Devotional Excerpt of the Day, 12/11/08

12/11/2008, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“Living as we do in an imperfect world, we make our peace with its broken realities ”” sometimes we make our peace too easily. We begin to expect that we, too, will reflect its values. We begin to think that a bit of conspicuous consumption here, a degree of profanity there, a wandering and lustful eye here, a bit of sloth there, that all these things are normal, just part of being a person. It is and it isn\’t. It is normal, but it is far from the abundant life God has for us. And so Jesus asks us as well ”” ‘Do you want to be healed?'” — from Rev. Mike Jordan’s Advent devotion series. Check it out every day!

Best of Bweinh! — The Pope v. Billy Graham

12/2/2008, 12:00 am -- by | No Comments

Originally printed in April 2007, here’s a true interfaith dialogue!

In this corner, supporting Pope Benedict, is Mike J!

And in this corner, backing Billy Graham, is Job!

Sit down, Billy. The Holy Father is about to educate your behind.

Seriously, let’s think about this, people. In one corner, you have a backwoods preacher from the American South. Quite a dandy in his early days, Billy donned the white bucks and powder blue sportcoats for Youth for Christ rallies as far back as the 1940s. Two whole generations of evangelical women cursed Ruth Bell under their breath for shattering their dreams and taking Billy off the market.

Even today, women admire him and men want to be him; pianists want to play for him, and even Michael W. Smith and dcTalk knew they had hit the big time when Billy Graham asked them to play for a “youth night” in a late ’90s California crusade.

All of this makes Graham a beloved figure, a bona-fide American religious folk hero.

It does not make for a worthy battle.

Because in the other corner, resplendent in papal garb, his robes billowing proudly behind him, his miter defiantly piercing the sky, is Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger.

He’s not a folk hero. He’s a junkyard dog.

He was known universally as the Vatican’s “doctrinal watchdog” prior to his selection as the 265th pope of the Catholic Church. And as if his international reputation were not enough, the Catholics that knew him best, the ones from his native Germany, referred to him as Der Panzer Kardinal — “the Tank Cardinal.” Why? Because he’s such a ruthless defender of the faith.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Ask the late Father Jacques Dupuis (if you could), or Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya. The former had the temerity to suggest that God was active in non-Christian religious traditions, the latter the unmitigated gall to refuse to sign a Vatican-approved statement of faith. Dupuis wound up trashed in a document Ratzinger wrote; Balasuriya was excommunicated, before the ever-gentlemanly Pope John Paul II restored him to the church.

You can mess with a guy named Billy. You cannot mess with a Ratzinger. You wind up trashed, excommunicated…or worse.

The man’s first papal encyclical was entitled Deus Caritas Est — “God is love.” Notably absent was any statement of Benedict’s own feelings. The obvious message: God is love, and Benedict ain’t.

The man is a flat-out papal bull.

The very notion that Pope Benedict could somehow best Billy Graham is so ludicrous I almost asked to be recused. No chance in heaven! Benny’s only advantage is that if he gouged Graham’s eyes or hit below the belt, he could absolve himself on the spot while the Rev. filed all that messy Grace paperwork.

But I still don’t see it. Graham didn’t win prominence by an ancient tradition of selection by peers; he received it by the eons-old tradition of selection by God. And Graham’s a natural fighter; whether Nixon or Parkinson’s, he handles his problems personally with sleeves rolled up and pride rolled down. So l’approvazione, papa, lo porta! Let’s go to the arena floor…

In this corner, at a holy 210 — the man who put “I can” in Vatican, the Stonin’ Roman…Germany’s own Joseph A. Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI!!!

And in this corner, weighing in at a lanky 205 — The Master Pastor, The Great Wheaton Beatin’…Charlotte’s own Rev. William F. Graham, Jr.!!!

*ding ding ding*

“Look at Graham charge from his corner! I haven’t seen anything like this since Joel Osteen fought the Dalai Lama in that New Delhi kick-boxing match last June! The Pope is on the ropes, medallions flying everywhere!!”

“Bob, this is tough to watch. I think Ratzinger forgot to drink his holy water, and he’s gonna need a miracle.”

“Graham continues his crusade! An uppercut to the the Father’s midsection and a roundhouse to the nose!!!”

