Should We Still Love/Watch the NFL?

For those who are already disinterested or dislike the NFL, it’s easy to see all the recent events as yet another reason to turn off the NFL. But what do real NFL fans do with what’s happening these days?

Confession: I like(d) Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. “Mighty Mouse” and “All Day” have been great athletes to watch play football. Further, up until now, their off-the-field personalities have been likable. Yeah, Rice has always been cocky but it’s “little-guy in the NFL syndrome” and it works. And though AP preaches a different type of Christian faith than I do, I did appreciate that he trusted Jesus and desired to share his hope with others (Did you see him “preach” at the ESPY’s last year?).

So when news broke out that Rice knocked out his then-fiancé and the images of him dragging out Janay, I was very saddened. Like many, I balked at the two-game suspension Roger Goodell gave and when the video in the elevator was released, wow! I along with everyone could not believe what I saw (I don’t doubt he lives in deep regret of that moment too). Then when the news of Adrian Peterson broke of him beating his four year old in the manner he admits to, my stomach turned again. The pictures and the report are enough, though however unlikely, I hope no video ever emerges of the look of Peterson’s face as he did what he did to his young son.

These high-profile incidents and many others are making us all wonder what is going on, how much is enough and what can actually be done? What does it mean to keep watching/following/cheering? What does it mean to stop?  How does this correlate to every other scandal in the entertainment industry, the political sector, the church world, and all the missteps that my friends and family members make in my own private world? There’s the big picture view of society, the closer ones, and the one in the mirror – what about him/her? And for those of us Christians, how does our faith inform this?

The point is often made that sports is a microcosm for life and I resonate with some of that. I find it to be partially true and I also find it to serve as a loose justification for all the time and attention given to it. Among my favorite parts of professional sports is there is supposed to be an innocence to be enjoyed. The games we played as children, the hail-mary catches, the bottom of the ninth home run and the buzzer beater is all part of the “thrill of the game” – any game. And so when baseball was tainted by the steroid-era, the NBA soured by Jordan’s retirement, and the NFL being sacked by concussion cover-ups and the constant cycle of out of control behavior, much of the innocence is lost and the games/athleticism/narrative of sport is harder to appreciate.

First, my love for the NFL: I have a bit riding on this. I’ve been a fan for a while. I’m also in three fantasy football leagues. (Three?? I have friends. But really, one moment you’re talking about trading A.J. Green for Alfred Morris, the next you’re talking about the pains/joys of fatherhood). I may not look it but I’ve loved the NFL for decades. I don’t wear jerseys, I don’t play Madden anymore, I rarely go to games (games are hard for pastors to get to)  … but I follow the NFL and we go way back. 

Among my first memories of enjoying the NFL was Walter Payton and the ’86 Bears. I was able to catch the tail end of his brilliant career and I remember watching his last regular season game at Solder Field. If memory serves me right, “Sweetness” scored twice and threw the balls into the crowd. I still remember the game-caller saying on the air, “Oh no, I’m sure Canton wanted those balls and Payton is saying, ‘No, this is for everyone.’”

After Payton retired and I exited out of the age of single digits, I found Jim McMahon and The Fridge Perry to be obnoxious/annoying. I found the Eagles to be worse and though we were living in Pennsylvania, most of my friends weren’t Eagle fans but instead preferred the Jets, Giants, Vikings and Bears. My fanhood pin-balled between the Giants/49ers. All I really knew was that I couldn’t support a team who threw snowballs at Santa Claus (yep Evan, I may not have been alive for it, but I’m not letting it go :).

It’s a bit sappy to say but the NFL has been a part of my life for nearly 30 years and there’s been a lot to enjoy: West Coast offenses, Bo Jackson, Brett Favre pre-weirdo stage, “The Greatest Show on Turf,” TO being TO, the Cowboys always losing and Eli beating Brady in the Super Bowl … twice.

Then in the last ten years, we started to hear about the concussions, then the cover-ups, a few more scandals, the increasingly out of control behavior, and now the recent news of all the domestic violence. Even though there are great ambassadors of the game like Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and the stories of Jim Kelly and Devon Stills that transcend team loyalties, it’s getting harder to watch.

