Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I just wanna be your Friend

There are so many things that I wish I could change in the world. For example... I wish people waiting at a red light could all let their foot off the brake the moment a light changes from red to green, so that we would all get moving a little bit quicker, so that everyone waiting might not be forced to sit through a second red light. You know: the big things.

In all seriousness -- there are many issues in the world that are troubling. That I wish I had the influence to fix. That I sometimes even wish I had the ability to change other people's minds about.

I've come to realize that I'm not the only person who harbors such a wish. Just judging by the social media feeds of folks I know, that wish is one that is so important to many people that it consumes their identity. And for a distinct but loud minority -- so absorbed in whatever cause or political ideology that they're willing to even lose friends over it.

Doesn't matter what the it is. Could be the issue of guns & gun violence, Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner, Healthcare, or national immigration policy. They're going to post about it. With frequency. And intensity. With an impression of activism to the point that you wonder if you can be that person's friend if you don't subscribe to their worldview.

It's really tempting to wade into those inflammatory waters myself. And for a variety of motives.

Sometimes I wanna take a stand. Something with the world seems wrong, and I wanna stand up for what I sense is right.

Sometimes I wanna educate. There's some issue on which I sense my friends might be ignorant, and I want them to be enlightened. Despite the fact that the subject is probably not one I've studied as much as most policy-makers have -- to know all of the in's and out's, pro's and con's, potential pitfalls, and moral hazards. I mean, really: as if I'm the arbiter of enlightenment...

Sometimes I wanna say "I told you so." At one point in time the spirit of the day leaned on one side of the issue. And now at this point in time that spirit seems foolish. And I just wanna point out how dumb that was. Maybe, to be frank, to make the people who disagree with me feel dumb.

So there are a variety of reasons why I'm tempted to join the fray in cyberspace.

But I've decided to resolve to abstain in 2015.

Starting now, and through at least next December, I'm going to refrain from making political commentary on Facebook. As I've written before, it's really kind of the town square of social media. It's where folks that I know gather. Which is different from other forms of social media. I may gather at a bulletin board to join the dialogue about a special interest. Or I may Tweet about the news on Twitter -- which is almost more of a news aggregator than it is a place to spend time with friends. And then there's Pinterest, and Instagram, and all the others that I'm not hip to yet. But, Facebook... it is where my friends are.

So for the next year you will not have to subscribe to my worldview to be my friend. Hopefully I haven't done too poorly a job of this in the past. But I'm resolving to do my best at this going forward.

This is probably really petty, but if I could change something about the world, I would bring the rest of the world with me on this resolution kicking & screaming. But I cannot. I can only change my own mind about how I broadcast myself into social media. And as for me & my house: we will serve the Lord. At least in terms of being faithful to passages like Titus 3:9 and 2nd Timothy 2:23.

This doesn't mean that I'm going to stop caring about what happens in national affairs & the world. It just means that I'm not going to talk about it on Facebook. I'm not going to make my friends a captive audience for what could be divisive political views. I'm not going to use the platform of our friendship to be inflammatory about any subject in which sides have been staked out & the border lines have been drawn.

For those of you who have been doing this all along: I admire your maturity. And I notice. I don't think that you don't have opinions, or that you don't care about what happens, or that you aren't engaged in things that matter. I just think you are much more measured & self-controlled than most of the rest of the world. And I admire that about you.

So, if we're connected on Facebook, this is my resolution to you going forward: I just wanna be your friend. And if you decide the same, then that's going to make me a very happy friend.

So Happy Hol... Merry Chri...

oh, well. Best wishes to you all

Monday, November 05, 2012

An ode to "The Rally in Death Valley"

One of the greatest things about sports is that the experience isn't always great.

Sports reflect life. And life is often filled with mundane; so much of it characterized by anticlimax. That is what we are delivered most of the time. You stand in line at Wal-mart; you watch your favorite football team's offense go three-and-out. You stare at the horizon as you fill up your car with gas; you watch a great slugger draw a 5-pitch walk.

But every once in awhile something magical happens. After the amazing experience of Game 162 in Major League Baseball last year, Joe Posnanski put it this way:

But then, every now and again, something happens. Something memorable. Something magnificent. Something staggering. Your child wins the race. Your team wins in the ninth. You get pulled over for speeding. And in that moment -- awesome or lousy -- you are living something you will never forget, something that jumps out of the toneless roar of day-to-day life.

The Braves failed to score. Papelbon blew the lead. Longoria homered in the 12th. Elation. Sadness. Mayhem. Champagne. Sleepless fury. Never been a night like it. Funny, if I was trying to explain (sports) to someone who had never heard of it, I wouldn't tell them about Wednesday night. No, it seems to me that it isn't Wednesday night that makes (sports) great. It's all the years you spend waiting for Wednesday night that makes (sports) great.