“Bob, it appears the Rev. is nailing all 95 theses to Ratzinger’s chin tonight! I’ll bet the Pope wishes he were still a Cardinal so he could fly far, far away!”

“Good call, Gary. Ooh, a stiff right hook from Graham, and the Pope falls to his knees in exhaustion — or is it prayer to Joseph? Patron saint of lost causes?!”

“Pope Benedict XV felt that one!”

“Hold the chariot, Gary, the Pontiff is up and he’s going after Graham with fury in his eyes!!! The Catholics here are yelling ‘inquisition, inquisition,’ as Benedict rains blow after blow on Graham’s head and body.”

“Wow, Bob! Nothing apocryphal about that last punch! But it’s amazing how Graham’s hair stays right in place!”

“Is that LA Looks he’s got in there?”

“If I gambled, I’d go with Dep, Bob.”

“Golly Gee! Now the Protestants are up as Graham delivers punishing blows to the caretaker Pope!! Everyone’s a Calvinist tonight; this is pure destiny!! The Pope is down for the count!!!!”

*ding ding ding*

“And it’s over — Graham by knockout!”

Which side are you on?
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Quote of the Day, 12/1/08

12/1/2008, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“Healing is precisely what Jesus promises. He promises to heal those who would be healed. His healing is not trite, never easy””there is always a cross to bear if you follow him. But, oh!””the healing he brings to his people, some of whom never suspect it.” — Rev. M. Jordan, in the introduction to his newest Advent devotional series on God’s healing.

Check it out, every day from now to Christmas, here at his site!

Best of Bweinh — One Hundred Words (1)

10/27/2008, 11:30 am -- by | 2 Comments

Originally published May 14, 2008.

There comes a moment in each sports season where I begin to let go of one team and move on to the next one. The Philadelphia Flyers ”” Bweinh! predictions to the contrary ”” are not going to win the Stanley Cup.

Yet I\’m not upset, really. I feel less ticked at their letdown, and am content to release these Flyers to the haze of history, and give my heart to another.

I have developed this coping mechanism over the last 97 Philadelphia professional sports seasons, each one ending without a championship. Perhaps the 98th ”” the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies ”” will not disappoint.

–MJ

Best of Mike: Of Football, Falling Planes, and False Attachments

08/27/2008, 11:30 am -- by | No Comments

Originally published September 10, 2007.

Like all of us, I remember exactly where I was six years ago Sept. 11. Those were days while we were both in school, days before we had children, days for sleeping late. So I woke up around 8:15 or so and hopped in the car to the Acme to pick up my Daily News, which I planned to enjoy with a nice cup of coffee. I didn’t have the radio on, which I suppose was unusual. I went in and bought my Daily News (Bobby Abreu was on the back page and the Phillies had a crucial series with the Atlanta Braves coming up) and I saw some employees huddled around a TV. I left the Acme around 9, flipped on KYW News Radio, and it was obvious the world had changed forever. Mixed in with the grief and shock I felt that day was an emotion it has taken me six years to admit to myself, much less to any of you:

I felt alive.

Now, mind you, I don’t mean to say that I liked what was happening that day. But there was a sense on that day that, for the first time in my life, what I was living was real. There was a vitality to the day; when I went to the seminary where the students had a prayer meeting, I kissed Jill goodbye with more intention. The love I had for my colleagues was deeper, as we exchanged warmer hugs. The frustration I felt at some of my would-be prophetic colleagues for their easy answers was more than academic.

Perhaps I felt that for the first time in my life, I was part of something real. Perhaps, in fact, I felt so alive because I felt — maybe for the first time, really — that I might die.

The miracle of the day, or maybe not a miracle but common grace that God gives all of us, is that I was okay with that. I felt like I might die, but still I felt completely safe, like there was a life no terrorist could touch inside me. I felt like the course of my life was being altered by something enormous and world-shaking, that suddenly being a Christian was going to be a dangerous and underground thing again, and at the same time I felt completely assured that I would be okay as an alien and a stranger on this earth — or at home in heaven.

