2016

For the 38th time in my life, I have witnessed one year giving way to another. As I find myself quickly approaching the time of life that is most often described as mid-life, I have come to appreciate the rhythmic nature of life. This past New Year’s Eve I must have asked Mary Beth four or five times, “Has it really been an entire year since we did this last time?” We are not the first to experience this speeding up of time that growing older perpetuates.

The calendar has turned, the time for reminiscing past, and wide open spaces await. Before marching too quickly ahead, however, I wish to ruminate for just a moment on some of the fonder moments of the previous year. 365 days ago (366 days to be exact – wasn’t last year a leap year?) I stood at the base of the Rocky Mountains for the first time, and hiked among the majestic Garden of the Gods.  In March we walked the grounds of The Hermitage in Nashville and were able to appreciate one of the best maintained Presidential homes in the United States. In the summer, we took our family on an unforgettable tour of the Northeast with stops at Niagara Falls, Cooperstown,  NY, and the eventual destination of what has become one of my favorite places in the world – Acadia National Park in Maine. Our kids loved camping under the stars, hiking the rugged ocean shoreline, and eating our lunch from the rocks atop Cadillac Mountain. On the way home, we stopped to explore New York City for one day, and our children were able to experience the extremes of our world: sleeping in a tent one night to riding on the subway the next.

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Mary Beth and I were incredibly blessed with the opportunity to spend two weeks at the end of the summer in Ireland, England, and France. It was our second trip to Europe, but this trip was even better as we got to spend the entire time with friends. I’m sure that Mary Beth will never forget spending her birthday in an Irish pub as the entire pub sang happy birthday to her. We hiked along the rocky coast near Howth. We walked the largest sand dune in Europe. We ate fresh oysters from the bay at Archechon after we swam. We watched a Parisian rugby game. We got to enjoy playing with our favorite French couples’ little girl. The memories will last a lifetime.

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When we returned to the States, we didn’t even have time to catch our breath as school had begun and the slow pace of our two-week break was overcome by the hyperdrive of sports schedules, work, and the responsibilities of home. Just as things began toward a tolerable pace, my favorite baseball team had an incredible run into the World Series. I went to four World Series games in 2016. Even as I write that I am having trouble believing that it really happened. The Series was all that sports is supposed to be – unspeakably fun and joyful but overwhelmingly heartbreaking.

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Of course there were so many parts of 2016 I left out. Seems like we had a baseball game, soccer practice, a dress rehearsal, or a softball game every night of the year. There were youth group trips and church camps, sermons preached, Bible classes taught, articles written, family events attended – it’s all rather overwhelming just how much is accomplished in 366 days. And in this world of capturing every picture, sound and video clip – every moment – how do we even have time to look back and revel in what was? Even now, I have not seen most of the pictures we took throughout our travels last year.

I read books in 2016. Clementine and I finally finished reading the Harry Potter series. What a testament to one woman’s creativity. I have kept on plodding through the works of Stephen King. He is helping me think more about the way I write. Mostly I envy his incredible vocabulary, vivid ability to tell stories, and uncanny way of inviting the reader into his world. If I could steal one person’s ability for myself . . .

I spent the better part of the first half of the year reading It for the first time – it ended up being timely as the crazy clown epidemic invaded the East at the end of 2016, and with the upcoming movie, I couldn’t be more exciting. King is at his best when he has time to develop a group of characters as he does in The Stand and It. Those two stories are head and shoulders his best (though I’ve many more to read!) 2017 will begin with my moving on to Needful Things – long one of my favorite novels. I have yet to read one of his stories that I just hate.

I read more fiction than nonfiction in 2016 – maybe for the first time in my life. That is largely because I read with my kids – Harry Potter, Clementine, and I go back quite a ways, but Cecilia jumped into the party with the Baudelaire children and Lemony Snicket – proving also to be timely with Netflix’s upcoming series. But not only the kids, I’m learning how much better I preach when I have been captivated by a story. Preachers are, after all, storytellers, so how better to learn to preach than to read stories?

