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Now that the NCAA has bungled post-season football again, I've taken a second look. Yesterday, I created my annual 16-team tournament we should be watching with representation from all conference champions.

CollegeFootball_playoff2017.jpg

Today, I throw in the proverbial towel.

This notion of "power 5 conferences" -- and, doing the math, the other "non power" conferences -- has revealed the need for two different tournaments. That is clear. Even expanding the current format to 8 teams would leave out an undefeated Central Florida team that has blown most of its opponents away, including more than a half dozen wins against bowl-bound teams.
So, here is my take on 8s.

Rather than trying to shove 5 conferences into a 4-team bracket, move to 8 and include all 5 of those conference champions with 3 at large teams.
Then, establish an NIT of sorts for the other 5 FBS conferences, who will never get a sniff at any playoffs in our current system otherwise.
The National Invitational Tournament in college basketball is the "other tournament" for teams not invited to March Madness proper.

This football version of an NIT would follow the same format: 8 teams including all 5 of the conference champions from the other "non power" conferences, and 3 at large teams from those conferences.
No mixing between the FBS playoff conferences and the FNS (with the "N" meaning NIT or "never getting into our playoffs" division).

Two tournaments played at more or less the same time. It's an almost elegant solution to a problem that, clearly, is never going to be resolved by the college sports powers-that-be.
Brackets:

CollegeFootball_with_NIT_2017a.jpg

I view current FCC plans to dismantle Net Neutrality as a threat to me. No, neither Inappropriate Conversations nor Walk The Earth are significant enough to be a specific target. What I do, though, is exactly the kind of communication that could easily get quashed if huge corporations operating as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have their way. 

I might find it far more difficult, if not impossible, to upload podcasts. I might get "an offer I can't refuse" about paying a premium to restore service to where it has been. More likely, I won't because what I do is far more personal and direct -- aka, not particularly marketable -- meaning no restoration of service standards would ever even be offered. You see, my "personhood" is far less important to current FCC leadership than the "personhood" of companies like Comcast and Verizon. And the money I pay in taxes is completely unimportant to all my elected representatives in Congress compared to the "speech" (money) of lobbyists. 

The only hope is public outcry. And FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seems to be taking steps to quash that as much as legally possible, if not crossing that once-sacred "law and order" line. 
Pai has refused to allow scrutiny over clearly false (mostly anti-Net Neutrality) public posts to determine how many of them are from fake and non-American sources.
Pai has limited commentary this year to a very aggravating FCC website requiring a positively wonky knowledge base to navigate (more on that in a moment).
And he has the support of the current presidential administration which, frankly, would do almost anything to suppress voices of dissent.

So, what do we need to know and do?

First, get informed and do so quickly. The FCC is going to vote on this December 14, 2017, if they are true to their word. (That's an open question, in my opinion.) So get informed and speak up.

Second, visit the FCC.gov website since it is the only way you are permitted to comment.
This website is not user-friendly, so I'll share how I approached this (with help from friends like Rick from Starbase 66).

Proceeding(s): 17-108
Name(s) of Filer(s): Enter your name here -- and you probably have to hit the enter button, especially if you are working on a mobile device.
Primary Contact Email: Careful and proper entry here because it won't count comments if the automated email response (confirmation) doesn't work.
Address / City / State / ZIP: Common entries here.
Brief Comments: I chose to be very brief, like I would if I was talking with someone I didn't trust, who didn't have my interests at heart, and who had a track record of twisting my words for his own political ends. I simply wrote: I support Title 2 oversight of ISPs.

That last part is the crucial point:
I support Title 2 oversight of ISPs.

I then clicked the Email Confirmation checkbox, the "Continue to review screen" button, and proceeded from there. The email confirmation came pretty quickly.

I've been very detailed and specific here because I believe it is both important and necessary. My friend Rick was more succinct and conversational:
" I have done this, and unless you want to start having to pay for websites the same way you pay for cable tv channels you should too! On your computer, not your phone, go to: www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express
Enter Proceeding 17-108 and in comments, say you support Title 2 oversight of ISPs.
Do this now if you support net neutrality!
Fill the form in carefully; they've made it less friendly and impossible to fill in by phone, on purpose, because the new FCC head does not want to hear from you. Fcc him! Spread this message!"

