ACC

1)   If you are a sports fan, today is (arguably, I know) day two of the best four days in college sports every year. March Madness has begun, and Grantland is the place to be for the most hare-brained predictions and analyses—including a Charles Barkley shark jump and a Marshall Henderson moment only Marshall Henderson could think up. It’s not all fun and games, though—this story on the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits is one of the best team profiles I’ve read in a while. I defy you not to root for this team in the tournament, even it means the end of your bracket—it’s already done anyways, let’s be honest. A quick excerpt on coach Scott Nagy:

As tipoff approaches, head coach Scott Nagy sits in the team meeting room, head buried in his iPad, reading and playing Sudoku. Nagy is nervous in these moments, but he avoids thinking about the game. He trusts his players and his preparation. To ease the sickness in his stomach, he seeks distraction, not focus.

Nagy accepted the SDSU coaching job when he was 28 years old. It was an unthinkable opportunity for a coach so young, a chance to lead a perennial power. Well, a Division II power, at least. Despite playing at a low level, the Jackrabbits have always enjoyed wide fan support. “We’re a little state,” says longtime fan Jeff Svennes. “We don’t have much, as far as this stuff goes. In South Dakota, Jacks basketball is it.” After winning at least 20 games in nine of Nagy’s first 10 years, the Jackrabbits transitioned to Division I in 2004-05. They flopped. While the women’s team won 21 games in its first D-I season, Nagy’s men won 10. The next year, they won nine. In 2006-07, the program hit rock bottom. Two players were charged with rape (both were acquitted). The team won six games, its lowest total since 1944-45. After one particularly ugly loss, Nagy lambasted his squad in the press conference, calling players out and saying he believed he’d lost his team. Afterward, fans called for his head, and Nagy thought he might be fired. But the administration stuck with him, and the next year, the Jackrabbits improved. Season after season, they kept improving, until they wound up here, with Nagy sitting in the locker room, confident that after three more games they’d be bound for the NCAAs.

33239… Nagy and the assistants launch into reminders on defensive strategy. After a few words on when to switch on screens, Nagy pauses. “I want you to play like you’re loved,” he eventually says, in what will become a theme for the week. “Play freely. Love isn’t dependent on your performance. No matter how you play, you are loved. Play with that in mind.”

Nagy calls the players forward. Everyone puts a hand on a teammate or a coach, and they sit or stand or kneel for a minute in silence, heads bowed. Nagy often prays that his players will ignore his harshest words, that they’ll know when to pay attention and when to tune him out. But for now, he says nothing, keeping his prayers to himself. After nearly a minute, he breaks the silence. “OK,” he says. With that, they take the court.

2)   One of our favorite (published) psychoanalysts, Adam Phillips, recently came out with a new book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, and there’s a great write-up over at Slate. It’s not a glowing review necessarily, but one which points to the questions we’ve talked about here before, namely, our inveterately bondage to FOMO (fear of missing out), the anxiety of having misspent our time, of having to deal with the opportunity cost of our experiences. But what Phillips seems to be saying in his book, is that the collections of our unlived lives are our “prosthetic devices of the imagination” to help us cope with the way we continue going on living. In short, it seems to be our inner-psychic simul iustus et peccator—that our visions of our lives, our shoulds, are just as ever-present and ever-distant as the life lived itself. Mark O’Connell talks about looking at the screen of his phone to see an image of his first child’s ultrasound—a screen of a screen:

I felt that what I was looking at represented my future. I was going to be a father. And not just any father, but the father of this blurry little personage with its lovely pea-sized head and cartoonishly reclining body. And as I was thinking about all the clustered possibilities in those rapidly subdividing cells—all the bewildering permutations of gender and appearance and personality and genetic fate—I also began to think about the possibilities that were, as of right now, in my past, and that were therefore no longer possibilities. In my vague and ineffectual way, I had always planned to live abroad; and I registered now, with a vague sense of loss that was somehow part of the joy of looking at the sonogram image, that this was no longer very likely to happen. I was thinking, too, that the period of my life in which I might legitimately spend large amounts of time on projects not strictly financially motivated had ended. Even as I was exhilarated about the life that now lay ahead of me—all the wonderfully terrifying possibilities of parenthood—I was thinking about the various people I had never quite got around to becoming (the happily itinerant academic, the journalist seeking out extraordinary stories in strange places). I was thinking about my unlived lives, and how every route taken inevitably forecloses the possibility of various others.

Atumblr_m3w5283eXK1r5z3jqo1_500nd so when I heard that the British psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips had a new book called Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, I was intrigued. The idea from which Phillips’ book starts out is that the paths we don’t pursue in life are a crucial dimension of our lived experience. “Our unlived lives—the lives we live in fantasy, the wished-for lives—are often more important to us than our so-called lived lives,” he writes in his prologue. “We can’t (in both senses) imagine ourselves without them.” This is a fascinating idea, and it’s difficult to think of anyone who would be better suited to exploring it than Phillips, who is one of the literary world’s most consistently provocative explorers of fascinating ideas.