I watched television and movies as well. As far as horror movies go, the Stitches movie on Netflix is right up my alley. Weird, gory, and hilarious. I remember squeezing that one in at some point and enjoyed it. Mary Beth and I spent our anniversary watching the new movie Manchester by the Sea. I have not watched a movie that was more raw and emotional than that one. It has one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in any movie embodying sorrow, pain, and desperation than maybe any I’ve ever seen. Really, really memorable. We got caught up on House of Cards over the break – still a very engaging drama about politics.

It is freeing to just write again. In the summer of 2016, I signed a contract with Wipf and Stock Publishers to turn my dissertation into a book under their Cascade Books imprint. I was just hitting my writing rhythm as the holidays picked up. As this year begins, I will be focused intently the first six months on completing this book project. I am excited for the opportunity, I believe passionately about my subject, and I hope it will continue to open doors for more people to talk about the all-important subject of sports and faith.

I hope to have the manuscript completed by June 1, and expect that the book will be published sometime in 2018. I will to move to the marketing side of things once the manuscript is complete, and that, hopefully, is going to include providing a lot more attention and effort to this blog.

As I continue writing I will need breaks from the book, and plan to use this blog in the coming months as a sounding board for some of what I’m working on in the book, but also to get far afield from the topic and give my mind a rest. I will plan to post more on the book in the next few days, as this entry has become a rather lengthy entry to start 2017.

 

A Tease . . .

I just can’t seem to find within me the discipline and routine of regularly maintaining this blog. I am on the precipice of another concerted attempt, so we’ll see how that goes. Facebook tends to me where I type out thoughts much more frequently, and the need for prolonged and complex thoughts I typically save for sermons, but, alas, I still feel a desire for this outlet as well.

So . . . more is coming. One way or another I will be writing more – somewhere – as I begin, in earnest, in October to write my book. In conjunction with the work on the book, I am also beginning to look at creating a website that will be full of content related to youth ministry and theology as it pertains to sports. There is much work being done in that area and I am glad to be part. More coming soon . . .

I have a few more weeks of the football season left (as an Ohio high school football official), and then I hope to really turn my attention to these creative outlets. More than anything, today, I just wanted to put something down. This blog is just about screeched to a halt and it is time to lube the joints, oil the wheels, and get this baby rolling again.

I already do so much work in sermons and classes that I’d like to begin to post some of those materials as well. Upon my last web redesign I created an outlet for those kinds of things. We’ll see if I can get those things updated soon. It is a work in progress. Welcome back to this blog . . .

Writing, Sports, Stephen King, and Donald Trump

I am envious of bloggers and writers who are able to maintain a consistent online presence.  Noticing that my last blogpost was more than four months ago, consistency is not the  name of my game.  When it comes to writing, the idea of writing is a lot more romantic and attractive than the actual writing itself.  It was about a year ago that I completed the longest writing project in my lifetime – a 200-page, double-spaced ode to sports and youth ministry.  As I clicked the final “submission” button for that project, somewhere a fleeting thought of optimism passed through the neurons of my cerebral cortex elating, “Now I will have the time and energy to blog and write more often about the things that I really want to write about.”

In one of Stephen King’s books he talks about how often people approach him and say, “Man, I would love to write a novel, but I just don’t have the time.”  King’s response is, “If you are a writer – you write.”  I think about that statement often.  As I have grown older, I have found an increasing joy in writing.  I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of artistically crafting sentences: searching for the right nuance of adjectives, wracking my brains for just the right verb, diving deeper for most meaningful word, typing and deleting, typing and deleting, typing and deleting.  I’ve come to appreciate something almost therapeutic about writing.  And yet, much like those throes of people who approach Stephen King, I just can’t seem to find enough time to write.  I just might not be a writer.

While irons never seem to leave the fire and familial responsibilities compete with pastoral ones, sitting quietly in front of a keyboard, typing out the thoughts and feelings pouring through my mind at any given moment just never seems to make its way to the top of the leader board on that day’s to do list.  Nevertheless, in the 60 days that have already passed in 2016, I have felt an overwhelming tug to make the time to write.  It’s almost as though I need writing to help work through and process the infinite number of feelings and emotions that are taking place each and every moment.  Reading and writing are important times to pause amid the busyness of the day.  Even now, I am compelled to tell myself to listen.  So, maybe this is another installment with the next coming four more months from now, but my soul needs decompressed, and in order to do that, I first need to purge.  So, forgive me while I purge through a litany of disconnected and unrelated topics and subjects that have been racing through my mind lately.  If you read them, thank you, and I hope you find some value in them – but the real value in this exercise is in my purging more than in your consuming.

