March 16, 2009

March Madness
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Even non-sports fans seem to know about March Madness. It’s the name given to one of America’s premier competitions: the National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball Playoffs. Beginning this Thursday and continuing until the finals on April 7, the top 65 college teams in the Nation will throw everything they have at one another. Only one of them will rise through the ranks by winning six straight games.

This event produces a kind of “madness” in some men, who suffer from arrested adolescence (like me). Their attempts to project the winners of every game in every bracket has led to a pseudo-science called “bracketology.” Betting on these projections ranges from office pools to serious big-bucks gambling. Some married couples arrange for a temporary separation until it’s all over. Psychiatrists who see some of these men in April can verify that serious post-finals depression is not uncommon.

The phrase March Madness has been around a lot longer than basketball. Medieval Brittons were fascinated by the bizarre behavior of the native rabbits (hares) during the mating season, which began in February and was in full-bloom through March. Critters which were characteristically docile and fearful now attacked each other with flailing front legs. Sometimes one of them would jump straight up in the air a few feet, then land awkwardly.

This rodent behavior led to a phrase used to describe a particularly irrational or eccentric person: “He’s mad as a March hare!” In English literature, this graphic description is first found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s epic poem “The Canterbury Tales,” written about 1390 AD. Judging by the off-hand way he refers to it, the simile must have been used even earlier in the speech of common people.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, written in 1865 AD, depicted a tea party where the Mad Hatter was joined by his friend the March Hare. The two of them demonstrated how mad supposedly rational beings can be.

In order to have a better understanding of March Madness (the basketball kind), let’s look a little more closely at its parallel with March Hare behavior. Here’s what they have in common: both are tied to an overload of hormones. You can’t miss the fact that this guy whose eyes are glued to his TV set, clutching his bracket selections in his hand, is diverting testosterone energy that should be invested in his marriage. That’s the way his wife sees it. March Hare antics are also stimulated by the hormonal increase that comes during that season. Evidently, their behavior attracts the girl-bunnies, because they sure do reproduce! (Maybe American men’s March Madness can be seen as a very effective contraceptive strategy.)

In both cases, the “mad” behavior results in wildly irrational choices. Temporarily, the man or hare, is not being controled by his brains, his better judgments and his higher values. Hares can be more easily shot by hunters during March, and fragile human marriages are also especially vulnerable to attack.

Okay, we’ll give you guys March. Will you preserve some of your energy and intensity for an April renewal in your commitment to the Lord’s work? Right after the finals on April 7 will come Good Friday (April 10) and Easter (April 12). This would be a great time to turn your attention more fully on the Lord, what he’s done for you, what he wants you to do for him.

I wonder what ABC would be like if some of us became “mad” for Jesus!