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A Year of STUPID COVID

That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.

2015 MARCH MADNESS-MAYHEM-BRACKETOLOGY-CINDERELLA-TOURNEY

FullSizeRenderI am far from an expert on college basketball (or any basketball, for that matter), but that doesn’t stop me from filling out a bracket.  I generally use three criteria in determining winners.  First, I am a homer.  That means schools from Washington, Texas, The Big 12 and the PAC 12 get preferential treatment.  Second, colleges and universities with really great divinity schools are usually forwarded.  Teams that pray hard play hard.  Finally, I generally vote against the snobbish basketball schools–you know, Kentucky, Indiana, and Georgetown.  Duke is a snob school too, but they have a great divinity school so that trumps the snobbishness.

Early Upsets

I have Eastern Washington upsetting Georgetown, Michigan State upsetting Virginia in the second round, Texas beating Notre Dame (I’m a total homer on that one, and yes, I know that my Horns have been underachievers this year, but still, the talent is there), and Ohio State beating Virginia Commonwealth.

Sweet 16 Picks

My Sweet 16 is Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Baylor, Arizona, Villanova, Louisville, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Duke, Stephen F. Austin (another homer pick-GO LUMBERJACKS), Iowa State, and Gonzaga.

Of course, Gonzaga will lose to Iowa State because YOU CANT TRUST GONZAGA!  Every year I pick them to go deep (I had them in the Final Four last year) and they bow out early.  It pains me to keep Kentucky in, but they are the favorites.  I should also note that I am 50/50 on Wichita State verses Kansas.  It would not “shock” me if the “Shockers” beat the Jayhawks.

Final Four

My Final Four are Kentucky, Baylor, Villanova, and Iowa State.  In the championship game, think the Bears will beat the Cyclones 75-73 on the strength of their seminary/divinity school.

Before you put any real stock in this, keep in mind I was 0 for 4 in picking last years Final Four.

HAVE YOU FILLED OUT YOUR BRACKETS?

There are may spring rituals that I engage in.  Lent.  Easter.  Bluebonnets.  And don’t forget Madness.  March Madness.

This morning I filled out my brackets for the NCAA tourney.  I hope you get yours filled out before the tourney begins.  Here are some highlights from my prognosticating.

FINAL FOUR UPDATE:  So, it turns out  I was completely wrong about the Final Four.  That is, I didn’t pick a single team who actually made it to make it.  All I can say is that none of the teams are squads I’m particularly excited about.  I can’t stand anything Florida and Kentucky nauseates me because of their ‘one and done’ philosophy.  Connecticut has always been bullies so I guess that leaves me with Wisconsin.  Go Badgers.  Yeah. 

MONDAY MORNING UPDATES:  So, it seems that I was wrong about cinderella and The Big 12.  Cinderella is Dayton, and they play a Cinderella candidate in Stanford in Sweet 16.  The Big 12 only ended up with 2 teams in the Sweet 16, not 6.  (3 SEC, 3 Pac 12, 3 Big 10, 2 Big 12).  But I was right about Wichita State leaving in the second round.  I just thought they would loose to K-State not Kentucky.  2 of my Final Four are still alive, as is my eventual national champion, Michigan State.

I am not upset about the Pac 12 muscle, though.  I lived on the west coast long enough to hate the terrible east coast bias, so I am happy that of the 16 teams that remain, only 5 are on the east coast.  Now, down with Florida!       

UPSET ALERT:  I have two number one seeds going out fairly early.  I predict the number one overall seed Florida will lose to UCLA in the Sweet 16.  I don’t think the SEC is that strong this year and Florida is overrated due to East Coast bias.  Like many others I have Wichita State leaving early.  The only difference is I have them going out in the second round to Kansas State.

CINDERELLA:  Which leads me to my Cinderella this year.  It is Kansas State.  I have them beating Wichita and Louisville to reach the Elite 8 where they will lose to Duke.  Cinderellas rarely make any sense, but my logic on this is consistent.  The Big 12 seemed to be the best basketball conference this year and they have 7 teams in the tourney (that is 7 out of 10) and it seems like they should go deep.  As a 9 seed K-State is under the radar but they will be served well with a tough conference schedule.  Battle hardened, they will beat up some of the prettier teams from weaker conferences, thus going deeper than you might expect.