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Thoughts on youth sports and theology continues to take up a rather large portion of my time.  I recently read and reviewed the forthcoming book, Overplayed, by David King and Margot Starbuck.  The book comes out next week and reiterates a lot of the stuff I have been saying over the past couple of years.  My review is for the Englewood Review of Books and will probably be available next week.  I don’t want to rewrite the review here, so I’ll just link it when it is available.  In short, Overplayed would make for a great book for church youth groups or small groups of parents whose children are involved in youth sports.  Parents will find it both encouraging and challenging on several levels.  It is easy to read and easily utilized as a small group discussion book.

I continue to be amazed at how often I am having conversations with parents about the challenges that youth sports presents their families.  The Metzes are about the feel the full effect of having active children as our girls have decided to branch out from the confines of the dance studio this spring and summer with soccer and softball teams.  I continue to learn, discuss, and explore as we go!

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Awhile back I created a tab on the blog for The Stephen King Project.  If you’ve clicked on it, you’ve discovered that it is incredibly empty.  Nothing there.  I have a good idea, good intentions, but just haven’t been able to put it all together.  Back in 2014, I set out to read all of Stephen King’s books chronologically beginning with Carrie.  Some I had read before, so I am re-reading them when I come to them, but most of them I am working through for the first time.  Obviously (now two years later), I am working slowly through them, but my admiration and appreciation for King continues to grow.  Hopefully, this week I will be finishing up his longest novel (and maybe my favorite? we’ll have to see how it ends): It.

Few authors have been as popular as King and his early works are especially well known because of the incredible number that were turned into movies.  His stories tend to be gory, gruesome, and he is easily the best known author in the horror genre, but what can be easily overlooked is the complexity and (often) beauty in his writing.  Additionally, there are clear Christian theological undertones that inform many of his stories and I hope that one day The Stephen King Project will include a theological review of each of his stories.  It is a particularly compelling example of King’s use of Christian metaphor and imagery.  In a lot of ways It is an extended (if gruesome) parable of Jesus’ teaching, “Let the little children come to me.”  This project falls quite low on the list, but I’d like to at least type out some quick thoughts as I finish each of the novels while the story in fresh in my mind.  Stay tuned for my take on It.

Sports and Christianity Conference

Just today I set up a Go Fund Me account to help pay for me to attend the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity event at York St. John University in York, England.  I anticipate sharing two papers at the event: “The American Youth Sports Industrial Complex, the Betrayal of Local Community, and its Impact on Local Congregations” and “The Priests of the Games: A Call for More Christian Referees.”  World class theologians will be there giving keynote presentations: Stanley Hauerwas and Tony Campolo, as well as the author of one of the most significant books to be written on sports and Christianity in the last 100 years Michael Novak.  I hate to ask for help in paying for the trip, but my education budget is tapped out for awhile.  I am excited about the possibility and hope to go be a part.  Incidentally, if you’d like to help, here’s the link to my page:
A Brief Word on Politics

I think I am suffering the effects of a political hangover.  I mean, here we are in the most unusual and interesting political election in any of our lifetimes, and I just find myself rather disinterested.  That’s probably overstating the case a bit, but I do feel rather unemotionally involved.  That’s not to say I’m not frustrated with the cantankerous fighting between politicians and the seemingly lowering of standards by which politics are handled.  That’s  not to say that I remain incredibly disappointed in Christian leaders voicing their support for Donald Trump.  Thankfully, there are many others doing that.  The problem is, none of the other candidates are any better.  And I don’t say that in any kind of dismissive, upset toddler kind of way.  I mean we will constantly be disappointed and upset if we continue to place our faith and trust in the powers of this world.  There is a reason my belief in pacifism has grown in recent years instead of weakened.  The rancor of politics affords people the opportunity to make themselves feel like they are fulfilling some drastically important political responsibility and the weight of the world lies on their vote while not actually contributing to any project or efforts that actually enact change.

