The System

In college basketball-crazed Kentucky, being a fan of the NBA makes me something of an anomaly. Most of the time when I mention I like professional basketball, the responses will almost always be the same…

“They don’t play any defense.”

“It’s a thug league.”

“Too much one-on-one basketball.”

“I don’t have time to follow it.”

Almost all of those assumptions are untrue. Defense in the NBA is actually pretty intense on most nights. Yes, there may be some thugs, but show me any professional sport that doesn’t have its share of bad apples (I’m looking at you, NFL.). There are some isolation plays, but no more than you would see in the average college game these days. And with the internet, apps, and 24-hour sports television, a person can basically be a follower of any sport they want.

san-antonio-spursTo me, the best example of how entertaining the game of professional basketball can be is the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Spurs have not quite been the juggernaut they were in the NBA Finals last June when they were steamrolling the Miami Heat, but they do still possess the sixth-best record in the loaded Western Conference this season. But, my goodness, the Finals! I don’t know that I have ever seen a basketball team, professional or otherwise, share the ball like the Spurs did in that series. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

I had a chance to watch the Spurs play the Chicago Bulls today on ABC, and I was reminded of that series. In addition to the ball movement, though, I remembered another thing that always amazes me about the Spurs – the way they can fit nearly any player into their structure and turn him into a valuable part of the team. I’m not saying players like Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Patrick Mills aren’t talented, but would they have the kind of impact on another team that they do for the Spurs? It’s difficult for me to imagine they would.

Even though I feel like the term is overused these days, the Spurs certainly posses a “system” of some sort. Everyone seems to know their roles. They seem to get along with one another. They don’t mind taking a backseat to each other. They don’t appear to be selfish. And despite the fact that they’re getting older (by NBA player standards), they keep on winning. Whatever the system is in San Antonio, it works.

I’ve wondered for years how certain people can be total failures in one place and then go on to success somewhere else. I think maybe my bewilderment stems from never quite feeling like I fit in. Everyone has weaknesses, everyone has flaws, everyone has strengths, and everyone has areas they excel in more than others. Somewhere inside me, I’ve always felt I work better as a part of a team, drawing upon the strengths of others to make up for where I am lacking. I have been looking for a system.

There are definitely times when we are forced to stand on our own. For instance, being a writer forces you to put yourself out there in a very individual kind of way. Even outside of work-type situations, though, there is a system somewhere we’re all looking to plug into. It may be a lifestyle regiment to bolster us. It may be a support network of friends. It may be a regular routine of giving. Whatever it may be, it involves accentuating strengths and reducing weaknesses. It reduces selfishness. Most of all, though, it wins.

I haven’t found my system yet. I’ve caught little glimpses of here it here and there, but it never seems to last. I either break it down myself or someone or something else does along the way. When I see a system working, though, it gives me hope that the right one is out there for me somewhere. It may take me a while longer yet to discover. Even the Spurs weren’t always the way they are now, and they don’t win a championship every year. A system that works, though, is a winner every time, if you ask me.


A Little Trouble

dream teamI recently finished reading the book Dream Team, by Jack McCallum. If you’re even remotely a fan of professional basketball, I’d highly recommend picking it up, as it provides a fascinating look at how some of the most cutthroat competitors in the history of sports managed to put aside their professional rivalries long enough to win Olympic gold, decimate its competition, and change the face of international basketball forever.

The book is also a virtual treasure trove of memorable quotes, many of which could not be printed here without barkleya disclaimer for language. Most of my favorites came from the “Round Mound of Rebound” himself, current TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley. Of all Sir Charles’ quotes that are fit to mention, his legendary answer to a pregame question concerning upcoming opponent Angola still ranks as my favorite: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Angola. But Angola’s in trouble.”

I was reminded of that quote this evening as I read over an article concerning the suddenly very troubled Mars Hill Church. I knew pastor Mark Driscoll had stepped down, and I knew at least one other pastor on the church’s staff had done the same. Prior to reading the aforementioned article, though, I could only claim a Barkley-esque knowledge of the situation: I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill. But Mars Hill is in trouble.

Rewind just a couple of days, though, and you would have found me sitting a table following the service at my own church involved in a conversation with a friend in which I was discussing some troubles of my own. This came after he had mentioned some of his own struggles. And the service itself had featured some pretty open discussions on authenticity and transparency (See this post for more on that.). Go back even further, and you would have found me Heather1watching a movie about the personal struggles of the late Rich Mullins and listening to author Heather Kopp talk about her life as a Christian drunk.