And this is where sports being a microcosm of life which allows us to make a few observations:

It’s definitely a business and their two biggest concerns is the media onslaught they’re getting and the sponsorships they’re losing. Yes, I’m inserting the “It’s always about money” comment here. The NFL doesn’t really worry about losing fans – they’re more worried about losing cultural capital and sponsorships. Because it’s about what it means when you lose corporate sponsorships. When one major brand no longer wants to be affiliated with another major brand, it’s not always about values and responsibility. It’s about being associated with “you”, and “you” is bad for our brand and that’s bad for business and yes, in the end, it’s about the money.

They won’t worry about losing you and me until it translates to dollars. Despite what we are told at every Super Bowl, “We do this for you, the fans! It’s all for the fans!” Right now, they’re more worried about losing Coors Light. Can you believe that? The NFL prefers Coors Light to you and me. 

Second, we have to be careful about creating scapegoats out of the likes of Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, ESPN, TMZ and/or whoever else we choose. We can blame the owners, we can blame entitled athletes, we can blame the nature of the capitalism, we can even blame each other but putting all the blame on the wrong/right people/person is only a temporary solution. To be sure, offending parties must be brought to justice and be punished appropriately, but to create scapegoats so we can get back to business is unwise and unjust.

Third and for my Christian and morally conscious friends: Boycott the NFL if you like, but do so on your personal preference as I’m unconvinced we can create an actual Christian/moral justification. Personally, my faith rarely moves me to leave or boycott a complicated situation. While I find validity of such practices appropriate in clearly immoral contexts, gray areas/conversations/issues can often benefit from the rich and spiritual nuances often coming from Christian/morally-conscience perspectives. 

After all, does God ever turn off the channel on us? And am I hiding behind God here? Good question. 

As we consider, let’s ask if God is still “watching” the NFL? If we can assume He’s “watching” everything, it feels odd to conclude that He’s suddenly gone. And if He has turned off the NFL, what else has God turned off? Am I still on the radar? Are you? Frankly, it seems that God is even more willing to be found during these days of the NFL, in my life and in yours.

Certainly the NFL shield has its gaping holes right now. Certainly there is plenty to be outraged by. Certainly the game must be become safer and the off-the-field antics must be punished and significantly lessened (For instance it feels like a step in the right direction that Mel Kiper dropped Jameis Winston 22 spots down in his draft projection).

It is getting harder to watch and feel enthused about the NFL these days as there are some gaping holes in the shield these days. And perhaps this is good for some of us to direct some of our attention to some of the other needed issues/concerns/relationships in our lives. But as we do so, let us remember that all of this is a part of life and worthy of our best thoughts/practices/prayers and not exempt from redemption.

Someone quipped there will definitely be football in heaven. I agreed but like with so many things, it will certainly look different than what we have today. But some things might be similar.

Thoughts?

 

My Review of Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure by J.R. Briggs

One of the books I enjoyed reading over the summer was Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure by J.R. Briggs. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book exclusively about failure. I have read leadership books that discuss  aspects of failure and how to overcome it. I’ve read book about discovering success in the midst of various circumstances including failure but again, I’m not sure I’ve read anything exclusively on failure. After all, who would want to voluntarily remember, dissect and process the nature of their many personal failures? Well, it turns out I would. And you might want to also. 

Here’s what I found helpful: 

J.R’s voice. Authentic, raw, bordering on over-sharing, wounded with a hope of over-coming (A nod to the editors for letting him go). He’s bold but not rude. It’s the true North-easterners’ mentality – Honest, mostly-polite, a bit sarcastic and articulate. Is there really any other way to talk?) [Read more...]

On Failing

One of the books I read this summer was called Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure by J.R Briggs. I still need to write my review of how much I enjoyed this book but failure, success and the fears and trappings connected and everything in between is always on my mind – and likely on yours too. It’s safe to make the assumption that everyone has felt the fear of failure at some point. For many of us, it’s a relevant, in and out thing. Maybe right now you are doing exactly what you want to be doing, maybe you’re doing the opposite, whatever and wherever, the fear of failure always lurks.

On good days, we know we will experience failure and success and we’ll live and learn. On the not so great days, we over-fixate, we grieve the loss of something prized, we let it consume and we let it spill-over in other aspects of our lives.

I’m sure you have read countless quotes on failure and have read numerous insights about overcoming it.