I’m not saying politics don’t matter or that elected officials don’t matter.  I know plenty of Christians who vote their consciences (many voting for opposite candidates), and I can respect that.  However, it is more difficult to respect those who treat their vote as their most powerful weapon or voice.  As Christians, we wield a power so much stronger than that.  We don’t need to go around rubbing that in people’s faces, but can’t we find the internal confidence and reassurance to not have to play by the same rules as everyone else?  No matter what person is elected – Hillary, Bernie – or even Trump . . . we’re going to be OK.  I think deep down, most Christians believe that, I’m just disappointed that I don’t hear more people saying that – actually leading with that.

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While I am purging.  I have this sinking feeling, as a Cleveland sports fan, that it’s happening again.  The Browns are in complete disarray and things may be looking optimistic for the Indians (it’s just so hard to win it all in baseball), but with LeBron’s decision to come back to Cleveland, it appeared all but certain that the Cavs would be the harbinger of sports championships for the city so desperately longing for one.  They were so close last year, and they’ve tweaked here and there to try and take that final step . . . and then it just so happens (in true Cleveland fashion) that something we’ve never seen before is beginning to take place.  What Golden State is doing with Steph Curry at the helm is leaving the sports media speechless (and that’s saying something).  There’s still quite some time to go, but you have to be crazy not to at least question whether or not the Cavs can climb that mountain.  I’m no the-sky-is-falling pessimist, but I am beginning to have that feeling of “here we go again” as the Warriors are playing at such a ridiculously high level.  My respect for LeBron is immense since his selfless return to Cleveland (how could it be seen as anything else), but the curse of Cleveland seems to be working in an altogether different way than it ever has before.  (If you’ve read It, it’s kind of eerie to see the parallel here as the clown manifested itself in so many different ways through its history in Maine – the same thing can be said of the curse in Cleveland.)  The sky is definitely not falling and the Cavs are definitely one of the best teams in the NBA . . . but those teams in the West . . . they certainly give us Cavs fans plenty to be worried about.  Let’s just hope I’m wrong.

That’s enough purging for today.  Hopefully, that purging will help me to move towards some more well thought-out ideas in the coming days and weeks.  Some of the things I hope to be posting about soon . . .

  • My (not so successful) experience with Lent this year
  • Our journey through the books of the Bible (Acts, Exodus, and Matthew so far)
  • Parenting in this age of technology (I am teaching a class in a couple of months about faith and technology with a special attention to parenting)
  • Politics – I’m sure I’ll get back in the ring to discuss them
  • Neighboring
  • Maybe an article or two specific for my Christian tradition (the Churches of Christ)
  • Woodworking – I’ve got a couple of projects at home waiting for me to dig into this spring – I want to try and document more of these things here on the blog

 

 

Praying for an Error

We’ve all heard those stories of famous athletes who became a public goat following a highly public sports gaffe.  One of the most heinous examples was that of Colombian soccer player Andes Escobar who, during a 1994 World Cup match against the United States accidentally scored in his own goal and was murdered two weeks after returning to Colombia.  While the Escobar incident is notoriously one of the most extreme examples, there have been countless examples of fans threatening to harm or even kill athletes for their shortcomings in big sports moments.

No one represents the fallen athlete in American sports as much as former Major League Baseball player, Bill Buckner.  Buckner had a highly successful major league career that lasted over 20 years.  He collected over 2,700 hits and even won a batting title in 1980 while playing for the Chicago Cubs.  Buckner, however, is best known for missing a routine ground ball in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series at Fenway Park while a member of the Boston Red Sox.

Like many of these big time sports goats, Buckner was sent death threats and this one error came to define his career – quite unfortunate when you consider how good of a career he truly had.