Alabama fans such as myself were blessed to have just such an experience Saturday night. At some point in that final drive -- probably as freshman running back T.J. Yeldon was breaking the ankles of LSU safety Craig Loston -- that moment changed. It ceased being a game. And it became a life experience.


Those experiences don't come around often. How grateful I am for that one!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Joltin' Joe has left and gone away

It's been awhile, but I've covered this ground before:


And if you don't want to go re-read all of that, essentially this was the root of my frustration:

I still find myself dejected over this sad state of affairs. It isn't because I just realized that there is hopelessness where I had always expected there to be hope. I think it is more that I wish to see my faith played out on that stage of public celebrity. I want to see some light shine through. I want to see some evidence in the world -- that I can point to... that I can show to others -- to say, "Here is where the Reign of God is breaking in & making a difference. Here is where the beacon on a hill is shining."

I know that Christ has forgiven us of all our sins (lowercase-"s"). But what about the (uppercase-"S") Sin problem here, while we're still on Earth? The cross has salvific power for eternity, and Scripture is witness to that. But also, the logic of the cross overcomes the problem in the here & now of the power of Satan in our lives. It's not enough to just have our record expunged. I want my heart washed clean, too.

And, so, it would be marvelous to find more examples, that are in public view, of humanity overcoming. I know some of you are still going to argue, "You're looking in the wrong place." I don't think I am. I'm just looking for that city on a hill. And I suppose my point in all this is that it's hard to find in celebrity. I want to be able to point at someone and say, "See, Christ works even THERE!"

That's a nice sentiment. But the more I've thought about it, it's a sentiment that's not completely honest. Because, whether or not I knew it at the time, I wanted to do more than point. I wanted to worship.



Worship is what we do with celebrities. Of all kinds -- whether from sports, politics, Hollywood, private enterprise, or the music industry.

Even before tabloids there was a fascination with celebrity. In the Bible, when Israel had no King, they coveted other nation's that had one. And they begged God for one. So he up & gave them what they wanted. So Israel finally had it's King.

This urge to crown Kings is at the root of some of humanity's best stories. Tell me -- how many of our ancient legends or fictional stories are a variation on this basic premise:

"ONCE- there was a great King. Who ruled with wisdom and power and justice and compassion -- all at once! And therefore, when the King was there, the land experienced a Golden Age. And everyone blossomed and we all reached our potential. The land blossomed, the arts blossomed, our relationships blossomed, civilization blossomed.

"BUT- something has taken the King away. So everything has deteriorated. Everything has fallen into disrepair & decay.

"BUT- we look for the day in which the King will come back."


(HT Tim Keller, "Jesus Our King")

How many of our stories trace these themes? Robin Hood. King Arthur. Lord of the Rings. The current Batman franchise of movies. That just off the top of my head. There are so many others. How many more?

And why is this the case? Why this fascination with Kings? Why this need to crown them? When the actual record of human kings is terrible. When you survey the landscape of history, the actual record of kings is nothing but a trail of tyranny, tragedy, and broken-ness. There's a very good reason we don't have kings any longer. We decided it was a good idea to get rid of all the kings! We've replaced nearly all of them with Democracies.

And yet still: a good story about a king has a powerful impact on us. Why?

I'm convinced now that it's because we were wired to worship. We were made to give our devotion to someone. As the ancient writer said: "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

The problem is this: we have this culture where we are invited to misplace our worship in any number of ways. We're even honest about it. We have a TV show called "American Idol." We even call our sports heroes idols.

Sportscaster Bob Costas put it this way 17 years ago when he eulogized Mickey Mantle:

And more than that, he was a presence in our lives-a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic. Mickey often said he didn't understand it, this enduring connection and affection-for men now in their 40s and 50s, otherwise perfectly sensible, who went dry in the mouth and stammered like schoolboys in the presence of Mickey Mantle.

Maybe Mick was uncomfortable with it, not just because of his basic shyness, but because he was always too honest to regard himself as some kind of deity.

But that was never really the point. In a very different time than today, the first baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, said every boy builds a shrine to some baseball hero, and before that shrine, a candle always burns.

For a huge portion of my generation, Mickey Mantle was that baseball hero.'

In a time where baseball monopolized America what Judge Landis said was true. But now, with so many sports & entertainment options, boys (and even grown men) have shrines to all manner of heroes.

