkbooks out.