I still haven’t sorted out exactly why I felt that way on that day. But I think that it had something to do with the fact that, for the first time in my life, everything was up for grabs. For the first time, all the things that tied me down no longer had their power to bind. All the secret peace treaties I had drawn up with America — “You protect my body with military might and provide me with a prosperous land, and in return I’ll serve God” — all those treaties were now null and void because it became apparent that America could not keep them. I think I felt alive and safe in God on that day because everything but God was under threat.

Henri Nouwen wrote and spoke extensively about “false attachments.” A “false attachment,” for Nouwen, is when you give your emotions, your heart, to something which ultimately disappoints. In The Genesee Diary, Nouwen talks about how he so often allowed his spirits to rise and fall based on his number of speaking engagements, his perception of how others looked at him, and even whether or not he received mail. As he saw it, he allowed so many things to dominate his heart rather than the One who would free it to be all it could be. I think on September 11, 2001, for the first time, I saw my false attachments for what they really were — powerless to deliver the satisfaction I believed they would. Those terrorists intended it for evil, and indeed wrought great evil through it. Yet on that day, I think I saw what I will clearly see when the Kingdom comes in its fullness: I saw that all earthly kingdoms and peoples were powerless, and I saw that there is only One who is worthy to be attached to. This, I think, is why I felt fully alive.

Fast-forward six years to a time when I did not feel fully alive: Sunday’s Eagles-Packers football game. The Eagles are historically ill-prepared for season openers, and managed to lose a game to a vastly inferior Green Bay squad which spent most of the day unable to get out of its own way. And I was angry. In fact, I was so angry I watched the Giants-Cowboys game in hopes that somehow, someway, both teams would lose, or at least make each other miserable in the process. I wasn’t quite to the point of hoping that players got injured, but I was actively hoping to see some disappointment. The Giants scored an early touchdown on a long pass to Plaxico Burress, but then they botched the extra point and their punter got squashed in the process. This was good, as I saw it, because everyone was disappointed.

I wondered today how things have changed in the last six years, a full fifth of my life. All I know for sure is that today I am still experiencing residual anger about the capricious bounces of a football, while six years ago I felt alive even though planes were falling all around me. This is the power of false attachments, and to be honest, I have no idea when they came back. I have no idea how I got here; I have no idea when exactly I signed away my birthright for this mess of pottage. All I know is that false attachments creep back in when no one is looking, and if we are not vigilant against them, we are complicit in their power over us.

May God save us, his people, from false attachments; and may it not happen through terror, but through a re-birth only his Spirit can provide.

River to Sea

08/7/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 1 Comment

This past Saturday, a longtime dream was realized when six friends and I ran the River to Sea Relay, a 7-person, 92-mile relay race across New Jersey. Each team member ran two legs of unequal length, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

The team members ranged from a 17-year-old local high school track runner to my 58-year-old dad. The race is a staggered start, meaning that the slowest team started first (around 6 AM) and the fastest team started last (around 10:15 AM), with hopes of a close finish. We believe many teams must have sandbagged their reported times, however, as we were the 40th to start — and let’s just say our time was not better than 39 other teams. This late start meant that we had to run the 92 miles at 8:33 per mile to finish by the mandated 8:30 PM.

Interestingly, I was the median runner on the team; three were slower than me, three were faster. I figured the fast and slow would cancel each other out if I could keep on pace.

We began at 7:25, my dad running the first leg down from the Delaware River bridge into Milford, NJ and south along the Delaware through the hamlet of Frenchtown; he ran a 4.8 mile leg in about 44 minutes. My soon-to-be sister-in-law Kristie ran 8.2 miles further south, finishing in about 75 minutes. We were slightly behind when I started the third stage, a trail run further south to Lambertville, NJ. A six-mile run took 47 minutes, getting our team closer to pace.

Then our fast runners were up consecutively. The fourth stage, affectionately known as “the Beast” for its terrible hills, saw one of the most amazing running displays I’ve ever seen. Steve Johnson, a marathoner from our church, tackled 8.7 miles, almost all uphill, in 59 minutes, moving us ahead of schedule. Mike Snyder, an 18-year-old runner from our church, ran 6.5 miles in about 50 minutes, and Steve Trimble, a friend of Mike’s, ran an eight-mile leg in about 68 minutes.