For generations of men in Pennsylvania, that shrine was built for JoePa. He was a great ball-coach. He represented winning, yes. But more than that. His credo was "success with honor." He championed the Penn State way. He represented doing things right, not taking short-cuts, and being people of integrity. Once, when asked when he would retire, he quipped that he would not leave the game "to the Jackie Sherrills and Barry Switzers." And those who worshiped at the feet of Paterno pumped their fist. Because Joe was their crusader. Wrestling the trophies away from those who would get down in the slop & dirty up the game we loved.

Penn State isn't unique in this way. I like the way Cecil Hurt put it:

Part of the culture which made denial possible in Happy Valley is a mentality that takes hold most tenaciously with success, one in which the football program isn't simply successful, or an asset to the community or the engine of a powerful economic machine. An attitude develops that the program is "good" (and, by extension, that most of its rivals are "bad").

All the great paeans of the great white knight Joe Paterno... Rick Reilly calls them idotic hagiography.

Hagiography: writing about the lives of saints. Beyond just putting people up on pedestals. But putting them on thrones & placing halos over their heads. When really they're just human.

You know what Saint Joe did 18 months ago when he found out that his old pal & assistant Jerry Sandusky was under investigation? When Joe could feel the noose tightening around his own neck? He did what most folks would do: he gave into instincts of self-preservation. He took Penn State University to the negotiating table and extorted them for a sweet contractual exit package. He transferred ownership of his home to his wife. Because he knew what was coming. It was like a slow motion train wreck for him. And he was shielding Sue & the rest of his family from the liability locomotive that was barreling down the tracks directly at them.

That's a far cry from the philanthropic image of Joe Paterno. The man who gave millions of dollars back to the University he worked for. Nevertheless, in the end, Joe & his sons were using whatever leverage they could to extract whatever benefits they could out of that University.

Hardly a saint. Idiotic hagiography.

Some people still have a hard time accepting the truth about Joe. After the Freeh Report was released last week, someone placed a sign at Joe Paterno's statue that read, "Remember: He was a man, not God!!!" It seems that at least one person couldn't accept that:



It seems to be a ferocious thing to step between someone & the object of their worship.



We all would be better off if we kept the sobering lessons of this tragedy in our minds. Lesson #1 being this: protect the defenseless.

But while fans with their Joe Paterno shrines have furiously been defending the man, I appreciated these words from one of Joe's best players & one of Penn State's best ambassadors-- LaVar Arrington:

"If you really think about it, how much do I really know [coach Joe Paterno]?" Arrington told the "Wetzel to Forde" radio show. "How much do we really know him? I know the coaching figure - just like with Jerry Sandusky, I knew the coaching figure. I mean, there's obvious ways of looking at this right now with 20-20 hindsight, but I didn't know the person I thought I did."

The next time you're tempted to go use all your social media powers defend the honor of Barack Obama... or Mitt Romney... or Ron Paul...

or your favorite coach... or your favorite player...

or your favorite billionaire... or your favorite writer...

...as deeply as you may desire to offer your devotion to somebody -- as much as you may want to sit that person on the throne of your heart & place a crown on their head...

that person is just a person. How well do you really know them?

Friday, July 13, 2012

On Paterno

How ironic can names be? Consider with me:

• A man who grows up to become the General Manager of George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees... named CASHMAN

• An already famous man who becomes infamous for tweeting out a picture of his manhood... named WEINER

• A guy who runs a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi Scheme for decades, defrauding thousands of people & living off their wealth… named MADOFF

And, now-- we have a man who was a revered father figure for multiple generations of young men. Who, as it turns out, abandoned children who were in need of just such a father figure & protector. Who, as we learned in yesterday's Freeh Report, shielded a monster by acting like the father figure of a family mafia.

... named PATERNO.

The lionized leader of the Nittany Lions who, it turns out, was the definition of duplicity.

That's a lot of levels of irony. But it's no joke. Not for the victims of the man who Joe Paterno and his superiors lackeys protected.

A lot of good writers have already weighed in on Paterno. About how he was a derelict father figure. Or about how he was a a liar. Even about how Paterno's legacy now stands. An excerpt from that Dan Wetzel column:

There is no denying Paterno was a positive force in many lives, a gifted coach and motivator and, until now, a fine image for Penn State. None of that equals his shame.

The reason Paterno was able to wield such influence is the outsized value placed on college sports and the coaches who deliver those winning programs. A “pyramid of power,” Freeh described it. And anyone pointing to all the players he helped is just repeating the same pathetic concept.

Paterno did help his football players. Those men, however, were heavily recruited, talented and often highly motivated people. If they hadn’t gone to Penn State they would’ve gone to Michigan or Virginia or Notre Dame.

For decades he found a way to take top-line kids and maximize what they could do, usually by motivating them to excel at a sport they already loved. They were subject to mass adulation and had the potential to become millionaires at the professional level.

