Sunday, April 29, 2007

I Don’t Believe

My apologies to readers who aren’t into theology, but this post is going to be a cross-over into my other passion.

Of course, you can hardly follow the NBA these days without knowing a little bit of church talk: Nike’s pushing the Second Coming, King James had “Witness” t-shirts last year, which Mavs fans parodied with “Nowitzness” t-shirts (I own one) for last year’s playoffs. Dwyane Wade even suggested a couple of weeks back that he wanted to pull off a resurrection of his shoulder in celebration of Easter.

But along with Dirk and Avery, I want to talk about Abraham, Isaac, and Søren Kierkegaard. An odd mix, I know, but I swear it’ll make sense in a minute.

For those who aren’t obsessed with the Bible like I am, Abraham was the patriarch of the Jewish people, the man to whom God gave a son (Isaac) in his old age, in fulfillment of a promise to make Abraham into a great nation. Isaac was Abraham’s only son, and in the context of the Bible he’s the link between Abraham and the entire people of Israel, and ultimately Jesus.

But God decided to test Abraham, and so God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Fortunately, God stopped Abraham from going through with it, but only once he had Isaac bound on the altar and the knife in his hand. As a result, Abraham is extolled for his obedience and faith.

It’s a horrific story, and Kierkegaard’s book about it is appropriately titled Fear and Trembling. His basic point is, if that’s what faith is, then we probably shouldn’t be too glib about saying we have faith. I think he’s got a pretty good point.

One of the central arguments of Kierkegaard’s book is that faith has to be a paradox. Abraham had to believe both (1) that he was going to kill Isaac as God had commanded, and (2) that God would still use Isaac to make Abraham into a great nation. It didn’t seem to make sense, but that’s what faith required.

If Abraham had only believed one of those two things, he wouldn’t have had faith: if he thought God was going to stop him, then it wouldn’t be a real test; and if he thought that he was losing Isaac for good, then he wouldn’t have believed God’s promise.

And what’s worse, if Abraham had thought he was losing Isaac for good, then he wouldn’t have been able to receive him back with joy. The reason why is, the only way Abraham could have resigned himself to losing Isaac would have been by loving Isaac less, and to make that kind of break––to really resign that you will kill your son––is not something that you can simply undo once the crisis is past. Abraham, Kierkegaard argues, never would have been the same.

Which brings me to my point.

As far as I can tell, I have officially resigned myself to the Mavericks losing this playoff series. In contrast to the Warriors fans and their t-shirts, I don’t believe. Of course the Mavericks aren’t worthy of the kind of trust that Abraham put in God. But if the Mavericks are my Isaac, my object of devotion that I’m afraid of losing, then I have officially resigned them as lost.

And as a result, if the Mavericks do come through against Golden State, I don’t think I’ll be able to receive them back with joy. This season is dead to me, whether the slaughter really ends up happening or not. I might keep watching games (and I’ll probably keep blogging, too), and who knows––they might still win the title this year; but I won’t be enjoying it the way I would if I had had faith all along. I’ll probably watch Sunday’s game, but I bet I could study instead, and not think much of it.

It’s a trade-off I decided to make. I can’t stand the kind of anger and frustration that messed with my sleep after last year’s finals, so on Friday night I turned off a little switch in my heart. It’s going to take a lot of emotional energy for me to finish my papers this semester, and I am not going down with this team.

If the Mavericks win it all this year, a True Believer is going to have to email me and tell me how it feels. There may indeed be a resurrection of this team that looks dead, but I won’t be a Nowitzness to it.


Jeremy said...

Interesting post.

But also sad. Even down 2-1, the Mavs are still the favorites in this series. If they win today, they get their home court advantage back. With a little bit of luck, they will play the Spurs, the team they were built to beat. There's no way they again lose the Finals to an inferior team in the East.

How much emotional energy have you invested in this team the past decade? You're going to give up now?

JKnott said...