It would seem as though the majority of spectators and fans of sports  are stable enough to resist sending death threats to athletes or harming those who make mistakes (though attending some youth sports games can make a person begin to wonder).  These extreme cases, however, do reveal a troubling characteristic with which most sports fans are forced to wrestle. Team sports has a tendency to dehumanize its participants.  Athletes wear uniforms of the same color in order to set themselves apart from the other team who wear a different uniform.  Spectators in the stands wear their teams’ colors.  We feel camaraderie with our team.  And many of the sociological traits that are present in the concept of mob mentality permeate sports venues.  We feel a hyper connectivity with fellow fans.  So we high five strangers after our team scores a touchdown.  We scream and yell for our team to succeed.  And we root against the other team.

And there happens to be a fine line between cheering for our team and rooting against the other team.  You see this happen when a player gets injured.  I will assume the humanity in all fans – that there is a pang of empathy for any injured player and an authentic hope that he or she is OK, but if we are completely honest, doesn’t the empathy seem to come a little more quickly when it’s one of “our” players?  In this split-second pause, we are confronted by the major challenges that sports presents us.

All the time I hear aggressive parents encouraging their children to play harder and stronger and faster and . . . there is the slightest feeling that they want to take that other team – or player – “down.”  Taking them down is part of the game!  If we can’t all win – someone has to lose.  And we’d just all assume it would be “them ” lose instead of us.   And, ever so subtlety, we feel ourselves hoping, not just that we win, but that they lose.  Just watch a parent when their child is playing a team with a player who is significantly better than all the other players.  They can easily find themselves rooting for that player’s failure as much as their own child’s success.  It’s the same feeling we get when we are playing a game when we know that it is impossible to win.  Those are difficult emotions to process.

Which is one of the reasons why sports is so great.  It offers us a relatively safe environment to experience these feelings of aggression and inadequacy.  It offers us a playground to try out feelings and emotions that are every bit as relevant to the workplace and the real world as they are to the sports contest itself.

Throughout all of our experiences in sports – whether we are playing them or watching them – we must remember to humanize the event.  While we are watching our children playing a game, it is not another team they are playing against, it is another group of boys and girls with different personalities, gifts, challenges, and experiences.  Maybe that player is a jerk because his family life is in shambles.  Maybe that coach is over-the-top because she struggles mightily with her self image.  Maybe that parent is so boisterous because he and his wife are going through a divorce.  Maybe that official made a bad call because he got fired the day before and his mind isn’t completely in the game.

It seems like a simple enough task, but our passion for sports makes remembering the humanity of the players more challenging than it seems like it would be.  When our rival team hires a new coach, we don’t wonder about his family life or his off-the-field demeanor.  We just don’t like him and hope he is unsuccessful.  When a player from the other team takes a cheap shot on our child or one of their teammates, we don’t wonder how she does in school or whether she is loved at home – we just hope our daughter will get her back somehow.

Sports are at their best when we humanize them – when we remember that sports are created for all of us to enjoy.  Sports journalism illustrates how this works when they give the back story to players we watch on television.  They serve as a reminder of the humanity of the players.  They remind us that there is more to life than sports, and while we all know that, in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to keep that in mind.

It’s kind of like when my children see one of their teachers outside of the school.  They have a difficult time processing the fact that their teachers have any life at all outside of the school building.  Most elementary school children have trouble imaging their teachers ever leave the school building.  Everyone always gets a good laugh out of this when we meet them outside of school.  It seems to me, this is the same thing that happens in sports.  The sports figures are there for our enjoyment and our pleasure and it is easy for us to forget that they leave the field, arenas, and gyms too.  They have other lives besides what we see.  Remembering this fact will help us keep sports in their proper place.

A New Beginning

If you are following this blog (I know there’s a couple of you out there) . .  .

I wanted to introduce you to another site which I have started.  As I near completion of my studies, I’ll have a bit more time to write there (and here) and I look forward to working through some stuff that I have long neglected.  This site will remain active and I hope to devote some more time to the things I have traditionally worked on here, but my sports and religion stuff has a new home.  So . . . if you have a few minutes, check it out:  https://sportsandreligion.wordpress.com

Starting Fresh

Over the past year I’ve been extremely busy finishing up my doctoral work at Fuller Seminary. The first draft of my dissertation is nearly finished, and I am excited to be polishing it off sometime early next year. In the mean time, I am also excited to re-energize my efforts in blogging. I will be taking some time over the Christmas break and into next year to redesign and re-imagine my online presence. As I get older, I recognize more and more the desire and interest I have to write. Something that would have once seemed exceptionally odious, now I actually find myself looking forward to.