He wasn’t taking illiterate third-world children and getting them to Harvard. Almost every person Paterno positively impacted through football would have fared similarly had Penn State not even fielded a team. They just would have played elsewhere. Bo Schembechler or Lou Holtz or Bobby Bowden would’ve coached them up in football and life, just like Paterno did.

Conversely, the kids that Jerry Sandusky tricked, molested and in certain ways destroyed wouldn’t have lived the same life had Paterno done the right thing. They were attacked, out of nowhere. Without fault. Without provocation. Without the opportunity to create their own destiny.

The lives of these kids were profoundly and forever destroyed because of the actions of Sandusky, Spanier, Schultz, Curley and, yes, Joe Paterno.

There could never be enough victories, enough perfect graduation rates, enough national championships to justify that.

Joe Paterno was a great influence on men who were already likely to live great lives, men who could help him win football games.

He was a failure to those Second Mile boys who had no such talents, no such opportunity, no parade of recruiters looking to offer them scholarships. He turned his back on the very kids that were desperate for the kind of hero that Joe Paterno’s former legacy claimed he was all about.

And yet there are those who persist in saying that Joe Paterno was a man who "lived a profoundly decent life." Like Joe Posnanski, the man whose biography on Paterno will be published next month. And far be it from me to put words in Posnanski's book that the public has yet to see. But I suspect he will make mention of the lives Paterno touched that are touching others in tremendously positive ways.

Can you ignore that? You may have heard the Scriptures (1 Peter 4:8, James 5:20) that highlight the possibility of covering over a multitude of sins. But is it possible for a sin to cover over the magnitude of having “lived a profoundly decent life?”

I guess it depends on who is keeping the moral ledger. In the eyes of public opinion, I suppose the answer is 'yes.' The weight of Paterno's misdeeds is leading the media to tear his reputation asunder. "Not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark." (NYT) "Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique." (NYT) Certainly the courts will follow public opinion. There may be nothing left but a heaping crater after the civil liability lawyers get finished with Penn State. Not to mention the separate on-going investigations being conducted by the Attorney General's Office of Pennsylvania, the FBI, and the Federal Department of Education. That last one is especially frightening for a University. Making the on-going NCAA investigation look paltry by comparison.

But public opinion can be such a capricious moral judge. And if our moral compass is only as actuated as the scale of punitive damages that may be exacted, then that compass is broken.

I think Dan Wetzel artfully explains (above) how that the magnitude of these wrong-doings overwhelm the good Joe Paterno has done. But does it wipe out the good in it’s entirety? No. Because Paterno’s influence in the lives of his players persists. Players that in fact did not go to UVA or Notre Dame. Who were shaped and molded by Paterno & who are shaping and molding others with positive values. That’s what makes this so complicated.



I'll say this- the statue & shrine at Penn State University that lionizes Paterno as a “Humanitarian” has to be removed. The Freeh Report showed very clearly how PSU weighed the sentiment of being "humane." It had everything to do with how Paterno & co. weighed treating Jerry Sandusky. It had nothing to do with how Paterno & co. weighed the lives of children who had been raped. Not to mention the ones who would be raped over the next decade. Yes- the statue has to go. Has to. It mocks Penn State University (and everything that Joe said he stood for) as long as it stays up.

And even in some ways still I pity Paterno. The choices he had before him in 1998 and beyond weren’t clean. As a good buddy wrote to me, “Paterno had a right choice, but he didn’t have a nice choice.” I think that's right. Paterno didn't ask for this. He had a serious decision thrust upon him. And he made the wrong choice to cover willfully for a monster.

I just hope that you & I make better decisions if, God forbid, we’re ever faced with a right choice that’s not a nice choice.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Curiously Long Ramblings about a YouTube Video

It didn't take too long in 2012 for Christians in social media to find a topic that stirs them into a frenzy. And, no, this time it isn't Rob Bell. A young man named Jefferson Bethke wrote & performed a poem. It was artfully produced, uploaded to YouTube, and went viral:



I can't count the number of reactions I've seen or responses I've read. I asked my good friend, Matt Dabbs, to address it on his blog, and he did (http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/why-i-hate-religion-but-love-jesus/). But then I began to see a host of responses. Written responses on blogs; video productions on YouTube. Pithy quotes on Twitter that either agreed with or shot down the ideas Bethke promoted. Reactions from Christians who loved it; reactions from Ministers who hated it. One minister even mimicked Bethke's delivery by writing & performing a poem of his own in praise of religion.