Whatever works. We should always be suspicious when powerful people paid in millions of dollars make efforts to silence the feedback of citizens. A free and open internet is how I communicate with people across the country and around the world, and I do not want to see my freedom to speak pinched or silenced.

I released Walk The Earth 48 earlier this month. I'm planning the next Inappropriate Conversations podcast for the first part of December.
I recorded each as if it might be my last in either format. I am very pleased with #wte48, and I hope to pour as much of my heart and soul into #IC204.

No, I'm not done. I definitely have more to say about the way we "do church" as Christians or the need for open dialog that doesn't dance around delicate not-for-dinner topics like politics, sex, and religion. I've just treated each of these as if ISPs will be empowered by the current FCC to shut down internet traffic that doesn't make them money or challenges notions like whether corporations are really people. 
I'll say it again. I'm too small a fish within this pond we call the world wide web for AT&T to care about. If they did care, though, questions I raise about whether multi-national corporations could ever have American rights would absolutely make me a target. 

I view the current FCC plans to dismantle Net Neutrality as a threat to me. I am right to be concerned. You should be concerned, too. We are all in this together.

I am no longer a child. As I've mentioned recently in Inappropriate Conversations #195, both of my parents are now gone along with their sisters and brother and my grandparents. It is one thing to say I no longer have living parents. Feels quite different to acknowledge that I am nobody's child.

For many reasons, I believe that my faith over the decades is both unchanged in any significant way and very different from my mother's. In other words, in the years (and it was years) leading up to her death, I am not the one who drifted. I'm still the man (a young man back then) who has heard answered prayer and lived accordingly. And I know that, in many ways, many in my extended family do not respect that experience. 

This has left behind a complex experience of grief, beyond the standard mix of love and sorrow. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some smoldering resentment. I tend to feel that way on behalf of marginalized and dismissed people. Some times, like these, I am among "the least of these" too.

On and off for a few months now, I have been reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I would not be surprised to name her a Different Drummer in the future. My year has interfered with my reading. Business trip in February. My mother's death in March. Vacation a few weeks later. Another business trip this week. On the trip before my mother died, I was devouring pages in Bolz-Weber's book, and then I just stopped. Weeks before mom died, I just couldn't pick it back up. Accidental Saints was a traveling companion, along with holding the primary perch on my nightstand, but I didn't read a word. 

I am a man who believes he has heard answered prayer, but I didn't connect this reader's block with the Holy Spirit. Until now.

After once again making this book my traveling companion on a business trip, and after weeks of wrestling with conflicting emotions documented elsewhere, I once again let Bolz-Weber's voice into my head at the start of a long flight home. Her writing style seems conversational to me, so I genuinely hear the words through her voice, knowing how Nadia sounds through more than one podcast/radio interview. I drifted back to the end of the last chapter I'd read from the middle of her book, then the next. Nothing striking or odd about the passages I'd missed. No reason to think a wiser force was holding me back.

Then I got to a chapter called Parlors. It stopped me in my tracks. I had to wipe away tears. No mistaking why I somehow couldn't read those words before my mother's funeral, before my wife had read hurtful journal entries about my parenting from the one who raised me, along with other reminders that my parents were never going to recognize some of my friends as anything other than dangerous threats to my marriage -- based on nothing more than gender.

Before the Holy Spirit permitted me to hear from Bolz-Weber earlier this week, no one was really capable of speaking words of comfort to me. I needed to know that it was acceptable, even natural, to feel love simultaneously with resentment, regret, disappointment, and even anger. I needed that, and I needed it specifically now. More than a month needed to pass, for one thing. For another, I needed to be alone, even the "alone" you feel in an airplane packed with people. 

Perhaps I don't need to say that "Parlors" is a brilliant chapter in a wonderful book. Consider this a recommendation. I will share the passage that blessed me with an assurance I've been lacking lately. There is so much more, though. Clearly the author knows this. A year ago she shared the chapter (linked above, when I first called it by name) in a Patheos blog. 

Here's that paragraph or so:
"As sacred as love is, human love is never pure or perfect. We just aren’t that kind of species. There are cracks in everything and even the most shining aspects of our lives—even love, or perhaps especially love—come with imperfection.