2015 will see me writing more, I’ve just got to determine what exactly that writing will encompass. My dissertation has had me reading and researching extensively in the area of sports and theology, and specifically youth sports. That remains an incredibly overlooked area and I look forward to seeing where that might one day lead.

I am now in my twelfth year of working in a small church. I’m so at home in the small church now that any thing larger seems like a foreign world. As I peruse the on-line world throughout my week, I am struck by just how little attention the small church receives. I expect to spend some time addressing matters unique to the small church in my future writing endeavors.

I continue to read as much as I can, and I always appreciate seeing others’ lists of books they’ve read and summaries of books. I want to be more intentional in engaging the books that I read online. I don’t read books like a lot of pastors. I will get a timely book here and there, but I typically buy most of my books at Goodwill and Half Price Books, so most of what I am reading is a little dated, odd, and/or random. I like that. I like to be random. I’ve also found a post-doctorate respite in fiction, so I look forward to engaging that a bit more.

Amidst these interests are additional random things I find myself involved in: parenting my kids, watching sports, watching movies, being a husband, and observing the culture of the church today. Hopefully, I can find a recipe in the coming months that will organize these thoughts and begin a more intentional effort toward providing thought-provoking, helpful resources for a variety of people. Before the end of the year, I will make one more entry here reflecting on some of the books I’ve read this year, and then we’ll see what the future holds.

In Defense of #FearFest

Everybody remembers the first movie that scared the hell out of them.  It probably happened late one night when you and some friends got together and snuck in one of those movies your parents told you that you were too young to watch.  But, what did they know?  You tried hard to keep your poker face among your friends, but it was one particular scene or maybe it was a particular villain, but somewhere along the line you got scared – real scared.  Your heart began beating fast.  Your senses jumped to high alert.  And lying in your bed that night there was no way you could get to sleep.

The horror genre has been around as long as the moving picture.  It’s one of the greatest testimonies to the power of film – that watching moving pictures can evoke screams, make you jump, and even cause nightmares.  Throughout the history of horror movies, directors constantly try to outdo one another and make the next movie darker and scarier than the last one.

Among Christians, talk of horror movies is likely to induce quite a variety of reactions.  From those who believe these types of movies are straight from the gates of hell and avoid them like the plague to those who are horror movie aficionados – even attempting their own Christianized version (like House a movie based on a Christian novel written by Ted Dekker from a few years ago that gets a whopping 4.7 rating on IMDB).

Over the past several years, the cable network AMC has devoted the month of October to showing nothing but these kinds of movies.  Fear Fest, as they call it, illustrates just how many different subgenres of horror movies there are: slasher, monster, comedy, blockbuster, B-rated, foreign, and on and on the list goes.  This year they are showing many of the classic horror movie franchises: Friday the 13th, Halloween, Candy Man, as well as others.  Interspersed among these classics are lesser known B-horror movies.  Just the other day I watched the awesomely bad, sure to be a cult classic, Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators (a Syfy original rated an incredibly bad 3.4 by users of IMDB).

Anything as pervasive as the horror movie industry has to tell us something about our culture.  In an interesting book about religion and horror movies, Douglas Cowan writes, “What scares us reveals important aspects of who we are, both as individuals and as a society.”[1]  If Cowan is correct, it sure makes you wonder what the evolution of horror movies teaches us about our society.  It’s become common for classic horror movies to be remade with a  contemporary spin on them.  The other night I watched the remake of Friday the 13th.  As far as remakes go, I thought it was done really well.  It was intense.  It makes the old Friday the 13th seem cheesy and almost laughable.  Just look at the evolution of the villain Jason Voorhees:

The fact of the matter is that when horror movies are remade, they are all gorier and more intense.  This is not a judgment that they are better (or worse) – some are better; some are worse –  it’s just a reality that they are all darker.  And there’s something in the darkness of horror movies that draws us in.  There’s something about the darkness of horror movies that has given them their longevity.