This was a fine, if unexceptional, time — until you consider he ran through a monsoon for half of it and had to run for shelter when it began to hail for a few minutes. Just keeping us on pace was a miracle, and the leg ended with him vomiting up ingested rain water from the beginning of the stage. The seventh stage, a four-miler, was tackled by my brother Chris in about 36 minutes. We were about 12 minutes ahead of schedule, halfway through the race.

Kristie took the first leg of the second half, a 5.5 miler. Exhaustion caught up with her, however, and she had to walk for a bit. However, she put up sub-10-minute miles, keeping us ahead of pace. My second leg came next — the longest of the race. I wasn’t sure if the young runners on our team were really training hard for the race, so I doubted they should take a 9.15-mile leg in the heat of the day. Even though they are far more gifted runners, I knew I would maximize my lesser gifts.

Big mistake. Continued here!

One Hundred Words (26)

07/29/2008, 9:00 am -- by | 1 Comment

Do you love to sweat? Do you love the Garden State? If you do, you will love my plans for Saturday. Six friends and I will be running the River to Sea Relay, a 92-mile relay race across New Jersey. We will be starting at 7:25 AM at Milford, on the Delaware River, and hopefully 13 hours later will collapse into the Atlantic Ocean, but not before traveling through 34 beautiful New Jersey towns. The sights, the sounds — and yes, that unique New Jersey smell — will be enjoyed by all. I’ll share pictures and a write-up next Monday.

–JMJ

One Hundred Words (20)

06/26/2008, 9:00 am -- by | No Comments

Behind every preacher’s confident gaze there is a wondering if she is being heard. In every sermon there is a hint of vocational crisis. Whenever someone has something urgent to say, it is equally urgent that someone — anyone! — is listening.

It often seems to laypeople that preachers treat preaching as its own reward, that preachers are a different breed somehow. Yet we rely on the same means of grace as anyone else: a kind word of thanks or specific appreciation for a new insight you got from a sermon or her example.

Hug a preacher — odds are he needs it.

–MJ

Best of Mike: Holy Sadness

06/24/2008, 11:45 am -- by | No Comments

Originally published on February 18, 2008.

“There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives…even in the most happy moments of our existence, we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is the fear of jealousy . . . In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance . . . in all forms of light, there is surrounding darkness.” ~ Nouwen

I read an article in Newsweek recently called “Happiness: Enough Already.” (Find it here.) Its point was that in modern times, we tend to view sadness as a condition to be corrected by therapy and/or medication. The author argued that while there of course are times when a person’s sadness overtakes them and should be managed by medicine, sometimes people are just sad naturally and it is a normal part of life.

I think Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic devotional writer, would agree. Perhaps he was just melancholy, but I think he’s on to something. Even in our brightest moments of joy, we can feel sad that the joy is fleeting, not here forever. Each embrace makes us realize all of life is not an embrace; each friendship makes us realize that there is a measure of distance between us and others. Essentially, each happiness reminds us that not all of life is happy.

Are these just the musings of a depressed individual? I don’t think so. I think this is someone who has a holy dissatisfaction with life. Each human joy brings with it a reminder that we do not yet know complete joy. All human intimacies, no matter how rare and delightful, remind us that we were created “naked and unashamed,” totally vulnerable with each other, until sin fractured our intimacy and left us alone. Each human joy reminds us that we have not yet arrived at the fullness of joy.

Nouwen’s ever-present sadness marks a man who is simply longing for his home. May such a holy sadness accompany us — not so we can mope around this world, but so that we can live all of life with the awareness that better things await.

Clash of the Titans LXXXIII: Rap Music

05/30/2008, 11:00 am -- by | 2 Comments

In this corner, opposing rap music, is Kaitlin!

And in this corner, supporting rap music, is Mike!

While the phrase “rap music” may not necessarily be an oxymoron, the genre and the ethos of the culture it perpetuates directly contradicts many of the values dear to the consumers of mainstream media who would champion it.

Rap music, and most notably gangsta rap, is powered fundamentally by provocative content. Divorcing the form from its content divests the music of its force and intent. In 1997, Dr. Dre attempted to tone down his message. “I have kids and wanted to get away from the ”˜b—–s and ho\’s\’ and the violence,” he said. But the resulting album generated less than half of his usual revenue. “I had to come back to the real. Back to the gangsta,” he said.

