Sunday, March 29, 2015

March Madness

It is that time of year when even the least basketball fan is caught up in the tradition and excitement of the NCAA Basketball tournament.  I love this tournament over all the others because even the smaller schools have an opportunity to go for the championship. Many times the “Cinderella” team beats the “Goliath” team and the odds to win their game and continue their quest for perfection. We have seen someone that has no chance defeat teams that are picked to win it all. That is what I love about this tournament. Rarely does a team get all the way through the tournament with a perfect season. This year the University of Kentucky is trying to beat those odds with a record of 38-0 and one of the final four teams.

Many of the games are not decided until the very end and the student athletes give everything they have. The emotions win or lose are there for all to see. This year we saw Arizona defeated by Wisconsin and Notre Dame lose to Kentucky. The old saying “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” was on faces of all the players, coaches and fans. It is emotionally draining to work so hard and be so close but come up short.

The Notre Dame vs Kentucky was one of the most exciting games yet in the tournament and Notre Dame did all they could to beat their opponents. How do we handle the wins and the losses? Do we blame the loss on someone or something? When we win, do we take glory unto ourselves and put down the opponent? We experience success and failure in our everyday lives and how we respond will develop our character. When asked by a reporter if the Notre Dame game was their toughest game yet, the Kentucky coach said not that Kentucky simply played bad. I am not sure if he was trying to challenge his players or if the coach could not have the class to respect the effort that Notre Dame put forth in the game? Proverbs says: "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall" (Proverbs 16:18) and it sounds like the Kentucky coach is getting ripe for a fall.

Are the teams that lose considered losers? Even though it may seem like it to them at the time, character is forged by the times we fail as much as in our victories. President Worthen, President of Brigham Young University, spoke of the difference in failing and being a failure. He said:

“It is a truth that is hard to deny, yet difficult to accept. It is this: We will all fail. More than once. Every day.
“I know that may sound startling and not the most optimistic of messages, so let me be quick to add that this does not mean that you or I are failures or that the quest for perfection is futile. There is a difference between failing, even repeatedly, and being a failure, as I hope to explain.
“Failing is an essential part of the mortal phase of our quest for perfection. We don’t often think of it that way, but that is only because we tend to focus too much on the word perfection and not enough on the word quest when we read the mission statement. Failure is an inevitable part of the quest. In our quest for perfection, how we respond when we fail will ultimately determine how well we will succeed.” (“Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection”, Kevin J. Worthen, BYU Devotional, January, 06, 2015).

Failure is a part of this life and how we deal with it will determine our ultimate success. Unfortunately in a tournament like the NCAA basketball tournament, when you loose you are out and the sting of that loss is a difficult lesson. There will be many sports commentators and fans that will put the blame on the coach or the failure of one shot or something, but it rarely comes down to one play. There are many mistakes and missed shots that put teams in a situation where that one bad call from a referee or missed foul shot costs them the game. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and improve. The test for Arizona, Notre Dame, and the others that lost will be how they rise up and come back next year and start over.

Our lives are similar to the wins and losses in sport. We will succeed at some things but fail at other times. How we learn from our mistakes (or sins) and improve (or repent) will determine our overall happiness and standing before God. The Apostle Paul compared our lives to a race when he said:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

The difference between a sporting event and our lives is in sports there is only one eventual winner but in life we all have the opportunity for eternal life. None of us will make it through this life without failing or sinning. But through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can all end up with that perfect record. If we repent when we sin and strive to keep God’s commandments we can be cleansed and Jesus Christ has promised that because of his suffering for us it will be as if we never sinned at all; we will all be perfect and win the prize of eternal life.

President Worthen reminded the students at BYU of the blessing of the atonement and the effect it can have on us:

“…failing is a critical component of our eternal progress—our quest for perfection. And because of the Atonement we can—if we respond to failures in the right way—be blessed with a new kind of learning that allows our failures to become part of the perfecting process. As Elder Bruce C. Hafen has explained, the beauty of the gospel is that “because of the Atonement, we can learn from our mistakes without being condemned by them.”14 What a wonderful blessing that absolutely marvelous and indispensable portion of the plan of salvation provides to each of us, if we will but take advantage of it.” (“Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection”, Kevin J. Worthen, BYU Devotional, January, 06, 2015).

Since 1939 there has only been five different division 1 teams to have a perfect season and win the national championship. UCLA did it four times and Kentucky did it in 1954. We have yet to see if Kentucky can end the season without a single loss, they have two more games to go to reach that perfect season for a second time. If Kentucky does it their season record will be 40 wins and 0 losses and no other team has had to win that many games to achieve a perfect season.