"Often, when someone dies, we feel a combination of love and something else, and this, too, is holy. And entirely human. And they don’t cancel each other out. Love and anger. Love and disappointment. Love and emptiness. We always love imperfectly. It is the nature of human love. And it is okay.

"But despite all the love in the world, when it comes down to it, none of us can know the reality of another. We can share circumstances, personality traits, even parents, yet as much as we move through our lives alongside each other, none of us can fully know the internal reality of another."
(Nadia Bolz-Weber)

I'm hopeful that Inappropriate Conversations cannot be limited to a single point and that I have more points and questions to raise in the future. Surely one of those points, though, is that we Christians too often presume that we can know the internal reality of other people, and know it so well to justify abominations like denying them communion or trying to separate them from the people who love them most for reasons that have nothing to do with what Jesus taught and demonstrated. 

The other mistake is believing the very imperfections that make us human either separate us from God or justify an all-too-human tendency to play God ourselves by presuming we can or should separate the sheep from the goats, so to speak. 

That answered prayer I mentioned earlier was God telling me that I shouldn't remain silent. I needed to speak up because, in unexpected ways, the words might be more than just my own. Avoiding the risk of getting it wrong (often, in fact) is itself too risky, too high a price. It's far better to say something that should not be said than not to say something that should be said. The right words at the right time have been, for me, a call to worship this week. 

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
(Leonard Cohen)

 

The current political climate is presenting more threats to individual liberty. A fair amount of threats are disguised as efforts to protect "religious liberty" coming from state legislatures, several court jurisdictions, and perhaps soon the executive branch of the federal government. The "liberty" being sought is the power to refuse service to customers, fire employees, or worse. 

None of the fervently desired permissions to discriminate have anything to do with the behavior of those customers or employees in those roles within our economy and society. It's not about the customers who cost more money to do business with than the business can cover with profit margins. It's not about employees who fail to get the job done because of what otherwise would be described as the way they live their lives outside of work. It is truly about a false piety on the part of so-called Christian citizens seeking to redefine "religious liberty" to give them the power to impose an earthly judgment on people they perceive as living out sins that Jesus wants them to hate.

I've spoken elsewhere about the core theological questions, going all the way back to Inappropriate Conversations #20 (including the poem "Chapter And Verse") if not further back than that. When it comes to personal piety, "love the sinner but hate the sin" is an abomination, not what the Lord requires of us. "Love the Lord and your neighbor" is the sum of the Law, and Jesus reminded us of this repeatedly.

What this trend represents is a betrayal of Christianity by the "religious right" and other politically-active Christians. It represents a betrayal of our free market economy by giving an inappropriate veto power to something other than the laws of supply and demand. And, clearly, it threatens and thereby betrays all LGBTQIA people and anyone else these inept business leaders want to exclude for not being good enough to get into their heaven, and so not being good enough to shop or work in their stores or companies.

The next Inappropriate Conversations will be called "No Pharisee Shopping Spree" and it will explore how the rest of us -- including those who are far more committed to following Christ than this group of Christians -- can respond to protect people who are clearly assessed as "the least of these" by many of today's politicians, legislators, judges, etc.

It won't look like a boycott. This isn't going to be another pointless public proclamation about "not watching the Oscars this year" from people who haven't watched an Academy Awards telecast in years if not decades. We know they haven't paid the award shows any attention because they scream "not this year" on social media every single year. 
No, it is likely to take a different form, perhaps more measured but certainly more Walk than Talk.

For now, I'm calling it a Consumer & Employee Freedom Protection Action, but slogans are unimportant. What matters more is aggressively standing up for people who should not have their livelihood threatened because they aren't willing to lie to the rest of (as, to be fair, was required of them for centuries) about who they are and whom they love. 

I might go so far as to suggest that a day of evil is upon us. When people who publicly proclaim that they are Christians are so far away from Christ that their cherished solutions are little more than a means of bullying marginalized people into telling lies, then we can look to what Jesus said about "the father of all lies" and safely determine that we can know who the new Pharisees are. 