3)   Well, after reading the Rolling Stone piece, who do you say Marcus Mumford is? With his ambiguous Jesus-love, “Christian”-label-disdain, I was reminded a lot of a book review over at Christianity Today, about the whole “spiritual, not religious” worldview. Again, to point the finger back at the reader (you and me), more than anything, what does it say about the label-lust we (all) tend to have for the cultural figureheads, that we want a strong “yes” or a stronger “no” as a kind of a representative assurance for our stance/movement/anti-movement? It’s not necessarily about being immune to this, but surely it says something about faith in general? At least Mumford’s not the only 20- or 30- something that’s still got some soul searching left to do (ahem): “Search for Self Called Off After 38 Years”:

CHICAGO—The longtime search for self, conducted by area man Andrew Speth, was called off this week, the 38-year-old said Monday. “I always thought that if I kept searching and exploring, I’d discover who I truly was,” said Speth from his Wrigleyville efficiency. “Well, I looked deep into the innermost recesses of my soul, I plumbed the depths of my subconscious, and you know what I found? An empty, windowless room the size of an aircraft hangar. From now on, if anybody needs me, I’ll be sprawled out on this couch drinking black-cherry soda and watching Law & Order like everybody else.”

4)   Remaining on the faith train, Christianity Today’s piece on the “Radical Christianity” movement is an interesting one. Looking at recent books from the Shane Claiborne, Francis Chan variety, Matthew Lee Anderson describes the going definition of Christian surrender as one which needs intensifying qualifiers. He describes that the favorite word in this school is: “really.”

The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity’s language. Previous generations were content singing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Today we have to really trust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches’ vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.

And the intensifiers don’t solve the problem. Replacing belief with commitment still places the burden of our formation on the sheer force of our will. As much as some of these radical pastors would say otherwise, their rhetoric still relies on listeners “making a decision.” There is almost no explicit consideration of how beliefs actually take root, or whether that process is as conscious as we presume.

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Or as dramatic. The heroes of the radical movement are martyrs and missionaries whose stories truly inspire, along with families who make sacrifices to adopt children. Yet the radicals’ repeated portrait of faith underemphasizes the less spectacular, frequently boring, and overwhelmingly anonymous elements that make up much of the Christian life.

…By contrast, there aren’t many narratives of men who rise at 4 A.M. six days a week to toil away in a factory to support their families. Or of single mothers who work 10 hours a day to care for their children. Judging by the tenor of their stories, being “radical” is mainly for those who already have the upper-middle-class status to sacrifice.

Nor are there many stories of “failure”—of people sacrificing without visible signs of transformation. As a result, many of the narratives implicitly convey that the reason to go and die is the gospel success that will follow. In most stories, the results come during the lifetime of those who decided to “come and die.” That’s why the single most refreshing moment in the canon for me was Furtick’s lengthy acknowledgment that God’s “greater” often seems like disappointment and failure, and that in our “most dire moments [God] seems almost absent.” Given how prevalent such moments seem in the Christian life—and in Scripture—they are disproportionately underrepresented in the “radical” literature.

5)   Similarly, the Guardian released an op-ed on “Historical Progress” being taught in British history classes, mainly that talking this ways implies a “secular-theological underpinning” of movement forward. While I don’t think this is a framework that comes from Christian orthodoxy as much as I believe it’s a modern human anthropology, it is a “secular religion” in it’s purest, and the article is a perceptive outlook on one facet of the myth of progress we so naturally turn to ourselves:

…among all the challenges to Michael Gove‘s new proposals for the teaching of history in schools, it has yet to be pointed out that his latest approach to teaching history sequentially, as what Gove calls a “narrative of British progress”, is not only a return to the Whig view of history, but is also shaped by a deep-seated Christian presumption about what history is there to teach us.A number of commentators have argued that it ought not to be the job of history to cement national pride. Would we expect that of chemistry, for instance? Others have dismissed his top down, kings and queens approach as the story of dead white guys and the battles that they fought, ignoring the history of the poor or of underlying social movements. But, generally speaking, both the left and the right still see the idea of progress as built into historical development.

6)   And for some fun, the great Vulture smackdown between Cheers and The Simpsons, their two finalists for best sitcoms of the last 30 years—and, not to give anything away, but…

I re-watched a lot of Cheers over the last few weeks, and at some point my 9-year-old son heard the theme song and said, “Hey, that sounds like the Flaming Moe’s song” — i.e., the parody of the Cheers theme, heard in season three. I explained to him that The Simpsons was parodying Cheers, just as it parodied everything else under the sun. Then he went into his room and built superhero dioramas out of Legos; his first exposure to superhero comics was at age 5 or so, via Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy on The Simpsons.

Finally RIP, Jason Molina of Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company.