Seen today:

  1. disses my beloved East Coast, but whatever.
  2. a Pew Research Center study showed that only about 17% of Americans attend religious services on a weekly basis; thus, most Colts fans aren’t rushing home from church to watch the game.
  3. if they were rushing home from church where the Gospel of grace was proclaimed, and the free gift of our Lord’s presence was shared, Colts fans would bristle at the false Gospel that EVERYTHING WILL BE EARNED. Instead, they’d clamor that EVERYTHING WILL BE GIVEN!!! Believing with all their heart that EVERYTHING WILL BE GIVEN, these fans would live in the EVERYTHING WILL BE EARNED world with a transforming dissatisfaction seeking to reshape the world according to the promises of God’s capacity to give rather than our capacity to earn.

It’s a t-shirt. But, it’s a little more than that, too.


The Kingdom of God is Like a 10K Race

The following is a parable that was revealed to me while watching runners – including my dear wife, Jessicah – finish a 10K race on Saturday.  I'm pretty sure it was one of those parables that either got lost in translation or didn't make the final cut for the synoptic gospels, perhaps due to its high hokeyness quotient  😉

Then he said to his disciples, "The Kingdom of God is like a 10 kilometer race. Not one of those big charity races with thousands of runners in a big town or city, but a grassroots run in a county park with only a few hundred racers.  It's a race with many participants but few spectators, and when the fastest runners finish, there is nobody to cheer them on.  But when the slowest among them cross the finish line, there are scores cheering them on, for the faster runners had already finished, and were standing nearby the finish line, welcoming their fellow runners home."

Then the disciples asked him, "What does this mean?"  And he answered them, "Do you not yet understand? In a race the first receive the least amount of praise, since nobody but the race staff are there to cheer him on.  And what joy is there when a 21 year-old stud cruises to a first place finish in a community run?  We all expect young studs to win the race!

"But the last runner receives the greatest praise.  For when an overweight 54 year-old with achy joints sweats through the race, crossing the finish line in last place after running 6.2 miles without stopping to walk even once, the whole gathered crowd of racers who had already finished the race, cooled down, stretched, and begun replenishing their system with sponsor-provided food and drink, will put down their Gatorades and bananas to cheer on this last place finisher.  The cheers will be much louder, and words of encouragement much more plentiful, and admiration much greater for this last runner than they were for the first.  For they all know that the last place runner spent more time suffering on the course, and overcame more challenges, than any other runner in the race.

"And so it is in the Kingdom of God.  The angels and heavenly hosts will hoot and holler more loudly for those who stumble and straggle into the Kingdom than for those who sprint in hardly breaking a sweat.  For this world honors with heaps of praise the best and fastest among you; yet in the Kingdom of God, it is the least among you who are celebrated the most."

Tiger Woods, Figure Skating, et al: Sport or Show?

Though this blog is usually focused on church and ministry-related themes, I couldn't help myself.  There are a few sports stories out there today that I just demanded my attention.

  • Thomas Boswell, the excellent sports columnist for the Washington Post, critiques Tiger Woods' performance yesterday as a "10-course ego feast … [a] stop-the-world presidential-style non-news conference."  What I found most fascinating, however, was his theological analysis of Tiger's final lines:

    Woods's last words on Friday were vaguely troubling. "Finally, there are many people in this room, and many people at home, who believed in me," he said. "Today I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again."

    Many, at that instant, expected to hear the words "forgive me." But the last phrase was Tiger's. I doubt I've ever heard an athlete ask the public to "believe in me." Isn't that more akin to theology?

    We keep learning, over and over, that some athletes (like all of us) prove over a lifetime that they are worth respecting, liking, admiring and cheering for. Others aren't. But "believe in me?"

    We don't need to believe in you, Tiger. Come down off the mountain. Once you figure out some things, we'd just like to meet you. For the first time.

  • Plushenko photo via ReutersEvgeni Plushenko, the Russian silver medalist in men's figure skating at the Vancouver games, blasted gold medalist Evan Lysacek of the United States for performing a less strenuous – but according to the judges, better – routine.  "Just doing nice transitions and being artistic is not enough because figure skating is a sport, not a show." 