SWEET 16:  My Sweet 16 are:

  • Florida
  • UCLA
  • Ohio State
  • Kansas
  • Virginia
  • Michigan State
  • Iowa State
  • St. Josephs (yeah, that is another upset pick)
  • Arizona
  • Oklahoma
  • Baylor
  • Wisconsin
  • Kansas Sate
  • Louisville
  • Duke
  • Texas

I know that it is a homer pick to put Texas in there, especially since all the local writers here in Austin seem to have them going out in the first round.  I think they will do well against Arizona State and then they are as good as Michigan so they have a good chance, at least I think.  So that puts 6 Big 12 teams, 3 Big 10, 2 Pac 12 and 1 SEC team in the Sweet 16.  I think that represents the power of each of these conferences.  Although, as you will see in my Final Four, I think the Big 10’s top team is stronger than the top team of the Big 12.

Final Four:  Kansas, Michigan State, Arizona, and Duke.  These games will be classic.  I always like Michigan State in a duel because their coach is clutch.  The same is true of Duke.  That is why I have MSU verses Duke in the National Final with Michigan State pulling out a last second block and rebound for the victory.  Although, any of these four could win it all.

Before you dismiss too much of my prognostication, please remember that I predicted the Seattle Seahawks would win the Super Bowl before the playoffs ever began, and in private conversations predicted their victory before the start of the season.  So, there is that.

image from interbasket.net

GREENBEAN BBALL BRACKETOLOGY

Update Update:  Okay, I was 50% on the Final Four.  Kansas and Ohio State made it.  Baylor couldn’t get past Kentucky and Michigan State just collapsed.

UPDATE:  Following the first weekend of play, Pastor Greenbean is 10 of 16 in the Sweet 16, and my Final Four are all still in it (Michigan State, Ohio State, Baylor and Kansas).  My Longhorns lost the first game, like I figured they would, but they made a great comeback before finally losing.  Duke let me down, and every team from the west is out. 

Every year I do the work of filling out a bracket for the NCAA March Madness tourney.  I don’t really know that much about college basketball (or basketball in general) and the only games I really watch all year long are the NCAA tourney.  There is just something about the tournament that draws me in; I don’t know what it is.  I always fill out a bracket.

For the past ten years or so, I have made my staff fill one out too.  They hate it, and they probably hate me for making them do it but I chalk it up as a team building exercise.  They are posted in our office and we’ll see who is the closest to right.

There is a system to how I fill out my brackets.  It has little to do with basketball.

1.  Regional loyalty.  I tend to go with the homer teams from the Northwest.  This year, that is not many because neither UW or WSU were that good and the Pac-12 is down this year.  Gonzaga made it in, as usual, but it is so hard to root for them because they so often disappoint.  However, they did win last night in the first round (actually, it is the second round, but I will NEVER count the play-in games as the first round.  NEVER).  Regional loyalty means that I pull for teams which are from the west, if only to overcome the blatant east-coast bias.  Historically, though, I draw the line at three schools which I can never advance too far and I never root for them.  They are USC, Colorado, and BYU.  Sadly, Colorado won yesterday, against another team from the west.  Double fail.

2.  Texas loyalty.  I do not extend this to Big-12 teams, although Big-12 teams tend to do well in the tourney.  However, I pull for Texas teams and generally schedule them to advance.  Last night I cheered on Baylor.  The one exception to this Texas rule is Texas A&M.  Traitors.  But they are not in it this year.

3.  Divinity Schools.  Many of the teams are connected to divinity schools of repute, especially from the east.  A good example of this is Duke.  I generally advance Duke very deep in my brackets because of their outstanding divinity school.  When I think of Duke I think of Will Willimon. This has served me well as Duke always has a great basketball team and often wins.  I suspect, though, this has more to do with Coach K than Willimon.  Maybe.

4.  The final criteria is seeding.  This year, for example, I advance Kentucky pretty deep into my tourney bracket solely because they are seeded highest.  However, The deeper the seed goes, the more likely I am to advance the “underdog.”  That is why Kentucky is not in my championship game prediction.

As I tweeted earlier this week (@jamiedgreening) I have Kansas and Baylor in the championship game.  But in a few minutes my alma mater tips off (hook ’em) and I will pull for them no matter what.  However, if they pull an upset win today I’ll be happy.  If they make the Sweet 16 I’ll be very shocked.