This “gangsta” culture, however, is merely a poor and potentially detrimental caricature of urban life. Spike Lee, in the film “Bamboozled,” satirized the portrayal of African Americans in contemporary media, arguing that rap propagates the harmful stereotypes that most would want to see eradicated. Performers such as rap artists, he contended, play into mainstream prejudices, glorifying the ghetto lifestyle at the expense of the people they purport to represent.

Byron Hurt, who directed a film that identified the misogyny and skewed masculinity inherent to the genre, would agree. “We need to have artists second-guess creating lyrics that are anti-woman in the same way that they would second-guess writing something that is anti-Semitic,” Hurt said.

Rap music gives many consumers a false sense of familiarity, a fake compassion. Said Hank Shocklee, a prominent producer in the rap industry and half of rap ensemble Public Enemy: “If you\’re a suburban white kid and you want to find out what life is like for a black city teenager, you buy a record by N.W.A. It\’s like going to an amusement park and getting on a roller coaster ride ”” records are safe, they\’re controlled fear, and you always have the choice of turning it off. That\’s why nobody takes a train up to 125th Street and gets out and starts walking around. Because then you\’re not in control anymore: it\’s a whole other ball game.”

By creating the conception of such a blatant and unfounded racial divide, rap music denies consumers the opportunity to discover for themselves how few differences actually exist between seemingly disparate people. Journalist David Samuels sees in rap music “a voyeurism and tolerance of racism in which black and white are both complicit.” Somehow, he said, the deviant behavior characteristic of the culture seems appropriate or even acceptable. “The values it instills find their ultimate expression in the ease with which we watch young black men killing each other: in movies, on records, and on the streets of cities and towns across the country.”

Rap music essentially undermines the entire endeavor to recognize the equality of all, regardless of racial, gender, or socioeconomic differences. Unless the genre, and the culture associated with it, undergoes a thorough overhaul, it should be thoroughly avoided.

I luv rap music
Always have, and I always will
There’s no other kinda music in the world
makes me feel quite as chill

“I Luv Rap Music” — DC Talk

I love rap music too. First, because it says something. When I was growing up, rap was symbolic of all that was wrong with the world, all that had gone haywire. Dutifully, I avoided it through my adolescence. But then I discovered it — Public Enemy. Arrested Development. And I found music that unapologetically said something. It wasn’t like country music, a paean to an old way of life that could never return; it wasn’t like pop, all painted and gummy; it was real, it was about issues, it was about life. Of course, much rap says nothing worth saying; but when you have heard rap that speaks to the black community about issues especially important to that community in a language that naturally rises from that community — then you have heard music with meaning.

I also love rap from a professional perspective. Preachers and rappers both make their living with words. Each of us has a stock of standard stories to draw upon and our professional reputations are staked upon being able to tell those stories well, using communication appropriate to our community. Some of the most clever wordplay and arresting language is used — regrettably — not in the pulpit, but behind the microphone. As a preacher, rappers actually give me something to look up to as there is such focus on the moment of communication and communicating in a memorable way.

Finally, I love rap because it brings this suburban white male into contact with a culture that is different from my own. I don’t mean to romanticize gangsta rap; I recognize that much of it is not pure artistic response to harsh realities but created by and for a listening market. But listening to it — even the worst of it — keeps me connected to an urban society different from my own.

At times, contact with that different culture challenges me to change and ask provocative questions; for instance, we should ask why inner-city America is still overwhelmingly religious while the suburbs are increasingly secular, if not atheistic. That challenges me, makes me think about what is deficient about the brand of Christianity I practice. At other times, contact with that different culture challenges me to think about how I can address deficiencies and needs in that culture, even coming from outside of it.

Regardless, it does me well to listen to rap because it takes me outside of what I know and challenges me to think differently.

Which side are you on?
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One Hundred Words (1)

05/14/2008, 10:45 pm -- by | 3 Comments

In the spirit of Proverbs 10:19, our newest regular feature will be a series of posts of 100 words — or fewer.