“Everything you want is on the other side of failure.” – Jack Canfield

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.” – Robert Kennedy

and of course, an obligatory Winston Churchill quote:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

Sometimes the words make you want to fail so you can experience the joy of triumphing over the failure. But if I’m being honest, if I have to fail, I only want to fail at the things that are inconsequential or reserved in front of an audience of those who will [Read more...]

A New Ministry Year, “Here We Go Again …”

For us ministry types not following the liturgical church calendar, these are a different type of intense days as the new church ministry year begins. The over-all vision has been worked on and prayed on for months, the supporting themes/ministries need to move from ideation to practice and among the many other pieces to move into motion, there is the volunteer search (Please read last year’s post “There Aren’t Enough Volunteers This Year and There Never Will Be”). In addition to all that, there is still the need and your own personal desire to meet with people in the hopes of listening, counseling and serving. As you know, no one goes into the ministry because they love Excel and calendaring.

It can be easy to lose track of the original reason of serving others during this ramp up as often you hear the phrase “Here we go again” with a sarcastic grin. I’ve heard it and said this countless times over the years and it feels like a statement worth unpacking.

“Here we go again” is likely asked by a broad spectrum of people in a variety of contexts. In the church world, staff, lay-leaders, and volunteers of all kinds.

“Here we go again” can be another of way of asking, “Will any of this matter?” We all have limited time and energy and it’s logical [Read more...]

What We Learned From Mark Driscoll and What We Can Pray For Next

Image from Mars Hill Church

On Sunday Pastor Mark Driscoll announced to his Mars Hill congregation that he will be stepping back for six weeks as the elders examine the charges against Mark and determine the appropriate next steps. It’s hard for me not to see this as a good thing as I’ve discussed him on this blog a few times and he’s come up in countless conversations over the years. Too much has gone on for too long and Mark needs to be held accountable.

Being a pastor and in this space, an amateur blogger, I know how this can look. I’m another kicking a guy when he’s down, another example of the church eating their own and clearly motivated by jealousy, etc. I am also well aware of Jesus’ warning of judging others as you will be judged by the same measure (Matt 7:1-2). May the Lord judge my heart here but I hope to communicate as “Christianly” as possible of where I am coming from.

It’s actually healthy to talk about this in loving and restorative ways. It’s not only ok, it’s actually necessary because this scene in Mark Driscoll’s life is a cautionary tale for all of us. Further, hopefully some goodness can be found in the mess of all this. And lastly, should the day come when my personal behavior has become such a distraction to the Christian mission, I hope my faith community would be courageous enough to ask me to step down. May God give the Church the wisdom to discern between judging, rebuking and enabling.

In the meantime, here are three lessons learned.

Good, acceptable, conservative orthodox doctrine does not give you license to do whatever you want. In so many words, Mark has acted like a jerk. Like many, I had heard of Driscoll more than ten years ago. He was the “cussing pastor” out of Don Miller’s soul-worthy [Read more...]

A Christian Response to the Death of Michael Brown

I echo the words and spirit of John Perkins when he was interviewed by Christianity Today.

“As Christians, we know that our problem always is sin. In the case of the shooting in Ferguson, I don’t know who is right because I don’t know who initiated  this. But I know that the sin of racism, which goes back to the sin of enslavement, is what makes it escalate so quickly.” (I encourage you to read the rest of the piece, remains among the most helpful of the week).

After reading, I too wondered about the Christian response to the death of Michael Brown. After a few days of reflection, here’s where I am today: Lament – Pray – Listen to What the Lord Leads You to Do Next.

Lament

I lament the death of Michael Brown and all that it represents.

I lament what is meant by “… another unarmed black man …”

I lament for Officer Darren Wilson.

I lament for what will get lost in the moment.

I lament the sin of racism.

I lament all the pain that everyone in Ferguson  is  going through.

I lament that so many throughout our country and our world can relate to this scene.

I lament all the stories this connects us to: violence towards minorities, violence towards law enforcement, violence in between, blatant racism, abuses of authority, intentional criminal behavior and the carnage this leaves behind.

I lament that there is so much to lament.

When you start adding up all the laments, you find yourself a bit irrational. I am sure everyone, especially those involved, wish they could go back in time and somehow take action to avoid this tragic scene. Another loss of life, a lot of damage that is either nearly or completely irreparable. Some will say that we can learn from this so it never happens again but unfortunately, that’s part of the irrationality. Part of the pain of these laments goes beyond regret but also found in the mourning of a terrible reality that a similar scene will happen again.

