Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Book of Eli

I saw The Book of Eli over the weekend. When was the last time you saw a Hollywood film about the power of Gods Word, the Bible? That was the most surprising thing about the movie. God's Word helps the blind to see, guides the perplexed, and makes some sense out of chaos. We are talking mega chaos here. Eli, played masterfully by Denzel Washington, has walked 30 years from east coast to west coast in a bleak, barren post apocalyptic world. It's a violent place where there is no law and order except what is established by threats and thuggery. Things we take for granted today are things that are of great value in Eli's world. Shampoo, moist towelettes, and, of course, water are the kinds of things you can lose your life over. Eli walks through this world with his ancient, beat up ipod, his weapons, and his Bible. It is the last Bible in the country. The rest were burned in whatever happened 30 years before. It is implied that Christians were blamed for something and their Bibles confiscated and destroyed. Eli was chosen by God; he heard God's voice telling him to take his big, leather bound King James Bible and head west. Like Abraham, that's all he heard, hit the road. He obeys. He follows God's word. He reads it daily. He prays. Like an Old Testament judge, he metes out a kind of Old Testament justice in a world of callous injustice. This is a violent movie but it is a violent time. God is in the midst of the violence like He is in the Old Testament, another very violent time. But even though the world is in ruins and it appears a great time of judgment has fallen on it - God has not given up on us. He reserves the right to have the last word and it is a word of redemption and hope.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Monday

Some thoughts on Monday about Super Bowl Sunday. The game was one of the better ones, the ads some of the worst, and the halftime show was pathetic: there are some things old guys should just not do and rock and roll is one of them. What I remember from the ads are half naked men, and way too many beer ads which were pretty bad too. Not good memories. I wonder how anyone under 55 could relate to the ads and halftime show with so many old people in them. The Tim Tebow ad was tasteful and lighthearted so I wonder how all the people feel today who thought this was going to be the end of civilization as we know it. The game was one of the more competitive Super Bowls featuring the two best quarterbacks in the game today. In this one Peyton made a mistake and Drew did not. That was not the whole game but it was one of the turning points. The other one was the onside kick that started the second half. Overall, it seemed like Sean Payton of the Saints played to win and the Colts were too conservative, trusting Manning to win it for them. When does spring training begin?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl

Interesting discussion as Super Bowl Sunday approaches about what should be done about the increasing violence of the game. Football has always been a violent game but with the players getting bigger and stronger and faster, the collisions on the field are getting closer to being impossible to survive without injury. When I played football ( it was not the era of leather helmets but close) there was no strength conditioning or supplements but there was an emphasis on winning at all costs. More than one player on my team came over to the sideline and spit some teeth out before he went back in to play. One tight end I played with played most of a game with a broken arm. A fullback came out after he broke a leg. If you were injured the code of honor said you had to keep playing until they dragged you out. Coaches did not want to hear about your injury. If "your bell was rung" it was part of the game and you were expected to "shake it off" and get back in there. I must not have had my bell rung too many times because I can still remember hot summer practices where we showed toughness by not drinking any water, with the coaches approval.

If you watch any division one or pro football today, you are aware of how many injuries occur in every game. You see several concussions in a season of football and there are many you don't see. You see one or two spinal chord injuries every season. Pro football is just starting to admit what the game's violence is doing to the players longterm health. But, football players seem to live for the moment. Most of them only play for a few years and then they deal with sometimes crippling injuries that make them very old before their time. And pro football players are just a tiny percentage of all the players from Pop Warner leagues up through college programs. No one really knows how many injuries there are those levels, how many have had their "bells rung".

Football has passed baseball as America's favorite spectator sport. Needless to say, the speed and violence is a major reason why. ESPN used to have a segment called Jacked Up where they highlighted the hardest, most spectacular hits from the previous Sunday's games. I think, due to serious injury, they have cancelled that segment. But, that's what fans want to see as the collision is replayed over and over. Hard to remember that those are people out there and no one no matter how conditioned can withstand those kinds of collisions without sustaining longterm negative health effects.

The NFL is undertaking new studies of concussions and mandating new rules such as a player cannot return to a game in which he experienced a concussion. He must have a doctors ok before he can play in the next game. Even, this season a couple of high profile players like Ben Roethlesberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, were called out by their team mates when they did not return to play in the next game after a concussion. To play injured is the way the game is played. You can pay for it later. The NFL is considering other rule changes such as banning the defensive lineman's three point stance to prevent them from firing out with their heads low and sustaining continuous helmet to helmet impacts which may not cause concussions but jar the brain many times during a game. But, if those changes take effect, will it change the nature of the game so much, fans will not like it? Will it still be football?

New equipment is being researched, better shock absorbing helmets are being studied by the NFL. But what about youth leagues and high schools which are not as well funded as the NFL?

Football is America's game. This Sunday the Super Bowl will be the most watched tv show of the year. Commercial time is the most expensive of any broadcast all year. Church services will be modified so as not to miss the game. Some churches cancel their service and just show the game (as an outreach to men, of course).