There were even reactions from atheists who, in the spirit of Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher, employed profanity & demagoguery in an effort to lampoon believers. One thing you can count on: if there is faith-related issue that inflames passions, neo-atheists will be right there in the center ring of the circus stoking the fire.</ mixed metaphor>But I'm not interested in either praising or picking apart Bethke's video. And thus adding even more volume to the world wide echo chamber. I'm more interested in what our reactions say about us. Because I think it says a lot that's worth thinking about.

For one thing- isn't it strange how some of us write our thoughts down in our notebooks about this man's YouTube video and, one click later, the whole world has access to see what we think about him? This is a far cry from Priscilla & Aquila's model of correcting someone else's doctrine. Insofar as that is our model, praise to Kevin DeYoung for engaging Jeff one-on-one regarding his YouTube video. But it is strange that we write & critique other people on the internet. And the more well-known the subject (person) is, the more free it appears we are to write about them.

"The Social Network" touched briefly on this phenomenon:

Erica Albright: You called me a b---- on the Internet, Mark.
Mark Zuckerberg: That's why I wanted to talk to you.
Erica Albright: On the Internet.
Mark Zuckerberg: That's why I came over.
Erica Albright: Comparing women to farm animals.
Mark Zuckerberg: I didn't end up doing that.
Erica Albright: It didn't stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet's not written in pencil, Mark, it's written in ink. And you published that Erica Albright was a b----, right before you made some ignorant crack about my family's name, my bra size, and then rated women based on their hotness.

You write your snide bulls--t from a dark room because that's what the angry do nowadays.

At this point I should note a couple of things. First, I do not make this observation with the intention of openly criticizing my friends for writing blog entries about Jeff Bethke's video. That'd be ironic: me criticizing on a blog the fact that others criticized on their blogs. For the most part I'm pointing out how odd it is that this is socially acceptable nowadays. Second, I've written here on this blog about famous people in the past -- most notably (in my own mind) are blog entries about Jennifer Knapp. But even in one of those entries I wrote the following:

I want it to be well-attested here that what comes next comes from a place of love. And, in that sense, a complicated love. Because I've never actually met Jennifer Knapp personally. I don't know her, and she doesn't know me. Which makes it difficult to even address this issue.

I think we all would do well to acknowledge, at the least, the awkwardness of offering criticism on others that we don't know personally in a forum that any person can access. It's a simple act of humility that is imperative. Otherwise, it's difficult to move beyond the hubris of this whole blogging exercise.

Another thing I wonder about is our own motives. What moves & arouses our passions? What causes some to re-post a link to this video with an endorsement in all caps? What compels others to seek to temper that enthusiasm? Or to post several links on the subject, each with some rebuke as a preface?

I suspect both polls are passionately defensive for a reason: they have something to defend. I confess that what comes next is pure conjecture & speculation, but I think it's worth considering. What both sides are defending is likely an insecurity.

The sentiment that Jefferson Bethke spelled out in that video is not new & not unique; it has been expressed & experienced many times before. For the people who viewed it & exclaimed "YES!!" they had stumbled across a message and messenger that gave voice to their discomfort with contemporary expressions of faith. They've very likely tried Church or had it forced upon them. And despite the fact that they admire Jesus & the story he represents, they probably found His Church(es) disagreeable or had an even worse experience.

Maybe some of those folks aren't going to Church as regular anymore. Maybe some of those folks feel like square pegs trying to fit into the round holes that they hear from pulpits that they're supposed to fit into. Maybe they've stopped looking for answers in the buildings where our faith is expressed each Sunday. And maybe they feel guilty about that. If that's the case, Jefferson Bethke helped alleviate some of that guilt.

For the record: I'm not sure that's such a great thing. Perhaps some are drawn back to faith. But for others I suspect the video is an excuse to go on feeling resentful over a bad experience with religion. And maybe those folks still need a dose of godly sorrow.

And for the many ministers who viewed the video & balked I can imagine a number of reasons why. Mainly because I processed many of these sentiments myself. Maybe some of us are jealous: THIS guy is gaining notoriety (over 16 million views on YouTube at the time of this writing) while our message(s) haven't ever gained such a wide & respected hearing. Maybe some of us want to prove how much smarter we are than that guy. Or everyone else for that matter.

Maybe some of us feel threatened. Perhaps the reason we are involved in ministry is because we are the round pegs that always did fit pretty well in the round hole. And being in ministry we represent religion. We operate within it and help orchestrate it. So it stands to reason that we wouldn't take kindly to being painted with the broad brush with which Jefferson Bethke makes his strokes.

And let's be honest: maybe some of us are too critical. Whether by nature or by nurture (Seminary has a way of doing this to us...), we pick things apart. Does that mean that Bethke's video isn't an easy target? Surely not. There's a host of issues I have with it. But that doesn't mean we have to circle 'round like vultures until we pick him clean.