"When the day of evil comes, we must be able to stand our ground; and, after we have done everything, to stand."
(Paul of Tarsus, paraphrased)

I am a radical moderate. I have voted for non-RepubliCrats of several political parties as many times in my life as I have voted for Democrats and Republicans combined. The last two times I voted for anyone from the duopoly, those votes went to Republicans. The first two times I ever voted, I sided with Democrats. My track record, though, is shunning both.

This year, it is very tempting to shun both again. I voted for Jill Stein in 2012, and I would vote the same way again if given another chance in 2012. I'm not inclined to vote for her this year, though. This is not the place to post my reasons.

Libertarian-leaning candidates do not interest me, and I see friends with that mindset veering toward Gary Johnson. Too often, Libertarianism becomes all about the "ism" as if the political philosophy matters more than anything else. Ron Paul, for example, personified this in the last election cycle by suggesting that people who didn't buy their own health insurance should be left to die -- no coverage, no treatment. 

So, I am either stuck with "major party" options, or I need to dig deeper and find a candidate who, unlike Stein or Johnson, truly qualifies as fringe. Or do I?

The least attractive presidential candidate I can recall in my lifetime is Donald Trump. I say this as a registered Republican. He is not the only problem with the GOP today, though. Probably the biggest issue is Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate refusing to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing or vote to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court from Antonin Scalia's death in February. 

February. When the SCOTUS term begins in early October, almost 8 months will have passed. The Constitution requires the Senate to advise and consent on judicial nominees. There has been no advice, no consideration, no hearings, and certainly no consent. Our Constitution is being violated by people who have sworn to uphold it. 

I'm not naive. I understand the point of this anti-Constitutional obstruction. Political conservatives revered Scalia and don't want a more moderate judge sitting in that spot. Facile arguments have been made about mid-term election results and "the will of the people" requiring that the seat be left vacant until after a new president is inaugurated. None of this is Constitutional. Throughout our history, sitting presidents have filled judicial vacancies regardless of changes in majorities in either part of Congress.

Remember, the Constitution has nothing to say about political parties holding majorities. What it speaks of instead are concepts like advise and consent, the president's power and responsibility to appoint judges, and the importance of fair and speedy trials. All of these things are in jeopardy, and we are likely facing a genuine Constitutional crisis.

What does this have to do with my vote in 2016? 
I'm putting a decision deadline on the first Monday in October. 

As a Republican who has, frankly, long ago written off Trump as potentially presidential, I am hesitant to vote for Hillary Clinton. I didn't vote for her husband at either opportunity, so why would I vote for her? 
Of course, as a moderate my political views are far too complex for any Either/Or proposition like conservative v. liberal or Republican v. Democrat. And, as I've noted, the choices this year are not particularly compelling examples.

That said, the only way Trump can get any serious consideration from me is the Senate doing their job and filling the SCOTUS vacancy before the beginning of its term. Our Constitution says that, in this year, a Democrat sitting in the White House will appoint the next Supreme Court justice with the consent of the Senate. Do it. Do it now. Come back from recess in an emergency session if necessary. 

There is an Else to this formula. 
If Obama is not going to be the sitting Democrat who fills this vacancy (by the end of September, since it hasn't happened in the 2-3 months it normally takes), then I will do everything in my power to correct this Constitutional abomination by striving to put another Democrat into the White House to right this wrong. 

That doesn't just mean voting for Hillary Clinton. It means a straight ticket of Democrats across every level of government. Both the Senate and House openings on my ballot at the national level, but also across every state, county, city, and other jurisdiction. People within my party who don't respect the Constitution enough to rise up and fix this cannot earn my vote for their current or sought seats either. Who knows, in the five crucial weeks between the first Monday in October and the second Tuesday in November, I might even make financial donations (for probably the first time since college) to Democrat candidates within those elections. 

This isn't as extreme as it may sound to some. I am a radical moderate, and I'm approaching this from that perspective. All I am asking is for Republicans in the U.S. Senate to perform their Constitutionally-mandated duty in a timely manner that respects the importance and functions of the judiciary. If they cannot do that by the first Monday in October, then none of them deserve my consideration, or their jobs.

Right this wrong, though, and I will wipe the slate clean and spend the month of October re-evaluating candidates for every office on my ballot from a fresh perspective. That is my job as a citizen. Unlike far too many of my fellow Republicans, I am doing my job. 
Do yours or let someone else do it. Simple as that.