Enter the hopelessness.

For some, this is where they like to insert the line that all hell is breaking loose, society is spiraling further out of control into moral decadence, [Read more...]

Reflecting on the Complicated Middle East

The black lettering reads “We are all Christians.”

Israel, Gaza, Isis, Iraq and all things Middle East are on many of our minds these days.

In respect to the Israeli-Palestianian conflict, we often ask, “Why is this conflict so complicated ? Among the reasons is its long history and each party telling its own version of it. We also know Iraq carries with its own complication. While the moral atrocities conducted by Isis are obviously evil, we again find the long-term solution to be weighty. Today we see a persecution that is bordering on holocaust that must be stopped.

The Middle East is certainly a topic that punishes you emotionally the more you read and learn. Sheer brutality, beheadings, sexual violence, children used as shields, missiles fired from churches, broken cease-fires, the perception of no mercy and brutal retaliation, and countless human rights abuses leave us extremely angry and frustrated. What is going on here? How do we stop it? How can we make things better? How can do it now?

Easy questions to ask, extremely difficult to answer and deliver. Our anger takes another step forward. What most of us want is to understand what’s what. When you don’t have access to the classified information and lack the power to mobilize an army or a peace delegation to stop the pain one way or another, you just feel powerless.

In the meantime, we try to read/scan/pick through all the content. There’s a lot of rehash, a lot of bias, and personally, I find more frustration. Frankly, I don’t really know what’s going on, there’s a lot of eye-witness accounts, a lot of opinion – some much better than others. There are images taken from other scenes and used for support, and all these other “snapshots” that don’t quite fill out the big picture. I even find some of the good guys and villains switching roles and it’s difficult to figure out who we can trust.Then because no one really knows, we attach the word “allegedly” to everything.

Then like with everything, there’s our own bias and perspective. This informs not just our starting points but our potential emotional investments, among other things. We could continue comparing perspectives but the point really is everyone has a different one. Further, no one can or should assume too much of the other perspective. Like we said, it’s complicated.

So what can we do?

Today, I’m feeling practical, strategic and spiritual and frankly, none of this seems that complicated. They may not lead to the short-term results we want today, but if enough people did them, it feels like things would change for the better.

[Read more...]

Reflecting on the Tough Weeks

Last week was one of those tough weeks. It wasn’t necessarily a bad week but definitely challenging, definitely intense, definitely fulfilling, and definitely hoping this one isn’t the same. Maybe you’ve had a similar one recently too.

We all know these days well: something happens in the midst of the regular craziness, all the unresolved issues compound, anything that was trivial becomes relevant, everything minor is now significant and everything that was already major is now epic. Often during these weeks, strong points are challenged, weak spots are revealed, even the imaginary ones, and the gaps feel like black holes. Time is critical, we’ll never get it done, we should pull the plug now or go full steam ahead now, get out of the tension and preserve whatever sanity we have left. Relationships are strained, prayers seemingly don’t work, does God really care, does any of this really matter – yeah it was a bit of that.

But this post is actually not about moving through those weeks – this one is about the week after. I moved through the weekend with something of an emotional hangover and began yesterday in a haze. All the things that had to get out of the way are back in line, and they are anxious. And that To-Do list that got set aside, well, there are some items that are frankly pissed. As we all know, there are no holidays given [Read more...]

Review of The Church and Postmodern Culture Series (7 Volumes via Logos Bible Software)

I was thrilled to have been asked to review the “Church and Postmodern Culture” series. Having previously read one of the titles of the series already, I was pleasantly surprised to see Logos offer a seven volume set and personally excited to read more of the series. I have two more titles to go and coming up for air here. I feel as though I am nearing the end of an extremely affordable seminary class in terms of emotional energy and the pressure of the deadline (It turns out I skim a lot less when there is no syllabus telling me the required reading is due on Tuesday). Grade or not, what I am confident in is since beginning the series in early June, I feel like I have taken a course on postmodernity and church practice.

What Is It? From the Logos site:

“The seven-volume Church and Postmodern Culture Series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church. This collection is assembled by a variety of contemporary theorists and uses insights from Deleuze, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Augustine, Irenaeus, Aquinas, and others to bring different angles to answer the many questions dealing with [Read more...]

“Do I Need a Seminary Degree to Understand the Bible?”