The problem is, if I may say so, you are the wrong kind of fan. I can say that because, as you may have noticed, I can be the same kind of fan.

Let me use the analogy of being in love. If you love the same person for years and years and they abuse you, then of course you should probably leave them. But if they do not abuse you but just keep making the same mistakes (and believe me, they will), then if you leave them the problem is probably you.

Someone who thinks their beloved is perfect or could easily become so, when they can't (which is always), is not really loving them. You have to love the person you love, not some idealized picture of them.

And if you do love the real person in front of you, you will have more patience with their foibles, and not be broken-hearted when they AGAIN leave the top off the toothpaste tube.

With the Mavs, they are who they are. Maybe the'll win, maybe not. Only a fool would keep having faith that the Mavs will not be the Mavs, that they won't blow 3-0 series leads, or late-game 10-point leads, that Nowitski will suddenly morph physically into Lebron. The key is to know that that is who they are, and still be a fan. A good fan, like a good lover, can BOTH glory in the other's triumph AND not go into despair will the setbacks.

We've been here with the Mavs before. And if we remain fans, we'll be here again. The question is, can you take it?

micah said...

I can't help but see the comedy in this post and comments. That the Mavs draw such analogies as theology and being in love is a bit funny. I love being a Mavs fan. I even woke up this morning nervous about the game tonight but if you really have to jump in to the point where you can't sleep then maybe you should turn off that little part in your heart. It's just basketball and I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

It beats thinking about the Rangers!

Bigcat said...

I started to learn not to invest too much in Mavs since their instant classic 19 pts 4th quarter meltdown in LA years ago. Of course, compared to you, I've invested little to begin with. But last year's final made me glad that I've learnt to treat this as just basketball.

Mavs may still win the title (in which case I'll be estactic), it also may play their last game of the season on May 1 (in which case I'll shrug it off and boycott their next season).

But I've learnt to let me be the one who controls my emotion.

JKnott said...

Don't you get some consolation that Miami just got swept? Who called that one?

scoots said...

Jeremy said: There's no way they again lose the Finals to an inferior team in the East.

Really? They seem to be having their hat handed to them right now. And for that matter, it sure seemed like they wanted to win those last two games of the finals last year.

I agree there’s still a really good chance the Mavericks will take the series, but I can’t afford to wreck my emotional health for the next couple of weeks. If Dallas were going to breeze through the first two rounds, then I’d be done with the semester, and I’d gladly undergo the roller coaster of a wcf series. But not this early––I’ve only got four semesters of coursework, and I just can’t afford it.

scoots said...

Jason, I think you and I disagree on the definition of abuse. Have you been watching this series? In all seriousness (!), it’s possible they can win me back, to an extent. I’m just saying, it won’t be the same then because of how I’m detaching myself now.

People are worthy of a greater love than that; but for me, right now, this team isn’t.

scoots said...

Micah said: It beats thinking about the Rangers! .

Or the Stars, or the Cowboys…I wonder if we realize the ramifications for Dallas sports of the Mavericks blowing last year’s finals, Tony Romo fumbling that snap in January, and then Dallas losing in the first round to Golden State. That would have to be 3 of the 10 biggest playoff disasters in professional sports in the last 30 years, all in the span of ten months.

scoots said...

Bigcat said: But I've learnt to let me be the one who controls my emotion.

Yeah, I haven’t so much learned that yet.

scoots said...

Jason said: Don't you get some consolation that Miami just got swept? Who called that one?

Actually, yes. That’s quite a bit of consolation. Now if Phoenix can just crumble, I’ll be golden.

scoots said...

Jeremy said: How much emotional energy have you invested in this team the past decade? You're going to give up now?

Hey––in college I invested too much emotional energy in a girl that was sure to break my heart, and breaking free from that was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I’m not saying I don’t have my doubts here, but it’s feeling pretty good so far.

micah said...

What's happened to Ryan B?

ryan b said...

I was out of town this weekend. Needless to say, I am disappointed with the direction this blog has taken.