There comes a moment in each sports season where I begin to let go of one team and move on to the next one. The Philadelphia Flyers ”” Bweinh! predictions to the contrary ”” are not going to win the Stanley Cup.

Yet I\’m not upset, really. I feel less ticked at their letdown, and am content to release these Flyers to the haze of history, and give my heart to another.

I have developed this coping mechanism over the last 97 Philadelphia professional sports seasons, each one ending without a championship. Perhaps the 98th ”” the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies ”” will not disappoint.

–MJ

Bible Discussion — Luke 21

05/14/2008, 12:30 pm -- by | No Comments

This week, Bweinh.com looks at the next chapter of Luke, Luke 21.

PREVIOUS DISCUSSIONS:
Genesis: 1-4 | 5-9 | 10-14 | 15-18 | 19-22 | 23-26
27-29 | 30-32 | 33-36 | 37-39 | 40-43 | 44-46 | 47-50
Exodus: 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-11 | 12-14 | 15-18
19-22 | 23-26 | 27-30 | 31-34 | 35-40
Romans: Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7 | Ch. 8 (I)
Ch. 8 (II) | Ch. 9 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15-16
Luke: 1:1-38 | 1:39-2:40 | 2:41-3:38 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14-15 | 16-17 | 18 | 19 | 20

 
INTRODUCTION:
David:
Starting in 20:46 and carrying through to verse 6 here, Jesus dealt with the wrong attitudes people had about ‘mammon,’ and the things of this world. Pharisees playing at religion for profit, a widow’s gift of a penny worth more than the overflowing bags of the wealthy, and his disciples’ inordinate affection for the beauty of the Temple building. None of it mattered — especially in the face of what is coming to pass, God\’s judgment on the earth.

Mike:
Jesus encourages His disciples to be ready for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

Steve:
This passage seems to me to be directed not only to the disciples, but also to those who would read it throughout the ages, wondering about the signs that would foretell the return of Christ. The advice Jesus gave is just as valuable now as it was then. Do not be frightened when you hear of wars and revolutions, destruction and pestilence, for it will come in God’s time, just as it did on a smaller scale in the years following His ascension. And meanwhile, Jerusalem will be “trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

 
SOMETHING YOU’D NEVER NOTICED BEFORE:
Josh:
“. . . and they will put some of you to death . . . but not a hair of your head shall be lost.”

I assume the second statement refers to spiritual salvation, since a cure for baldness would offer little comfort after hearing that your own mother was going to kill you.

Connie:
v.19 — “By your patience possess your souls.”

Mike:
How Jesus leads into the coming-of-the-Kingdom story with the jarring image of the Temple being destroyed ”” how powerful and unsettling that must have been to the original hearers!

Steve:
Jesus compared the day of His return to a closing trap, but not just toward the unrighteous — toward those who believed, yet let their hearts become “weighed down” with the things of the world.

 
BEST BAND NAME FROM THE PASSAGE:
Mike: Flee to the Mountains
Josh: Another Fig Tree
David: onestone
Steve: Delayed End
Connie: Trampled by Gentiles

Continued here!

Clash of the Titans XVIII: Hockey Fights

04/29/2008, 12:00 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Originally published May 1, 2007!

In this corner, arguing against fighting in hockey, is Mike!

And in this corner, arguing for fighting in hockey, is Dave!

Hey, I have an idea.

You know hockey? That sport with the small base of rabid fans?

What a sport it is! Such speed, as players fly down the ice; such grace, as the best players weave in and out and around defenders on their way to the net; such precision, as the best shooters pick their spot and put it in the one area the goalie can’t reach; such power, as the best shooters wind up for 100 MPH slapshots that nearly tear the back of the net.

Which brings me to my idea. Let’s clog the ice with goons!

Let’s take that sport, with such a unique combination of athleticism and grace, and let’s make sure every team has at least one guy whose job it is to go out and fight the other team’s one guy. Let’s make sure that the fast, exciting guys (many of whom are from another culture) cower in fear that they might get knocked in the head while Western fans nod appreciatively at the Russian getting his due at long last! Let’s be sure that head shots stay legal and that at least once every game there is a fight with at least one player caught in the flattering “jersey-stuck-over-my-face” pose!