I think that it is within the context of horror movies that many of us come to terms with the reality of sin in the world.  Every day, people are murdered, raped, wars are started, bombs are dropped, natural disasters occur, nature is polluted – insert tragedy here.  Just last week a few miles from my house, a middle-aged woman went for a  run in a nearby park and a 16-year-old high school student stabbed her 22 times, murdering her.  How do we make sense of that?  What am I to do with that?

I contend that watching horror movies is a lot like Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal.  If you remember the story, Elijah is on Mt. Carmel preparing a showdown between his God, Yahweh, and the god Baal and his prophets.  They each prepare the altars for sacrifice, and then pray to their respective gods to set the sacrifices on fire.  For dramatic effect, Elijah had even poured water on his altar, but that didn’t stop Yahweh from lighting the entire altar on fire while the prophets of Baal tried without success.  Then, in one of the most humorous stories in the Bible, Elijah turns to the prophets and begins to mock them.  “Maybe you need to pray louder; maybe your gods can’t hear you!”

When I watch a horror movie, I am confronted by the realities of evil.  Whether it’s the demonic, violence against women, evil spirits, mutated animals, or the devil himself, I am reminded that these represent real things.  That there is a real spirit at work in this world that works against love, healing, and reconciliation. This spirit manifests itself in as many different ways as there are subgenres of horror movies.  Bad things happen.  People set out to harm other people.  Serial killers are real. 

In a lot of ways, however, horror movies mock those powers.  In the ancient world, it was common place for a conquered army to be marched through the center of town triumphantly announcing the hometown victory.  To some extent, horror movies do this.  They tell compelling stories.  They frighten audiences.  They produce horrific scenes and scenarios.  But in the end, they are nothing more than the creation of special effects artists, often not very good actors, and gifted camera men and women.

Quietly, and often going unnoticed, horror movies mock evil. They connect with us because we know all too well that evil is real.  They draw us in because we know the potential of evil.  We know that we can never say, “This is as bad as it gets; this is awful as it gets.”  Because reality is darker than any horror movie.  This is the genius of The Walking Dead – it illustrates the irony of the fact that the threat of the zombies is only secondary to the threat that the living pose to one another.  The horror genre is the way that we come to terms with the reality of evil in the world.  The horror genre forces us to ask ourselves, “What is scarier, this fictitious story on the big screen, or the constantly unfolding story of humanity?”


                [1]  Douglas E. Cowan.  Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen.  (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), 10.

Baseball: It’s More than a Game

Be sure to read my latest blogpost over at On Pop Theology – in it I reminisce over one of my favorite family traditions – Opening Day in Cleveland.  You can see it here.  I included one of my favorite pictures there too, and because I love it so much here it is again.

My son Clark at the Opening Day blizzard of 2007.

We found some respite in Florida last week and are easing our way back into reality.  Today, however, baseball is on my mind as the Cleveland Indians open their season in Toronto.  They open in Cleveland next Monday and the weather looks like it might actually be amazing!  For now, a few thoughts from F. Scott Fitzgerald on the significance of baseball.  From The Great Gatsby:

“Who is he, anyhow, an actor?”

“No.”

“A dentist?”

“Meyer Wolfsheim?  No, he’s a gambler.”  Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919.”

“Fixed the World Series,” I repeated.

The idea staggered me.  I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain.  It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

“How did he happen to do that?” I asked after a minute.

“He just saw the opportunity.”

Parents of Children in (or about to be in) Sports Should Read This!

Just a note: I’ve updated a few of the pages on my blog and uploaded a few academic papers as well as a few old sermons.  I would like to pass along anything I create that I think might be helpful – that’s why I haven’t posted much – figuring not much would be helpful 🙂  Maybe you’ll find something of use there.  I did post a series of sermons I preached back in 2010 that you may find helpful if you find yourself in a Church of Christ that is wrestling through some of the theological and hermeneutical challenges that are a bit unique to us.  See what you think.

Game on

As I’ve begun this trek through youth sports and have been searching for the role of the church in helping equip our members for how to navigate these waters, few things have opened my eyes as wide as this book by Tom Farrey, published in 2008 (and then republished in 2009).

