Archive for October, 2012

Rome is Burning

I think events at three separate athletic events this past weekend opened a window into the unhealthy soul of American culture. Perhaps I should start by saying that we should all consider whether the fact that there were actually a bazillion athletic events in America over the weekend might be sufficient evidence that our culture is in ill-health. And I happen to enjoy sports very much, so I’m not writing as an anti-sports snob.

Anyway, back to my three events. First, after a horrible call (in my view) in the Braves vs. Cardinals game, a sufficient number of troglodytes decided to show their unhappiness by bombarding the field with debris. There is no doubt that Braves fans had reason to be unhappy, but not to the point of civil unrest! If a blown call in a sporting event produces that kind of result, something is clearly out of balance. The fact that so many beer bottles where readily available to throw only adds color to the very sick picture.

The second event is far less dramatic, but still was striking to me. In the eighth inning of the Orioles vs. Rangers wild card game being played in Texas, Josh Hamilton was showered with boos after striking out. (I suppose he can be thankful he was not in Atlanta or he might have been pelted with booze!) I was amazed. Here was an anchor player of the Rangers’ American League Championship teams. He led their team—and was second only to Miguel Cabrera in the whole league—in home runs and RBI. He was the American League MVP in 2010. Any way you look at it, Josh Hamilton has been part of the core for a very good run by the Rangers. Yes, he hit a bad patch here at the end of the season, culminating in the strike out in the eighth, but to shower him with boos? Seriously? Amazing.

I didn’t see the third event, but became aware of it because of the attention it garnered. In a football game on Sunday afternoon, the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs was knocked out during the game and the home town fans cheered about it. It should probably concern us that by itself, this would probably have passed by without much notice. But another player on the team, offensive tackle Eric Winston made a powerful and poignant statement about it to the media in the locker room following the game. His central point is spot on–it is disgusting that people would cheer the injury of another human. I would add that it is even more despicable due to the fact that they were in no way cheering the act that caused the injury (e.g., a big hit by one of their own players). In other words, the only thing that they took pleasure in was the injury. I’m sure those who cheered (if they can even remember it now that they have sobered up) would say they were cheering the fact that a new quarterback would have to come in, but that is bogus. The glee expressed came at the injury, not the replacement. Winston is right. That’s sick.

Each of these incidents exposes the twisted value system which dominates our culture. What was once considered a recreation has become an obsession. Obsessions pursued without the proper restraints of civil society produce ugly spectacles like this past weekend. The fact that athletic events no longer are viewed as part of civil society is evidence of the problem, not an excuse for it. Public drunkenness is almost universally condemned, unless you are are at a game. Public profanity is generally frowned upon, unless you are shouting it at the opposing team. Wishing for someone else’s harm is normally considered a wicked vice, unless it involves sports (or so-called sports like mixed martial arts fighting).

Eric Winston correctly pointed out that football players are not gladiators. What he didn’t say directly, but properly assumed, is that modern fans are rapidly embracing the role of spectators in the Coliseum. Riot if you don’t like the outcome. Signal thumbs down on the life of the athlete who does not deliver. Cheer with bloodlust when someone you don’t like (for nothing other than sport) gets hurt.

We are becoming like Rome on its way downhill.

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Using Hatred of the IRS to Build Numbers for Sunday?

I have seen and heard lots of ways to pump up the numbers for Sunday, but apparently this weekend some are trying to do it by taunting the Internal Revenue Service. Dr. Gina Loudon gives us the scoop here about “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Apparently, some folks intend to endorse candidates from the pulpit this Sunday, and then send videotape of that action to the IRS in order to dare that agency to do something about it.

Just to clear some things out of the way before I express my disagreement with trying this, let me stipulate that: (1) I believe in the freedom of the pulpit bounded only by God’s Word; (2) I believe that tax policy should not be used to enforce public policy; and (3) I believe that the freedoms of religion and speech do face serious challenges in our day.

Having said those things, I think this is a dumb idea because it looks more like a stunt than a statement. If you believe that local assemblies should be free to endorse candidates from the pulpit, then just do that. But, to play off of biblical words, don’t practice your rights to be seen by men.

Dr. Loudon, after lauding the boldness of those who plan to do this, writes, “While other pastors concern themselves with losing membership for saying something that might offend a potential tithing member, or risk their tax exempt status, some are getting in the face of those who would subvert our Constitutional rights and daring them to sue.” Conservatives go nuts when liberals set up false options, but too often commit the same error. She leaves us with two choices: boldness or cowardice. Perhaps there is a third option, one that sees no biblical warrant for wasting time in God’s worship endorsing political candidates. I don’t care if the Constitution gives me freedom to do so or not. The real issue is what belongs in worship and what does not. I hope more of us are concerned about offending God than we are church members.

Dr. Loudon thinks our churches bear some responsibility for the decline in our country, and I agree. She thinks the answer is to get political. I think that the problem is that we have been political. Pulpits have exchanged the Word of God for what itching ears want to hear, and that has too often included political speeches. The great moral changes of the past didn’t come from political movements, they came from revivals. And the pulpits during those revivals weren’t endorsing candidates, they were extolling Christ and His saving power.

If you want to build a crowd, then stir up a controversy. If you want to shepherd God’s people faithfully, then point them to Christ through the careful exposition of the Word!

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