Friday, September 30, 2011

Improbabilities of Baseball and Faith

In one of the most exciting and improbable nights of baseball this season -or any season- the Boston Red Sox lost their bid to gain a spot in the American League playoffs and the Tampa Bay Rays gained a spot. On the last day of the season the Sox lost a game to the Orioles they had to win and the Rays won a game with the Yankees they had to win. In that season ending game the Rays were down 7-0 after 7 innings and had managed to scratch out only two hits and the Sox were ahead after 7, 3-2, heading into a long rain delay. With a combined four innings left to play it looked like the Sox would at very least end the day tied with the Rays (if they lost to the Orioles and the Rays lost to the Yankees) and have to play a play-in game with the Rays the next day.

What happened next was improbable ( note: I am depending on an article by Nate Silver in the NY Times for these statistics). In the ninth inning of the Sox - Orioles game when the Orioles had two outs and nobody on and were losing 3-2, the odds were 95.3 % in favor of the Sox winning. The batter was down to his last strike and Jon Papelbon, one of the premier closers in the game, was on the mound for the Sox. 95. 3% seems too low. The Rays chances of pulling out a win against the Yankees when they started the 8th inning down 7 runs were down to 0.3%. That's 300 to 1 against them winning. In the ninth inning after they had scored 6 runs but were still down to their last out their chances were only 4.2% of winning. Plus, the Rays pinch hitter had two strikes on him and he was hitting .108 on the season - and he had only one hit in his last 45 at bats! But, he hit a home run to tie the game. Then Evan Longoria hit another homer in the 12th inning for the improbable win.

More improbabilities: the Sox began September with a 97.7% chance of making the playoffs. When you put all these improbabilities together there was one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together as they did.

[If Bud Selig has his way and expands the wild cards to two teams this great night of baseball would never have happened - both the Sox and the Rays would have been guaranteed a playoff spot. Don't do it, Bud!

Theologically, I got to thinking about the Improbabilities of Faith. What were the chances of anyone escaping the Great Flood? Or, of Jonah surviving in the Belly of the Great Fish? Or, of Pharaoh letting his slave labor force go? Or, of the Virgin Birth? Or, the Incarnation? Or, the Resurrection?

Most ballplayers on the winning teams said that the reason they won was something like the grittiness of their ballplayers, or the never give up attitude of their team or the confidence they had to believe they would win no matter what. Had the other teams won their players would have said the same kinds of things. That's what ballplayers say at times like that. No one says we were just lucky but luck played a big part in their wins, too. Papelbon doesn't locate, or hangs a curveball or a split doesn't split. Carl Crawford doesn't get to the ball that fell in for the single that won the game. It's the last game of the season for the Yankees and they don't have to win so they bring in Scott Proctor to close out the game instead of Mariano Rivera. Lucky, the Rays don't have to face Rivera in the ninth inning!

Luck changes the odds. Theologically, we call it grace. Grace changes the odds for us. So Jonah is saved, and Mary says yes and Jesus is born, and the grave is empty on Easter morning. And what are the odds of you and I believing, and repenting and having our sins forgiven and receiving the gift of eternal life. Not as good as the Sox losing or the Rays winning. But grace trumps the odds.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pat Robertson on Alzheimers

Like many people I was saddened to see Pat Robertson's latest comment hit all the main media sites this week. Robertson was quoted (and the video evidence is readily available) saying that it is morally justifiable for a man to divorce his wife if she has Alzheimer's disease. He was responding to a caller who was asking if it was alright for a man to date another woman if his wife had the disease. Yes, Robertson replied, but divorce your wife first. His in studio partner questioned Robertson's reasoning reminding him of the marriage vow, "til death do us part". Robertson said that Alzheimers is a kind of death. His wife is gone so he is justified in seeing another but he should divorce his wife first and make sure she gets custodial care. I don't really care what Robertson says. But many people do. For many people he is one of those very visible faces of Christianity and so when he speaks, people do listen, and they form opinions about the Christianity he espouses. He has said some outrageous things in the past like when he defended China's one child abortion policy, and when he identified God's judgment with the 9/11 attacks and the hurricanes that hit New Orleans and Haiti, and on and on we can go. Russell Moore, dean of the Theology School at Southern Baptist University, wrote in an online editorial in Christianity Today that "sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel .... they assume they are seeing Jesus...but they are not."