I heard a form of this question a few times this year. In some way this is very good as it reminds us that we’ve been talking about Scripture in our community. In another way, it’s not as good, as the statement implies frustration and perhaps a growing disunity between those who hold different convictions, different interpretations and most obviously an “us versus them” when it comes to seminary education. As one who is sensitive to disunity, I keep thinking about this.

The simple answer to the question is no, you do not need a seminary degree to “understand the Bible.” Everyone should read the Scriptures as this is one of the great maxims from the Protestant Reformation, “Sola Scriptura”, and making the Bible available to everyone was another one of the greater convictions and benefit that came out of the Reformation.

Everyone should read the Scripture but no one fully understands the Bible either. No one. 

Yes, I am keenly aware of the great stories of those who have memorized chapters and books of inspired text, they’ve read the Bible every day for hours for decades, and someone has identified them as one who “knows the Bible inside and out.” We can presume this individual is clearly well-versed in Scripture, loves the Lord and is doing amazing work for the Kingdom of God but no mortal can fathom the ways of God, no can know the mind of God, no one can comprehensively understand the Bible.

We all like to think that if we were alone on a desert island that we could master the Bible. Well, we definitely couldn’t if we were reading it English. it’s not simply that word meanings are lost in the translation so the solution becomes learning Hebrew and Greek while alone on this island. No and ask anyone who has taken Greek/Hebrew and they will tell you, we’re not even sure we’re using the right words. How often do you hear the line form a professor, “Perhaps a better word for this particular translation to have used was ….”? This is one of the reasons why we have so many translations and no shortage of new ones. The more we understand of the original language and historical context and the more our own languages change, the more translations we’ll have and need so make sure that island has a P.O. Box.

We can learn this truth from Scripture, we can learn it from experience, we can also learn it in places like seminaries. There have been books written about why to go to seminary and it’s been my observation that some are helpful and some over-promise. There are many excellent reasons to go to seminary, particularly vocationally, but among the reasons for me is that seminary gave me access and a measure of formal training in a conversation about Scripture, theology and mission that I really craved.

It was eight years between my first master’s and second and I clearly remember during my first year at Biblical Seminary reading the Drama of Scripture and thinking to myself, “Thank God I signed up for this crazy, intense cohort program, I need this.” In those in-between years, I was trying to read nerdy books, trying to keep up, but I had no real academic community around me that offered the conversation, encouragement, frustration and refinement around me.

One of the best moments of any seminary education is when the professor leads an intelligent room full of people in a discussion on something that seems initially solvable and as we explore contrasting passages, interpretations, traditions, and practical ramifications, we come to a moment of complete frustration and collectively say, “Wait, so what do we do this??” There are some moments when you literally say to the professor, “I can’t leave this room not knowing the answer.” And the prof responds, “I’ll make some coffee for you because you’re never leaving here then.” We stare at the text, shrug our shoulders and the education is learning the history, complexity, and beauty of Scripture.

It’s a humbling experience. One that moves the student of Scripture to prayer, to be Spirit-led, to seek God’s wisdom until we are given the complete answer on the other side of this life. The reality is you actually do learn quite a bit of the historical context and nuances found in our holy text. But that education and humility gives you sense of self-awareness of how great God is and how rich these sacred words are.

So where does that leave us especially those of us who are not seminary-bound? Should we not bother reading Scrpture? Of course not, the best thing we can do is keep reading.Then should we stop forming opinions, convictions and doctrinal statements? Of course not, there’s a place for all of that.

It’s our spiritual and hermeneutic posture that needs forming. My opinions, convictions and doctrinal conclusions will be in conflict with another and that’s ok. What’s not ok, is the arrogance and superiority we assume over the other. We can receive Biblical education in different forms: personal study, academic education, sermons/podcasts, communal learning with fellow believers, etc. and all of this will make a difference in the quality of our informed positions but none of us, from the newbie to the PhD can actually know the mind of God.

To be sure, I’d rather have the understanding of the PhD, unless it’s stripped me from the love of God, Scripture and neighbor. But for all of us, we learn the power of Scripture by sitting at our Lord’s feet and living by word and deed and you don’t need a degree for that.

For some practical resources for study, consider the following:

Use different translations in whatever passage you are reading that day. Biblegateway is very helpful.

The New Testament for Everyone Series by N.T. Wright

The NIV Application Commentary Set

Reading/discussing Scripture with friends.