Our enjoyment of the game comes at what price, however. The Colts and the Saints may not be the two best teams; they are just the ones who are healthiest this time of the year. The Colts defensive end, Dwight Freeny, is injured and may not play and if he is not on the field some say it will be the difference maker as to who wins. Football may have become too successful; the players too good, too strong, too fast. The game may have to be changed too much to make it safer. The winner of the game is often the team with more of its starters left standing when the game winds down. Like a gladiatorial contest.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Facebook Monks

Gordon College has a university program at a monastery in Orvieto, Italy. John Skillen is the director of that program. One of the problems he faces is how to run a cultural immersion program when the students are immersed in a facebook culture. Many American university programs in Italy, he says, are all reporting their students are measurably less engaged in their local settings than they were even ten years ago. Students, though overseas, are still connected to the internet, cell phones, ipods and social networks. The semester at Orvieto is designed to unplug from this disembodied, multitasking lifestyle. Please put down the cameras and see the thing for itself, and not a thing for what it will look like on your next facebook posting. Skillen is trying to counter the weakening of the will that the addictive clicking of a facebook culture can aggravate. In the monastery, internet time is limited to one hour in late afternoon. Meals are leisurely, eaten together at precise times. Without the interruption of cell phones, or email, one faces long hours of uninterrupted time which each person has to fill, techno gadget -free. It can be a struggle. Community at Orvieto is not cyber but intensely personal. Twenty or so people have to live face to face without relief for four months. It is a training ground for patience, courtesy and love. There are no trite internet conversations ( Thats so cool!, Love your photos, etc) that encourage short, terse responses which short circuit relationships. Instead of "poking" you are forced to give a real hug or sit down and talk with someone for an hour.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Skillen does have a facebook account. He finds it useful to keep up with alumni of the program but it is also an enormous temptation to waste time. "Is time spent on facebook, harmless curiosity, he asks. Hardly, he thinks, "curiosity comes from the Latin curiositas which medieval theologians considered a vice. It was a besetting sin of the pilgrim who lost his focus on the goal of the journey by gawking at all the novelties along the way, lapsing into the titillating but uninvolved gaze of the tourist. Curiositas is the desire for the sort of aimless knowledge that comes with no moral strings attached, no responsibility for caring for the person seen. Such idle curiosity, in the medieval view, was related to acedia or will-less sloth, to which one is more vulnerable precisely during those periods of the day when zeal and fortitude are weakened by lethargy."

I am neither a college student or a monk and I do have time for face to face conversations during the week. I am hardly a facebook junkie, or prone to spending hours on the internet (I admit to checking my email several times daily). I don't own an iphone and ear buds hurt my ears. But, here's the question I was pondering: can I unplug for Lent? I barely get the question out to take a look at and I am already framing excuses. Can I unplug for a day? Umm, I can think of reasons why that would not be such a good idea? Ok, so what about plugging in for only an hour a day? Possibly, but that seems too restrictive, too. What's my problem? I can handle this, can't I? Maybe a monastery would help.

The Year of Living Jesus-ly

Ed Dobson interviewed A.J.Jacobs last year. Jacobs wrote the book, The Year of Living Biblically, in which he tells about his attempts to live the Old Testament for a year. Christian pastor Dobson decided to live a year "Jesus-ly". He ate kosher, attended synagogue, observed the Sabbath, celebrated feasts and festivals, and tried to think and act like Jesus. His book is, The Year of Living Like Jesus. Some of the things he discovered: Sometimes the church's preoccupation with programs makes it harder to follow Jesus. " I was struck by how much time Jesus spent in relationships with his disciples" Dobson cancelled all programs in his church for one year - everything, that includes youth programs, Easter and Christmas programs, etc. They only had Wednesday night and Sunday services. They read the Bible, shared the faith, and invested time in relationships.

Oh yeah, they lost hundreds of members who needed the programs and found them elsewhere. But, he says, we learned the less you do, the more spiritual you become.

He says, he immersed himself in the gospels, and his church, too. He read a couple chapters from the gospels every Sunday during church, and encouraged the people to read the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month. He said he found great comfort in the fact that a third of each gospel is devoted to the passion of Christ. As an ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) sufferer, he was encouraged to discover Jesus was a suffering Messiah.

Like Jesus he became deliberate making relationships with those outside the faith, including spending time in bars. He says, churches are so busy that Christians are insulated by their own subculture. He found people everywhere are genuinely interested in your personal journey with Jesus.

Living Jesus-ly sounds kinda radical, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Xtreme Fighting - coming to a church near you!

File this under just when you thought you had seen it all. Article in the NY Times today about evangelical churches getting into mixed martial arts. It is seen as a way to reach troubled young men who are not typically part of the church. It is also seen as a way to correct the mistakes of the recent past where the church has raised a bunch of pansies, ie, men who don't know how to be men and the true leaders of their households. Enough of women taking over men's responsibilities! We need real men and not just women and children in our churches. James Dobson's 39 year old son is a pastor in Seattle who heads up one of these "fight clubs" in his church. Young men are trained in the "blood sport" and then they attend the battles together. Jesus is a fighter! Jesus does not tap out! Well I guess, Jesus can be whatever you want him to be, but I thought that was called an idol. What you make Jesus out to be to reach others will be who they need him to be. What happens if you lose, or get beat up? What happens if you beat someone else senseless? Must be God's will, huh. Geesh, how can we help a world in crisis when the church is in such a mess.