Concurring Opinion

On Inappropriate Conversations #184 I mentioned a process I've been calling First Track for more than a year now. Here is an example of that, reblogging myself.

Ray Boltz is famous, perhaps deservedly, for his song "Thank You" (thank you for giving to the Lord; I was a life that was changed). I'm probably exaggerating a little, but I can't recall ever attending a church camp or "weekend" as either a child or adult where that song wasn't played on a stereo or sung collectively. I'll share it below, but it isn't my ‪#‎FirstTrack‬ from Boltz.

I only bring it up as an introduction to wonder aloud if "Thank You" is still sung -- or now ever sung -- at such gatherings. I never hear the name Ray Boltz in conversations about CTC music. His song is still famous. He has made subsequent recordings. My favorite is "All You Died for Me to Be."
That one isn't the "first" either, but I'd still typically share it below. I can't/won't today because I can't find a video for it, not even one of those videos with a static picture of the album cover (Songs from the Potter's Field, 2002) and the music playing in the background.

Around the time of that album, Boltz publicly acknowledged some truths about himself that the broad Christian community strongly and intensely wanted him to keep lying about. Boltz is gay.

I have seen an evolution in modern Christian thought about this, even in just a few years now.
* Denial: he can't be gay because there is no such thing; it's just a lifestyle choice.
* Anger: if he can't lie to himself about who he is, then he's going to hell.
* Bargaining: I understand how he might not be able to lie to himself about this, but we'll continue to accept him -- sing his songs, buy his albums -- as long has he keeps lying to everyone else about his life and loves.
* Depression: the world is going to accept these pop stars and there is nothing "we" can do about it, so I'll just check completely out, including pretending that Boltz doesn't exist and never contributed any uplifting or edifying music to the modern Christian experience. I'll just stop "thanking him for giving to the Lord" whether my life was changed by his songwriting or not.

We haven't gotten anywhere near an Acceptance stage yet. The devil's bargain of "it's OK to be gay if you don't act upon it" is just another form of denial and bargaining. Another double standard. I don't believe for one second that the people who abandoned Boltz, burning his albums either literally or metaphorically, would really be "back to normal" as listeners. We know that as long as they didn't view Boltz as "normal" then they'd never be a regular listener ever again.

Some introduction! Well, I needed to make two things clear. I was never that huge fan in the first place. I prefer my music with a bit of an edge, and Boltz has never had such an edge. I own two albums, one recorded before he started telling people truths they didn't want to hear, and one recorded after. My favorite song from him comes from the latter, but the true "first track" comes from the former.

I wonder now when hearing the words to songs like "The Altar" if there is more meaning than any of us could have known at the time. What people in their private prayer life might long to leave at the altar is truly none of our business. Judging them for it, though, has been strictly forbidden by Jesus in The Sermon On The Mount and elsewhere. 
These days, though, it is harder and harder to find a Christian who truly cares what Jesus commanded or even taught. There is more lip service than faith in action about what Jesus died for us to be.

Ray Boltz - The Altar

Thank you, Ray, for your years of service, for your honesty, and hopefully for your perseverance in the face of undeniable betrayal.
Ray Boltz - Thank You

I'm told that April is National Poetry Month and April 21st is Poem In Your Pocket Day, so here is a one-page poem that I first shared on Inappropriate Conversations #23 in August 2010: "Laws Of Motion"

“He is never going to

Change, is he?”

We’ve always done it that way around here.

It is what it

Is: predictable.

What did you expect?

If you examine

All of the

Causes and effects, beforehand,

You could predict the future.

Bet on it;

The odds are with you.

He is never going to change.

 

“To make any

Headway, you’ve got

To hit the ground

Running.” Charge forward.

Work harder. Work smarter.

Direct the committee

To create a subcommittee.

The task force will recommend

Throwing dollars at the problem,

Or hours. Top priority, as in “now.”

The wrong answer today will always

Win over the right answer

At any other time.

 

“What goes around, comes around.”

Prepare yourself for

A backlash.

At the moment I say the

Words, I want to swallow them back

In my throat.

Yet, when I’m silent

I can’t hear my thoughts

Over the shouting.

Consequences.

Do we still believe in consequences?

No matter;

They still believe in us.


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