In writing his book, Farrey follows the development of children beginning with the first chapter (age 1) through the final chapter (age 14) discussing different parents’ obsession with making their children into sports icons.  He takes the reader to a sperm bank in Southern California where he quotes a doctor there as saying, “I’d say somewhere between 40% and two-thirds of the infertile couples look to prioritize athletic traits” . . . “In fact, after ethnicity . . . attributes such as height and body shape are most frequently requested” (p. 43).  He goes to a sports arena in Concord, Massachusetts to discuss with the parents of a set of seven-year-old twin girls who already are thinking ivy league, D-1 scholarships, and who already shell out over $10,000 per twin, per year, for hockey.  He takes the reader to Europe and compares the (much more effective) approach the French have towards their youth soccer programs which begins later in childhood and are much less rote and machine-esque  in comparison to the American counterpart.  From AAU to the NCAA, from soccer to basketball to girl’s hockey .  .  . even fencing is not out of Farrey’s aim.

Such a comprehensive volume is difficult to summarize in a brief blog overview, but I’ll do my best.  Farrey essentially sees a system of youth sports in the United States that has become extremely broken as it increasingly marginalizes the poor who cannot afford to be part of the system, contributes to the lack of inactivity and obesity in the country as travel and elite leagues stymie opportunities that use to exist in local recreation leagues, creates false dreams of NCAA scholarships (reinforcing what Michael Novak said more than 30 years ago – that sports has effectively become the opiate of the masses), and is detrimental to the country’s performance in international competition (he argues that not only does the current system do great harm to our country’s children – it’s actually not the best program for promoting athletes who compete at the highest levels – he offers Australia as a better example of success – check out their medal count in recent Olympics).

youth-sports

There is a great deal in Farrey’s work that will take some time for me to digest.  I am amazed at the irony of his book being published by ESPN who he points to (carefully, but certainly) as helping contribute to these problems.

Farrey is not writing from a Christian point of view, per say, but a great deal of what he points out should resonate with Christians looking for their children to participate in sports.  If sports, indeed, is a spiritual power, we should be asking ourselves, “In what ways can my children participate and contribute to the created good, intent of sports” rather than shrug our shoulders as if to say, “Well, if you can’t beat them, join them!”

Any parent who is wrestling for the best way their child might participate in youth sports would do well to read Farrey – and read it before you child is faced with the many opportunities that will come his or her way for participation in sports.  Be proactive, instead of sitting back and being marketed to.  Know what is best for your family.  Know what you are and aren’t willing to do.  Know how much travel you are willing to participate.  Know how much money you are willing to spend.  And keep your dreams realistic.  Don’t think about plans for your child to develop into a D1 athlete – think instead about how they can enjoy their childhood, and allowing sports to impact his or her life alongside other worthy endeavors.

When it comes to dreams of D-1 scholarships and opportunities at the “next level” I find it instructive to consider Farrey’s words as a reminder to stay grounded:

NCAA_Clearinghouse_Registration“I’ll keep it to one sentence.  If you’re gifted, really gifted, and lucky (right team, right coaches, right scheme, no wrecked knees) and play by the unwritten but uncompromising rules of the NCAA establishment – devote 360 days a year to your team and don’t make a habit of questioning the fairness of a system that uses your ability to perform in order to make hundreds of millions of dollars while you are on campus – then you might end up like Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, with a hunk of wood and metal in your left hand and a strirring national feature story (set to soft jazz) that memorializes your childhood descent into a Cleveland foster home and emergence as a student-athlete-celebrity, and how that Heisman Trophy you just won is going to motivate other kids to rise up from the ghetto in a similar manner, thereby helping to recycle the myth – critical to existing public policy – that big-time, commercialized college sports like D1 football and basketball are a viable route to a better life, when in fact there’s no real evidence to suggest that collectively the poor have been lifted by all that sport-centric dreaming and, besides, the Heisman isn’t what kids in the ghetto dream about anyway because chunks of metal and wood don’t put dinner on the family table and sometimes don’t even guarantee an NFL career, even if you so far have beaten the odds.”  (p. 146 – 147)

Let’s get realistic about our children’s involvement in sports – our communities will be better for it.