In fact, there's a strong case to be made that Bethke's message is quite Biblical. James wrote some challenging words to those who speak of the importance of religion but lack some of the basic characteristics that make religion worthwhile. The book of Hosea contains the famous words "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" -- a quotation that Jesus referenced at least twice (Matt. 9:13, 12:7).

Why can't we fixate on the strength of that message rather than diagramming the ways that Bethke imprecisely expressed X, Y, and Z? What moves us to offer corrections in this way?

What if, instead, we studied Bethke's video like a playbook? Obviously this guy connected with the deep aches of young people. Rather than carp over all the things we find troublesome, I wonder if we would be more wise to temper our own urgings to rebuke & incorporate what’s working into our own teaching.

I credit Jeff Bethke for getting us to talk about this. On one of his web sites, Jeff says his aim is "to offer posts that will be convicting, challenging, and cause you to deeply consider your faith." Judging by that I'd say that Jeff did exactly what he set out to do. To that end: job well done, Jeff.

Now- about those false dichotomies...

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Am I Rooting For?

I'm going to remember January 9th, 2012 as a great day. I'll remember it as the day that I enjoyed watching my team win the National Championship in New Orleans with my sister & other friends. The nervous anticipation all day of not knowing what Alabama and LSU would deliver that night. The maelstrom of complete joy that hit the French Quarter as running back Trent Richardson broke a run outside -- reaching the endzone & sealing victory. The scene on Bourbon Street minutes later as people wearing crimson filled the street.

That moment probably is what I'll remember most. I can't describe to you the joy of chanting at the top of my lungs, "L-S-WHO! L-S-WHO! L-S-WHO!" All the hugging and high-fiving was like a scene straight out of "Band of Brothers" after the 101st had liberated yet another European town. And, in a way, we all did feel liberated: we were unashamedly proud of our team & the social norms of the moment gave us permission to not hold it in anymore.

Nevertheless, despite the total satisfaction of rooting for a Championship football team, something in the back of my mind haunts me.


I remember back to college where I'd sit around with a group of intelligent friends and we, with the benefit of hindsight & the already well-formed judgment of history, would try to figure out why society could have such a hard time with common sense issues.

"How could Southern Caucasian Churches have struggled so mightily with the Civil Rights movement? Why were they so slow to adapt? Why weren't they at the cutting edge LEADING the cause for justice? What were they thinking?"

Inevitably, someone would ask the question, "What are we slow to act on today? What will be the blight of our generation?"

I honestly think it's this question that causes so many within Evangelical circles to push so mightily for same-sex rights. But I digress.

I wonder if I'm wrestling with an issue like that right now.


Kevin Turner was one tough son of a gun. A fullback at Alabama 20 years ago, Turner graduated to the NFL where he played nearly a decade with the Patriots and the Eagles. He'd deliver crushing hit after crushing hit as the lead blocker for ball-carriers. Turner didn't play a glamor position. If he got his picture in the paper it was probably an accident -- the happenstance of being in the same frame as the star running back. Young, powerful, tough -- Kevin Turner was the picture of a young warrior in professional football.

Today Kevin Turner can't even hold a telephone to his ear. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) has taken his strength away.

"I never dreamed that my brain would be destroyed after a period of time," said Kevin Turner, 42.

While he still can, Turner is educating the public about head trauma, which he believes contributed to his ALS.

[...]

Three months after Turner's diagnosis in May 2010, some Boston researchers reported a link between an ALS-type illness and the repetitive head trauma suffered by some athletes. Turner is now involved in research about the degenerative disease, which is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It's believed to be caused by repetitive blows to the head, including concussions. CTE has been linked to depression, erratic behavior and early dementia in a number of former pro athletes.

"We've always known boxers could become punch drunk," Chris Nowinski said. "We never thought it could exist in other sports -- hockey, wrestling, soccer, football. The brain doesn't care what's hitting it. The brain is far more fragile than what we thought."

Then- Kevin Turner was a proud warrior on the gridiron. Today- Kevin Turner finds simple tasks like holding the hand of one of his children more & more challenging each day.


The tough thing right now is that there isn't enough evidence yet to prove that ALS can be brought on by head trauma. It is an exciting loose association, but in the world of medical science it is a loose association at best. Chris Nowinski, President of the Sports Legacy Institute & one of the leading researchers connecting head trauma with neurological diseases, says they need more money (from a Bill Simmons podcast on 03/08/11). But mainly they need more brains.