Our lives sometimes may seem to be one long month of march madness, but if we will rise up when we stumble, repent when we sin, seek forgiveness when we fail in the end we will hear the Lord speak the words we all hope for: “Well done thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of thy Lord”. (Matthew 25:21) and we will enjoy a perfect season, eternal life with our families.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Sharp Tongue

Recently I had the privilege of officiating a high school lacrosse tournament.  The tournament lasted two days and teams from Idaho, Utah and Nevada participated. Lacrosse is unique in not allowing unsporting behavior from the players, coaches or fans. When teams play in a tournament like this one it is easy for habits from other sports creep in and the tempers can heat up and people give in and start complaining. Times like these show what people are made of. Do they give in and start the blame game or do they own the situation, good or bad, and make the best of the situation.

I have never understood why anyone thinks that yelling at officials will convince them to make calls in their favor. Officials do not care which team wins or how much the fans complain and harass, it will not change the way calls are made. From a fans perspective it may appear that the officials are biased when calls are not going the way they want. I have often wondered how fans would enjoy a game where officials changed the way they called the game based on comments from the fans or coaches. Players would have no idea how to play because the rules would not be consistent. Everyone involved would become frustrated and lose interest.

Officials work hard to understand the rules and call a game by those rules with their primary goal to provide a safe environment and allow players from both teams to display their talents fairly. No official will call a perfect game. Mistakes will be made on calls and in my opinion that is part of the game. Teams need to learn to accept mistakes that players make and move beyond them or they will get frustrated and lose focus. The same thing can happen if they are focusing on what the officials are or are not calling, they will not be able to execute properly and they will get even more frustrated and complain more.

One of the lacrosse teams in this tournament lost control so much that their foul mouths had the officials ending the game with the leading team forfeiting the match and ending their championship hopes. This team was one of the better talented teams in the tournament and had won the championship in previous years. After the game parents from the losing team came on the field and started berating the officials (I was not on this game) and threatening that they were going to contact the tournament sponsors with their complaints.

In one of the games that I officiated, we experienced one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship I have seen in a long time. One team was behind by several points and the other team out matched them with their experience and skill. The team that was losing had a player that was autistic. The team that was in the lead found about the autistic player and they called a time out. They talked to their players and asked them to allow the autistic player to score a goal when he got the ball.  A few minutes later the player received the ball and he weaved in and out around the defenders and made it to the goal. He shot and scored; players from both teams surrounded the player and with high fives congratulated him. He was so excited; there was not one person that did not have a smile on his face. That one goal did not make a difference in the game, but it did make a difference in a young athlete that found success in a sport he loved. Just before all this happened I saw this player with his mouthpiece hanging down. I did not know that he was autistic, but instead of penalizing him with a 1-minute penalty I just told him to get the mouthpiece in. Had I flagged him and sent him to the penalty box he would not have been on the field to score the goal. Sometimes even officials make the right call by not going by the book.

Life is seldom fair. When things are not going your way how will you respond? Will you cry foul and lash out at those who appear to have the advantages or will you lift up your head and move on and make the best of life’s curves and bumps? David said in one of his Psalms: “Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.” (Psalms 52:2) and in the New Testament we read:

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. (James3:5-10)

Marvin J. Ashton spoke in general conference of the common practice of bashing others. He said:

In the world today we are victims of many who use their tongues as sharp swords. The misuse of our tongues seems to add intrigue and destruction as the media and private persons indulge in this pastime. In the vernacular of the day, this destructive activity is called bashing. The dictionary reports that to bash is to strike with a heavy, crushing blow.

Such a popular behavior is indulged in by far too many who bash a neighbor, a family member, a public servant, a community, a country, a church. It is alarming also how often we find children bashing parents and parents bashing children.

None of us need one more person bashing or pointing out where we have failed or fallen short. Most of us are already well aware of the areas in which we are weak. What each of us does need is family, friends, employers, and brothers and sisters who support us, who have the patience to teach us, who believe in us, and who believe we’re trying to do the best we can, in spite of our weaknesses. What ever happened to giving each other the benefit of the doubt? What ever happened to hoping that another person would succeed or achieve? What ever happened to rooting for each other? (“The Tongue Can Be A Sharp Sword”, Marvin J. Ashton, General Conference, April 1992)

The Savior was the greatest example of how to react to those who wanted to kill him. He refused to give into their taunts and lies and held his peace and would not answer their questions (Mark 14:61). Even when Pilot questioned him, he would not answer his questions (Mark 15:5). Earlier while teaching his disciples he told them to love their enemies and to bless those that would curse them and to pray for those that would persecute them (Matthew 5:44).

No one likes the player or fan that constantly complains and cries when the referees seemingly are out against them or their team. Most of the time all we want is for them to go away and let the rest enjoy the game.  How we respond to the difficulties we experience in life will determine if we are accepted or rejected by those we come in contact with. The tongue can be a sharp sword or it can be used to bless and find joy no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

Your comments and questions are welcome.