So maybe this is what I should be asking: Is my friend in trouble? More to the point, am in trouble?

Well, yes, we probably both are. The fact is, though, I’m running across more and more stories of Christians being in trouble. The big difference I’m noticing today, though, is that more and more Christians are actually admitting to being in trouble, whether that’s confessing their bouts with depression, acknowledging their struggles with lust, owning up to their poor financial habits, or just straight-out saying, “Hey, I’m a sinner, and I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. In fact, I’m not even sure I want to stop what I’m doing.”

But wait, wait, wait. I thought Christianity was supposed to clean you up. I thought it was supposed to make you happy all the time. I thought it was supposed to end all your addictions. I thought it was supposed to put me in a position to show the sinners of the world how to live a spotless life. If it is, I’m doing it wrong. A lot of us are doing it wrong. And a lot of us are coming clean about why we think we’re doing it wrong.

Since the “we” I’m referring to here consists not of lost souls but of Christians, I suppose it could be asked whether the church itself is in trouble. That would be an easy assumption to make. Our houses of worship seemed to be packed with sad people, addicted people, tempted people, hurting people, and frightened people. At times, we don’t seem to be that much different from those who are not Christians. And sometimes we’re not even sure we can claim a difference anyway.

I would contend, though, that all this is not a sign of the church being in trouble. I view it as a sign the church is waking up. And I think that’s a good thing.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As the famous quote goes, the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. The fact that people are coming forward in honest confession is, in my opinion, a sign that the church is coming to terms with reality. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we can’t turn to the church to help us overcome our sins and hangups, where can we turn?

I still don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill, but I do know this: When the church becomes a place where the imperfect Christian can feel safe and where the broken and imperfect can go for restoration, the glory of God will be revealed there. Maybe a little trouble is just what we need.


Burying The Hatchet

Four years ago, thank to Dan Gilbert and LeBron James, we all found out what Comic Sans font looked like.

dan-gilbert-letter1-e1278686140652-550x275Shortly after “The Decision” was made by James to leave the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to go the Miami Heat via free agency, Gilbert fired off one of the most bizarre hissy-fit letters in the history of , well, ever. Typed in Comic Sans font, Gilbert’s post-Decision tirade included ill-placed quotation marks, plenty of words in all caps, and a heavy dose of vitriol aimed squarely at King James himself. Oh, and it also included a guarantee from Gilbert that the Cavs would win a title before any team with LeBron ever would.

As ridiculous as even the mere existence of such a letter sounds, up until two days ago it was still posted on the Cavs’ official team website. To put that into perspective, James has won two titles with the Heat since that letter appeared on the internet, and he went to the NBA Finals the other two years. Cleveland, meanwhile, has had a lot of success in the NBA Draft Lottery, which is a nice way of saying their record has sucked every year since LeBron skipped town.

What apparently was enough to take the letter off the website, though, might have been even more unthinkable to me: LeBron James may actually be thinking of returning to Cleveland as a free agent. I know James is from Ohio. I know there is a certain allure to “coming home.” I know the Cavaliers could throw a lot of money his way.

But … Comic Sans, man!

A grudge is a difficult thing to let go, as evidenced by the fact Gilbert’s letter was only taken down this week. I couldn’t imagine David-Lee-Roth-Eddie-Van-Halengoing back to work for a man who publicly called me a traitor just hours after I left his team. I also wasn’t able to imagine the Van Halen brothers ever playing with David Lee Roth again. Or Hillary Clinton agreeing to serve as Barack Obama’s secretary of state after a fairly brutal campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

If James returns to Cleveland, though, all these things will have happened. Personally, I don’t get it. I always thought you were supposed to get as far away from the people who hurt you as possible. If someone wronged you, you didn’t go back to them. I’m still holding grudges that are years and years old, not out of spite but for protection. Been there, done that, ain’t gonna happen again…

That philosophy would be all well and good if not for this: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This may be Old Testament scripture, but it lines up perfectly with New Testament theology. Vengeance isn’t mine. I was forgiven much, so I should be just as ready to forgive much. There may be wonderful opportunities locked away in some of those old grudges. The only thing keeping them there is, well, me.

Still don’t know if I could get past the Comic Sans, though. Some fonts are just too much to overcome, you know?