    Really, Evgeni?  First, all sport is show.  And secondly, you have little credibility making that statement while wearing a shirt reminiscent of the 80's t-shirt tuxedo.  If a sequin tie and vest isn't for show, I don't know what is …

  • Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training.  I am terribly excited for the start of baseball season.  The Phillies have made it to the World Series two seasons in a row, to the playoffs three in a row.  They're now a team that I would have hated a few years ago – flush with money and division titles.  But still … they're the Phillies.  I love them.
  • Yahoo! Fantasy Sports claims that they're going to have a workable mobile platform for Fantasy baseball this year.  I certainly hope so.  From their website: "Coming soon to a phone near you: Fantasy College Hoops Tournament, Fantasy MLB and Fantasy NBA."  Currently, there are no quality applications for checking your Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball team on a Blackberry.  If the folks at Yahoo! Sports are to believed, I'll be able to check my fantasy team while waiting in line at the grocery store … Yes, I admit, I have no life.

Why I Support Michael Vick

I support Michael Vick's reinstatement to the NFL and his signing with my home-town Eagles. It's not because I think he can help the team (which I do), and it's not because I believe that folks deserve second chances (which I do), but it's because I don't like unwritten rules.

Ever since Michael Vick was charged with his crimes he has followed the rules, doing just about everything right. He plead guilty rather than feign innocence while dragging the public through a trial. He has done his time in federal prison.  He has apologized countless times in court, in public interviews, and in private. He has been working with the Humane Society and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He lost contracts and millions of dollars, and he hasn't complained about it one little bit. And he accepted an unguaranteed contract to perhaps play various offensive positions, none of which are called quarterback … the position at which he was named to the Pro Bowl three times.

Ever since being charged with terrible crimes, Vick has paid his debt to society and has followed the rules.  But for many people following the rules is not enough. They seem to have another set of rules – unwritten rules – to which they expect Vick to adhere.

My question is this: what good is it to have rules if the rules are not enough? Is it fair to expect more from people than what the system – our system – asks of them?

Unwritten rules are heinous things. It is unwritten rules that maintain an infrastructure of racism and sexism in our country, rules that allow whites to act in one way but expect blacks to act in another way, rules that label outspoken men as "strong" and outspoken women as a certain word that rhymes with "witches."

Furthermore, unwritten rules render the written rules irrelevant, for what kind of return to society is possible for someone who is subject to unwritten rules that deny him employment or opportunity or second chances?  What if every ex-convict were denied employment?  What kind of society would ours be?  If, owing to some unwritten legal code, we are unwilling to reintegrate into society an ex-con who has done his time, then perhaps we should get into the business of indefinite confinement or summary executions. Is that what we want?  No.  We are a nation of laws – written laws – and unwritten rules serve only to undermine the law and the system of justice it supports.

If you don't like folks like Vick re-entering society, then call your representatives in Washington and ask them to change the laws. But the written rules are all we got, and we had better work with them, or we risk undermining the justice contained within them.

Why Baseball is Superior to Football

I watched the Super Bowl and enjoyed it.  After three slow quarters of play, the fourth quarter was exciting and suspenseful.  It was a very good game.

However, even in the rare event of a competitive and entertaining Super Bowl game we can see how football is inferior to baseball.  Two plays in particular demonstrated that football, despite its physical nature and on-the-field execution, is a game where mind-boggling technicalities can be just as important as a touchdown or missed tackle, and usually break the flow of the game.

(Just over a year ago I wrote that baseball is superior to football because it has no clock.  In football you have two teams and a clock, and the competition is just as much about beating the clock as it is about beating the other team.  Call me silly, but I’d rather see teams compete with each other than with a clock.)

In the third quarter New England coach Bill Belicheck successfully challenged that New York had too many players on the field, granting the Patriots five yards on the NY penalty and thus a first down in a situation that seemed crucial at the moment.  On replay you saw, however, that a NY player was running to the sidelines, trying to get off the field before the ball was snapped.  This is not an example of a rule violation that would give the Giants an advantage on the field (in the way that a hold might keep a play alive).  This violation is simply a technicality, one that has no impact on the way a down was played.  It’s ridiculous to have to watch a slow-motion replay of a single player running toward the sideline – far from the ball or any other player – for a possible penalty.  Is that what head-to-head, physical competition is all about?