Dave Duerson's brain was one of them last year. Duerson was a retired defensive back -- most famous for his role on the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears defense. But after a myriad of personal, physical, and financial problems had taken their toll, Duerson decided to end his life. He suspected he had CTE, but didn't know for sure. Duerson knew that the concussions he had suffered in his football-playing career were affecting him, but he couldn't cope with the problems anymore. So instead of shooting himself in the head, Duerson texted his family instructing them to donate his brain to science. And then he shot himself in the chest.


Did you know that Lou Gehrig may not have even had Lou Gehrig's disease? He may have simply had CTE. Gehrig had numerous concussions from his high school football-playing days -- back when they strapped on leather helmets. He even played Major League Baseball before they wore batting helmets. They'd just wear the caps they wore in the field up to the plate. In an exhibition game in 1934, one pitch came up & in too fast for Gehrig to dive out of the way. It hit him in the forehead, knocking him unconscious. Who knows how many concussions he had in total.


Perhaps I shouldn't feel responsible for this. These men chose their path in life. Some of them capitalized handsomely as a result of it.

But, in a way, I think we're all responsible. The more that we make football a religion -- and it's heroes our idols -- the more young kids we're sending out to the field to prove their own manhood. And that's where the real danger lies: all those fragile teenage brains that are laid on the line under the Friday night lights.

As Jonah Lehrer wrote:

Rollinson (a high school football coach) then leans forward in his chair, as if he's about to tell me a secret. "Look, most of my players aren't going to play ball for a living," he says. "I know they don't want to hear that, but it's the truth. So there's really no reason they should risk messing up their brain."

If the sport of football ever dies, it will die from the outside in. The only question now is whether the death has begun.

I know that if there are any young Mama's who ask me for advice, I'm going to tell them to push their boys toward basketball, or baseball, or golf. Almost anything but football.

And if I believe that, then why do I continue to jump up & holler when the boys representing my tribe of choice make a big play? Am I wrestling with the "Civil Rights"-like issue of my day? Will this be the blight of our generation? If rooting on players on the field of battle only makes them to go harder, potentially destroying their brains, then what am I rooting for?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Unsocial Media

The internet is a strange place.

That's a statement we can all unite around, isn't it? Whether we hate it or we love it, we can recognize that the virtual connections we forge on the internet produce different experiences than real-life connections. Sometimes they are plain unusual. And yet, where else can you connect ideas so freely? We tolerate the oddity of web-connected gnostic relationships (read: "not in the flesh") because they bring us some value. Whether it's sharing something we love, exchanging fresh points of view, finding support through a hardship, or just helping us feel less lonely, our virtual connections serve us a worthy purpose.

On that last point, it's interesting to hop onto social media sites like Facebook and Twitter when something big is happening in the world. Instead of experiencing something alone you can feel like you're experiencing it right along with all your virtual friends. Watching a web-cast of some conference by yourself? Hop on Facebook chat & find out if anyone else is watching it. Or send out a Tweet with the appropriate hashtag. It's almost like a virtual town square where everyone can gather to share the experience together. Part of the attraction has to be the ease of access: instead of getting dressed up, climbing in your car, and going to an actual town square, you can just flip open your laptop.

And so that's what I found myself doing when the news starting buzzing on Sunday night May 1st that the President was requesting time from the major networks to make an announcement. I hopped on Twitter and Facebook to see what the world was saying. What I observed was fascinating. As the President was making his announcement, dozens of people were posting the news as their status. The people I follow on Twitter made snarky comments about this or that (as only people on Twitter can do). But the mood was mostly celebratory. People happy that the boogey-man was gone. People happy that their deeply-rooted beliefs in American Exceptional-ism were confirmed. People happy that justice was done. People happy for our troops, as if this was "Mission Accomplished" (and it felt like it), and happy for families of troops, as if this justified their decade of sacrifice.

But as joyful post after joyful post crawled across the computer screen, I began to notice another theme rising: righteous indignation. Disgust that anyone could find any glee or redemption from the death of a man. Little matter that this man was the most terrifying figure of this century. These people were upset -- uninterruptedly shouting into the chorus of joy about how inappropriate the joy was. It would be akin to a small faction of people making a ruckus about people enjoying a wedding reception because of 9% unemployment, or suffering in Sudan, or something along those lines. It was amazing. Like shouting into a whirlwind. Did these people think that they were going to shout down a happy mob? Who shouts down a mob?

Then I observed more indignation. People acting cranky over the President getting credit "instead of the soldiers." People acting cranky over the news about it being everywhere. People expressing anger over almost anything! Even people acting cranky over people getting cranky. Yeah, that's right: that was me. Even I tried to shout down the army of wet blankets who were trying to douse everyone's happiness. I'm not proud of it, but it happened.