Why would anyone want to watch Sergei Federov or Simon Gagne or Sidney Crosby or Daniel Briere, with their crisp passing and deadly accurate shooting, when we could watch Todd Fedoruk or Colton Orr mangle each other for a while?

Further, let’s make fighting part of an “unwritten code” so that it’s cloaked in romanticism! A near-apocalypse would happen if a dozen (coincidentally?) mostly black NBA players cleared the benches and brawled; lengthy suspensions would result and white America would cluck their tongues at how bad the NBA’s getting. But if we have a “code” for mostly white players to live by, with consequences like getting your teeth knocked out, then suddenly it’s quaint! We can say it’s just part of the game, always has been, and always should be. Hey — Hammurabi had a code! So should we.

What would hockey be without the fighting? Speed, agility, grace, precision, drama? Who would ever watch that?

I am here to defend the use of Goons in hockey. If you don’t know what a Goon is, let me explain. He’s the guy who lumbers off the bench and pulverizes the opponent who dares to initiate, or even attempt to initiate, some type of painful contact with a hockey team’s “skilled” players. A skilled player, of course, has a Russian, Swedish or Finnish name and the same size uniform and skates as the Goon wore in Pee Wee hockey.

I know that the usual tack would be for me to cite the Code, that unwritten (yet often written about) set of laws that serve as the rules of engagement for Goons. I would explain to you that skilled players are valuable assets who need protection and explain how deterrence necessitates fisticuffs — like a safety leveling a wide receiver who catches a pass across the middle, you do it so they think twice the next time they think about doing something they shouldn’t.

But I’m going in a different direction — economic concern. For the Goons.

Here’s the question to consider — what else can these guys do for a living? These are not, as one athlete has said, “the brightest tools in the shed.” These people have struggled to learn human speech and have even found a meaningful way to contribute to society that (usually) doesn’t involve violent crime. Why turn them out?

And Goons are entertaining! During a tense playoff game several years ago between the Flyers and Devils, noted Goon Claude Lemieux (my spell check offers lummox here) was trash talking Flyers captain Eric Desjardins. After a particular rush ended with a Desjardins shot rather than a pass, Lemieux taunted him with the remark, “You always think about yourself first! What does that ‘C’ on your shirt stand for? SELFISH?” And then we have Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion’s now-famous words of wisdom to his Montréal teammates before a big game: “Three things we must do tonight, and that is shoot and pass.”

Where else can the world use men like this? Burger King? Wal*Mart? Sure, but these places seem to have enough imbeciles already, and if they were also huge and muscular, I couldn’t make fun of them anymore. We need to keep fighting in the NHL — to keep Goons employed and off the streets.

Which side are you on?
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The funniest thing currently on the Internet…

04/28/2008, 4:01 pm -- by | 6 Comments

…can be found here.

It\’s funny because it\’s true. Anyone who has listened to Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis has left either disappointed and angry with every Christian they know (themselves included) or wondering what the heck just hit them. Sometimes both.

I study revivalistic worship at Drew University. Revivalists are accused (and not without some merit) of perfecting a certain recipe for worship:
1. Scare people with the torments of hell that await them.
2. Offer Jesus as an antidote to those torments of hell.
3. Watch as the converts roll in.

This way of preaching works. It did for Charles Finney 200 years ago and it does for many preachers today. Many people are converted by this type of preaching.

The only problem with this recipe is that it rarely produces mature Christians. Certainly, it gets more people to “sign their name on the dotted line” for Jesus, and whether this truly makes them Christian or not I do not presume to say. But it demonstrably fails to produce mature Christians.

People who experience worship in this way generally fall into one of two categories. They see the paramount importance of the decision for Christ, and so either they decide that there\’s no need to go much deeper, since the important stuff is done; or they come down the aisle again and again, always anxious, never sure that the last time really “took.” Such Christians never know the joy God designed for us to know in Christ.

Campolo and Wallis and their ilk might not like this assessment, but I think of them as being a lot like those revivalists. They use the same recipe as above; only step one is different. Rather than scaring us with the torments of hell, these prophets scare us in other ways: “The poor are dying, you know.” Campolo once famously said, “I have three things I\’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases caused by malnutrition. Second, most of you don\’t give a s***. What\’s worse is that you\’re more upset by the fact I said s*** than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Just like a revivalist scares his audience and offers an antidote, so speakers like this scare their audience and offer the antidote as a more socially-oriented form of Christianity.