Moore said Robertson's comments are more than an embarrassment, they are a repudiation of the gospel. Christian marriage, he wrote, is an icon in Scripture of the relationship between Christ and his Church. Paul says husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave his life for it! Moore states that a woman with Alzheimers can't do anything for her husband. There is no romance, no sex, no companionship but according to Scripture a man loves his wife as his own flesh so he can't sever the relationship just because she is not useful to him anymore.

In fact, there may not be a more powerful way to live out Christ's sacrificial love than by remaining with your spouse and caring for her or him if they do become incapacitated. There surely is no explicitly Christian reason for leaving him or her!

Moore adds that "it's easy to teach couples to put the spark back in their marriages, to put the sizzle back in their sex lives. You can still worship self and do all of that. But that's not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, My God, My God why have you forsaken me."

I remember reading about another public figure. He was the president of a Bible College. His wife got Alzheimer's and he quit his job to stay home and care for her. He gave up his writing, his speaking, his teaching, his life as it was to love and to serve his wife til death do them part. That is the image of Christian love and marriage our -put my self first- culture needs to see. It is a true picture of Christianity. Unlike the thoughtless remarks of a tv Christian this week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I had never heard of Missoni until today. Undoubtedly, you have since I posses not an ounce of fashion sense. I am fine with jeans and a pullover shirt of some kind. I live in a place that has no fashion sense either and I am ok with that. So, I was intrigued to read that Target's online store was shut down yesterday by the overwhelming demand for a new Missoni line specially made for Target shoppers which I think means upscale but cheap, cheap chic, may the be phrase I am looking for. Even celebrities who can afford the real Missoni stuff that sells for thousands are into cheap chic. I looked this stuff up online. Today the Target website is up and running although unfortunately much of the Missoni stuff is out of stock already. Not that I was going to buy any but lots of people other than me must have. It is nice looking stuff. It's mostly women's wear as far as I could tell and if my wife bought a dress or something from there I would be happy with her choice. It didn't seem any more expensive than JC Penney. So I guess I am wondering why pay thousands for expensive Missoni instead of $40. I know it's the name. I know it's the company Missoni keeps. I know about brand identification. Still I can't quite get my mind around paying so much money for an outfit just because of the name, or a pair of sneakers, or a hat or tshirt. Yet, that is what we do. Makes no sense whatsoever. We do it with cars and appliances and restaurants and just about everything. You can't watch a sports event of any kind on tv without being constantly assaulted with brand names and that's not even during the commercials. You can't read the news on any website without being distracted by ads all around the borders, sometimes popping up right in the text and other times blinking in the margin. I guess we need to sell more stuff. The economy, we are told, needs us to buy more stuff. Missoni wants to sell more stuff so they partner with Target. More people hear about their brand like I did. Target wants to upgrade their image so they partner with Missoni. They want to put some space between themselves and Walmart. People who shop at Target wouldn't think of shopping at Walmart, I guess is the thinking. I know we are all affected by this brand business. Hard not to be. As I survey my apparel today I have on: Adidas socks, Levi jeans, Merrell shoes and a Mountain Wear pullover fleece. I probably paid a couple hundred for the whole outfit. I could have paid less shopping at Walmart and buying their brands. I cannot say that I did not think about the brands I was buying and what it said about me, the wearer. Somewhere in my heart of hearts I must want people to know that I am a cool, ex-jock who loves the outdoors. So while I can cast a critical eye at those who go gaga over Missoni and pay for it, I need to ask myself why it is so hard to live an unbranded life?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