And then at the end of the fourth quarter, after New England was unsuccessful at converting a fourth down, a single second remained on the clock.  NFL rules required that the Giants take the field and resume play.  What logical reason was there to do this?  Oh yes, the clock.  Even though the game was all but over, and the coaches, media and players had already stormed the field, the players had to line up and snap the ball to get that one second off the clock.  At that moment the game was being "played" not for the sake of competition, but for the sake of a rulebook and the Almighty Clock.  Boring!

In baseball we don’t have such silly technicalities.  Each team gets nine innings, or 27 outs, to defeat the other team.  Because it is a simple head-to-head game (ie, there is no clock), there are no meaningless plays in baseball – baseball doesn’t run the home team to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning if it is already winning.  But that’s precisely what happens in football every week – minutes of meaningless football are played, simply so that they can run out the clock.  Yawn.

I do like football, and I really enjoyed the Super Bowl this year.  But football doesn’t compare to baseball, where technical rules are few and teams compete without a clock.  Free from the burden of technicalities and Timex, all baseball offers is some good old fashioned head-to-head competition.

Is it Spring Training yet?

Imus and “Cute” Tenessee Women

Missing among the outraged voices in the scandal surrounding Don Imus and his incredibly stupid comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team is any statement from the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program.  I haven’t scoured the entire web for their response, but a look through their team website finds no statement responding to Imus’ racist and sexist comments about the Rutgers team (the Rutgers site, however, has links to several articles and statements on the controversy).  This is disappointing.  I would hope that the Lady Vols would join in solidarity with their fellow student-athletes over at Rutgers and reject Imus’ racist and sexist statements.

But if they wouldn’t join cause with the women from Rutgers, perhaps they would simply stand up for themselves.  After all, (appropriately) less noticed in Imus’ comments are his sexually objectifying words about the Tennessee team – "And the girls from Tennessee,
they all look cute."  These student-athletes just won the national championship, and all Imus can say about them is that they are "cute"?  Of course, these comments pale in comparison with what he said about the mostly African-American Rutgers team, but I would hope that someone in a Lady Vols uniform would speak up – in defense of the women from Rutgers, or at least  in defense of themselves as women student-athletes.  But then again, we are talking about the Lady Vols, and perhaps "speaking up" is just not Lady-like.  Whatever the reason, their silence is deafening.

The Lady Vols may have won the championship, but the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, in resisting the brutal forces of sexism and racism, have won the day.

March Madness: The NCAA’s Monopoly on Sports

Last week I read this story about Michael Bowers, a former high school kid whose standing as a special education student may have cost him a chance at playing college football (many details of the case are disputed, which is winding its way through the courts).  Of course, if an athlete is ineligible to play in the NCAA, his chances of playing in the NFL are next to nil.  Which got me to thinking about the NCAA’s stranglehold on athletic talent, particularly mens basketball and football players. 

If I want a chance to play in the NBA or NFL, the only real path to these leagues runs through the NCAA.  However, if I want to play professional baseball or ice hockey, I can either attend college to play in the NCAA, or I can play in the minor leagues of these sports.  In two of the four major professional sports (baseball and hockey – is hockey still a major sport?) the athlete has a choice between professional minor leagues and college sports.  In football and basketball, he does not – the NCAA is the only option.

This is too bad.  Whereas I thoroughly and completely believe in education and think that many young people can (and should!) use athletic ability as a ticket to college, the lack of options creates a system that places too many burdens on athletes who, for whatever reason, have little interest (or ability) to pursue a college education.  And though I am not an advocate for paying NCAA athletes, I do think young athletes should have an option to compete for a paid position on a professional minor league team upon graduation from high school.  Young baseball and hockey players get to choose between college sports and the professional minor leagues.  Why not football and basketball players, too?

Swedes & Finns Work Together!

This breaking news is not about two struggling Lutheran churches deciding to work together, but about another struggling enterprise – the Philadelphia Flyers.  The last place Flyers will now have a Swede (Peter Forsberg) and a Finn (Sami Kapanen) playing together on the team’s top line.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

No word yet on how local Lutheran congregations – most of which have German origins – are responding to this breaking news, though a few are said to have responded to the ethnic cooperation with a mixture of confusion and curiosity.  "We’ve never done it this way before," said Hans, a Lutheran layman, scratching his head.