Of course Campolo is right. We should not forget this. The fact of hunger, the fact of poverty ”” and not the mere facts but the human faces behind them ”” are vital to God. Wrestling with questions like these is foundational to our Christian identity. We simply cannot be content while such problems exist in the world.

Yet there is something about their technique, borrowed as it is, that produces the same results as those old revivalists. They tend to produce progressive Christians overwhelmed with social problems, who operate from a place of anxiety, even anger, and rarely know the deep joy of Christ.

Speaking as a somewhat progressive (somewhat conservative) Christian, I would love to see the church proclaim a different message. God is doing something in the world: bringing in His Kingdom, begun and incarnated in Jesus. We are privileged to be a part of it. Inasmuch as we do take part in it, we will know the joy of Christ and touch the world with his love. Inasmuch as we do not take part in it, we cheat ourselves. But we do not have to be scared that God\’s work somehow depends on our whipping ourselves into spiritual shape ”” if we fail God, he yet remains faithful.

In short, I would love to see Christianity proclaimed as a life to be lived, progressively discovered, with many layers. The Christian life is so beautiful, so profound, so challenging, such an adventure. Almost every day I find something new I am holding back and I have the joy of turning it over to God, or trying to. I am grateful and content with what God has wrought in me so far, and grateful and content that my future is in his hands and that he will do more with me in ten years than I can imagine now. That is the Christianity I love, not a series of terrifying decisions where I live in constant alarm over the state of my soul or the state of inner-city Philadelphia.

I do not have to be bullied into walking down an aisle of conversion. I do not have to be bullied into walking into a “bad” neighborhood and sharing Jesus\’ love in an incarnational way. Preachers do themselves a disservice by bullying their congregations. We live in an angry, drab, gray world where people are imprisoned by their ways of living and don\’t even know it. What is needed in such a world is not more bullying, but beauty. What is needed are preachers who can speak transparently, who recognize the Kingdom has its own beauty that can speak to this world if we will but let it.

Best of Mike — Pied Beauty

04/21/2008, 11:00 am -- by | No Comments

Originally published on July 16, 2007.

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

I am not a poetry person, usually. Yet I ran across this poem a couple years ago and it captured me and has not let me go. I love how it images the “useless” things in creation: freckles, the play of clouds in the sky, the chestnuts that fall to the earth. All of these things are “counter, original, spare, strange” and yet their beauty cannot help but point to the greatness of the One who made them.

Romans 8:19 says, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Why? Why bother? Why would creation wait for us? Isn’t the creation Hopkins describes perfect on its own? What possibly could creation want from us?

I think creation longs for us because the children of God are to be the pinnacle of all this wonderful creation. We, of all people, can afford to be counter, original, spare and strange to a world which lives in captivity to itself. When God set us apart to be his people, he made us beautiful and strange in the same way so much of his creation is beautiful and strange. We do not have to reflect the tired gray of those around us; instead, we can be dappled and beautiful and strange and point the world to the Beautiful One.

It was a wonderful revelation when I realized that part of our call as Christians is to be beautiful, the pinnacle of a beautiful creation. Not what the world calls beautiful, not silicone or sinew, but the simple beauty of being what we were created to be. I struggled (and still struggle) to have the world see me as pious, knowledgeable and wise, but at my best I am simply focusing on being beautiful, on settling for no other agenda for my life than finding who I am and being that person. This is a personal task, to be sure, but never individualistic — I discover myself best in community, when other beautiful people are gently alerting me to what is beautiful in me.

What about you? Will you settle for being virtuous in another person’s eyes? Will you allow the Democrats or the Republicans to sell you their version of the beautiful life? Will you allow the tabloids to tell you who is beautiful? Will you allow Pottery Barn to define beauty for you?

Or will you follow the One who dared to say the beautiful life always begins with a crucifixion? Will you be children of that God? Will you be counter, spare, original, strange? Will you be a playful part of the way God is redeeming creation? The chestnuts and the finches, the trout and the skies — all of dappled creation awaits your answer.

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