The whole thing was just a strange phenomenon that led me two days later on Facebook to opine:

(Philip) thinks he learned a lesson since Sunday night: when big events happen, stay off of Facebook. Too emotionally charged. Too many opinions. Just seems like a good policy.

Let's see how long it takes before I have to re-learn this lesson

Turns out it was 9 weeks to the day. 63 days!

Because last Tuesday a Florida jury declared a verdict of not guilty on the most heinous charges brought against Casey Anthony. The reaction was virtually immediate; it was swift & full of fury. Twitter exploded. As I looked on, one person after another unleashed their rage -- or at least their dissatisfaction -- on Facebook. The general theme was that there was a miscarriage of justice. Some were affected to the point of feeling sick to their stomach. Some expressed not ever being able to trust the justice system again. (...seemingly reversing the sentiment from 2 months ago. If killing bin Laden helped us all feel strong again, the Casey Anthony verdict made us feel weak) And then, of course, the snark.

"O.J. Simpson finds this verdict outrageous."

"I wonder if the Casey Anthony trial jurors would ever let her babysit THEIR kids?!?"

"I wonder if Dexter will come after her!"

Social media has made us all into social commentators. And then there's strange minds like mine that spend time like this commenting on all the commentary.

Me personally: I could feel the spirit of spirit of indignation welling up inside me again. Not because I felt honor-bound to defend Casey Anthony. Not at all. It's pretty apparent that this woman murdered her daughter (whether purposefully or accidentally), then hid the body, then lied to the police. And all that while partying like a rockstar. No, I didn't feel the need to defend her; my temper was rising because... I guess because everyone else's was. "Don't these people know that the state prosecutors did a terrible job?" "Don't these people know that the jurors did exactly what they were supposed to do?" "Why are all my grace-accepting Christian friends obsessed with seeing this woman fry in an electric chair?"

Thankfully I refrained from angering anyone with these thoughts. I think. I let a couple of them loose on Twitter. Hopefully without causing anyone else ill temper.

I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what possesses me in moments like these. Part of it has gotta do with how I'm wired. Being an ideological moderate, I like things balanced. So when I encounter a perspective that is wildly one-sided, and emotionally charged, it charges my emotions to want to respond with the other side of the argument. It's as if something somewhere deep inside me is wanting to exclaim, "THIS IS MORE COMPLEX THAN YOU'RE LETTING ON, YOU KNUCKLEHEAD!"

The good folks at the "You Are Not So Smart" blog would say that I'm unwittingly giving myself over to the backfire effect. That's where, when confronted with an opposing opinion, you strengthen & fortify your own views. I like how they put here:

The last time you got into, or sat on the sidelines of, an argument online with someone who thought they knew all there was to know about health care reform, gun control, gay marriage, climate change, sex education, the drug war, Joss Whedon or whether or not 0.9999 repeated to infinity was equal to one – how did it go?

Did you teach the other party a valuable lesson? Did they thank you for edifying them on the intricacies of the issue after cursing their heretofore ignorance, doffing their virtual hat as they parted from the keyboard a better person?

No, probably not. Most online battles follow a similar pattern, each side launching attacks and pulling evidence from deep inside the web to back up their positions until, out of frustration, one party resorts to an all-out ad hominem nuclear strike. If you are lucky, the comment thread will get derailed in time for you to keep your dignity, or a neighboring commenter will help initiate a text-based dogpile on your opponent.

After some deliberation, I have decided that this is folly. (g) Seriously: Thank God for good satire to rouse us out of the caricature-like behavior that we can so easily & unwittingly slip into.

I've decided to repent & not steamroll over other peoples' views anymore. I recognize that it will be difficult for my balance-craving psyche to accomplish. But somehow I'll manage.

I think of two examples from Scripture. One is the prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 42 that's also quoted in Matthew 12: "He will not wrangle or cry aloud, or raise his voice in the streets." Jesus managed to live His life and make His point without making a dramatic scene. Seems like I could do the same. I've also long admired Paul with how he combined both boldness and humility in a spirited defense of himself and his faith in Acts 26. One of the more under-rated passages of Scripture, IMO. Probably one I could stand to spend more time with. As could we all.

And if social media is the virtual town square, then it makes sense to act as one would when actually at the town square. If those gathered grow unruly & start to act with great furor, common sense would generally say, "Time to head home." I don't know why it's so hard -- maybe because it's just so intense -- but it wouldn't hurt just to log off. It's not like missing out on those two or three heated status threads (read: virtual Molotov Cocktails) is going to hurt. In fact, if indeed I were throwing a few around, it probably would.

* I wish I'd made that fabulous photo. I didn't. That came from www.xkcd.com via the "You Are Not So Smart" Blog.