God in a Brothel

Just finished a new book published by IVP by Daniel Walker. After Walker became a Christian in college he wanted to work in the area of Christian development in the third world. When he was unable to find the job he was looking for, he followed his other passion, law enforcement, and became a police officer in his native New Zealand. Then a job opened up combining his two main interests as an investigator and Christian work in the third world - for a ministry that tried to rescue sex trafficking victims around the world. Walker's book, God in a Brothel is a hard hitting account of his years as an investigator. His book has two main purposes. First, he provides an overview of the sex trafficking industry which he has seen firsthand and up close. It is not a pretty picture and I am sure he has spared much of the grim details. Children as young as 5 are available in many places in the world for sexual exploitation by adults. This probably does not come as a surprise to most people but it is not something we like to think about. This was Walker's world for many years. So, the second purpose of the book is more confessional. Walker talks candidly about how his experiences as an investigator affected his personal, spiritual and marital life. He was mostly unprepared for what he found in the sex trade, and he had to learn what he needed to know by his own experience. He experienced as many failures as successes it seems. He explains how difficult it is to become part of that world and enlist the help of local law enforcement to extract the victims. He ran into a web of collusion between the sex traffickers and local law enforcement along with government officials. Seems the sex trade is such a lucrative business many people look the other way. When Walker would arrange a bust, somehow the news of the raid was often leaked ahead of time. He was able to save some sex slaves but the ones who were hidden or relocated at the last minute are the ones who haunt his memories to this day.

Obviously, the greatest price he paid was personal. His job was to convince the sex traders that he was a legitimate sex tourist. So, he was put right in the middle of the ugly, glitzy, sexually hyped atmosphere of selling sex, selling bodies of young girls. He details how at first he had the attitude of a hero come to the rescue of these young victims. Plus, he had God on his side so how could he fail. He was filled with disgust and hate for the male perpetrators of these sex crimes. From his high horse, he had a hard time admitting what his experiences were doing to him. When his missions failed at times, he wondered why God let him fail. The faces and stories of the victims he met ( he paid for time with the girls, got to know them, covertly recorded their conversations, and made excuses why he did not want sex with them) haunted him when he failed to save them. He felt personally responsible when he could not rescue them. Sometimes, he was able to rescue them but the aftercare he arranged for them failed and they wound up right back in the same place or a worse one. He felt like he was carrying the burden of rescuing sex trade victims himself and was critical of other Christians who were only interested in personal salvation and whose prayers were solely about personal problems like good weather and curing a bad cold. Gradually, his work came before his marriage. He was not able to discuss with his wife what his work entailed. He and his wife were growing apart during his long absences from home. The ministry he worked for either didn't understand this or didn't see the need for counseling because apparently he never received any.

Walker was alone. He worked alone. Many times he was in dangerous places with no back up. If he was found out, no one ever would have discovered his body. One of the most profound parts of his story is how he bought into the Christian myth that following Christ meant he was supposed to be ready to sacrifice - his life, his marriage, his personal emotional health - and God would be pleased and take care of him. No one helped him see how wrong he was. He had no ministry team to help him find balance when he was getting himself into trouble. Most importantly, he was not able to see the warning signs that he was being pulled deeply into temptation. Rather, he was filled with self righteousness as he compared himself to the men who were abusing girls to satisfy their lust. And he was critical of a church which he saw as too individualistic and too inner directed to care much for the injustices he was experiencing daily.

He details how he had set himself up for a great fall. It's a powerful story and one with a great lesson. Christ put us into a Church for a reason. We are not meant to be long ranger Christians out saving the world by ourselves. We are sinners who are in need of forgiveness and grace, and systems of accountability, and a great deal of honesty and transparency in relationships. We need to learn all these things. Especially, when we are involved in areas of great wickedness and evil -even for the sake of Christ - we need to be part of a team of brothers and sisters in Christ. For we can and will be tempted - even by the sins we deplore. Walker also is right to be critical of the Church. The Church needs to be in the world - right in those places Walker was - and in other places like those. That is where we need to be. Walker has taken what he has learned and begun a ministry to the victims of sex trafficking that churches can become part of. It's called NVader. Check it out.