Monthly Archives: January 2015

Deflategate: The Patriots go soft

Bill Belichick by Keith Allison

Bill Belichick by Keith Allison

The Pharisees of professional sports came out of the woodwork in the wake of allegations that the New England Patriots illegally deflated their footballs to gain an advantage in their recent game against the Colts. NFL balls are required to be inflated at a range of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. The rule sounds like the start of one those math questions we all hated when we were children. QUESTION: If an NFL football is inflated at 12.5 pounds per square inch and the barometric pressure rises from 30.06 to 30.51 on game day, how much will the pressure of the football increase or decrease? ANSWER: It depends on which team will use the football.

ESPN said 11 of 12 balls used by the Patriots in the AFC title game were two pounds per square inch under the minimum. Judging from reactions of fans and the media, you’d think the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had been let loose upon the earth. Granted, if I can’t trust the integrity of a quintessential American football team, who can I trust? Wasn’t professional sports supposed to be one of the last bastions of integrity? I guess there’s too much money at stake even for sports to remain pure and innocent. The love of money is indeed the root of all evil.

I don’t know if Patriots coach Bill Belichick is guilty of cheating, or if someone else in the franchise is responsible for the deflated balls, or if atmospheric conditions contributed to the deflation of the balls. Nobody knows. But many lovers of the game are calling for severe consequences in this apparently scandalous breach of the rules. To some folks, the breaking of even a minor sports rule justifies harsh penalties. (Someone throw a yellow flag, or two, or three.) Apparently grace has no place in the NFL fan base. It does not matter that the Patriots would have won even if they played with a flat ball; their performance on the field was that good. Common sense tells us that they did not win because their ball was underinflated by two pounds. So why all the brouhaha by many fans and media talking heads? Ultimately the real question is this: why does our culture seem to care more about the alleged violation of a trivial sports rule than we do about, oh, I don’t know … violations of our Constitution and unethical behavior of our political leaders as well as some of the shady practices of our financial and industrial leaders?

Granted, professional sport is entertainment and does not demand that followers have a detailed understanding of the nuances of the game (unless you are a bookie or a Fantasy Football acolyte). You can know a lot or little about the game and still enjoy the action. Interestingly, ancient Rome used sport in the Coliseum to keep the masses distracted from the many problems looming in their society. Today, our leaders know they can get away with murder as long as people have a full belly, a six pack of Pabst and their favorite team to watch each weekend. I’m not suggesting our society needs to abandon professional sports. I am suggesting that it is dangerous for a society to care more about the violation of rules regarding air pressure in footballs than it does about issues of integrity in high places. Additionally, if we the people decide to start caring about integrity in high places, it would be hypocritical to make exceptions for our favorite players, organizations and ideologies.

Matthew 6:21 says “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Do we treasure the right things, or just the fun things? Professional sports are cool and glamorous. It’s hard to compete with that for the minds and hearts of the people. I get it. But our culture won’t survive unless the people find a way to enjoy, and take seriously, their crucial role as an essential force that holds our leaders accountable … ALL of our leaders.

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Nasal Turbinate Reduction: Bring it!

Empty-nose-after-80per-cent-partial-bilateral-turbinectomy

My nasal passages are the culmination of a long history of genetic malfunctions. Let’s just say that for years my nasal orifices have interfered with the passage of air to my lungs and on to my brain. After trying a cornucopia of conservative treatment options, my doctor eventually took a gander up my nose and recommended turbinate nasal reduction surgery. Fortunately, it is a fairly routine outpatient procedure. This brings my total outpatient surgeries up to three in the past few years. That’s about how many my father had at this age (which is a disturbing realization).

It has been a few days since the surgery and I can already tell my nasal airway is more open than it has been for many years. I don’t wake up at night gasping for breath. (For years I suspected Cindy of trying to smother me with a pillow.) Here’s the thing: I had adapted to my defective schnozz. I used Breathe Right nasal strips and prescription nasal sprays to get me through the night. I assumed that it was just a problem I’d have to deal with for the rest of my life. Now that the problem has been removed, I feel much better.

Few people have a shortage of problems. We adapt so effectively that we often go through life unaware of some of our problems. But what if our problems are with other people? Often we can’t change other people nor can we have their rough edges removed to mitigate their insufferable behavior. Getting people to change for the better is like trying to herd feral cats. So what’s the solution? Romans 15:1 says: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings and the frailties and the tender scruples of the weak; and not to please ourselves.”

This verse is not a license to feel morally superior to others. In a way, it instructs us to tone down our strong expectations of others. It doesn’t mean we have to be a doormat in order to live a proper Christian life. It does mean patience with others is an essential part of every Christian’s life. Patience is that thing you have when your neighbors host a loud party at midnight and you have to be at work the following day at 6 AM. (And they didn’t even send you an invitation.) As believers, we often have lifestyles that run afoul of the general population. While it would be nice if our neighbors adopted our lifestyle, it’s not likely to happen. Compounding the problem are those individuals with serious emotional or psychological issues that prevent them from living a life of good manners and thoughtfulness towards others. In extreme cases we have little choice but to set boundaries to keep out toxic people.

Most of the time it’s the little affronts that get under our skin and rub our nerves raw. In such cases a healthy dose of I-don’t-care attitude can actually be helpful. This requires a change in attitude on our part. Try it! After a while it starts to feel pretty good . . . and then you can begin to care for people who initially rubbed you the wrong way. We all need practice at this, and it takes a lifetime commitment. Here’s the caveat: before we do anything, we need to examine ourselves with a critical eye to make sure we are not the problem. If we move from church to church, job to job, town to town and we always have conflict with others, well, that’s a good indicator that we are the problem. Once we identify the problem within our self, we can work with God to have it removed. You’ll feel much better after the problem is gone. I promise!

Mocking Charlie Hebdo

Je Suis Charlie/Paris/by Guillaume

Je Suis Charlie/Paris/by Guillaume

Would it be appropriate for someone to satirize Charlie Hebdo magazine after the killings of their cartoonists at the hands of Islamic fanatics? Let’s suppose someone published a cartoon of a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist weeping with the caption “Cartoonist Overwhelmed by Multiculturalism.” Could the remaining staff at Charlie Hebdo take the joke? Would they honor the publisher’s right to print it? Would left-wing factions within the public support the right of such a tasteless cartoon to be seen by all? Would they mass by the thousands in the streets and hold aloft their pens in a sign of solidarity for such an insensitive cartoon’s right to be published? I hope so, but I’m skeptical.

Don’t get me wrong, I love satire. I love pretty much all forms of humor. Humor that highlights evil and hypocrisy has tremendous value in the fight against evil and hypocrisy. Here in America, as in France, there is a long tradition of freedom of speech and expression. But it is often tritely said that we have the right to say something, but that doesn’t mean we should say it. Heck, even Jesus used satire to point out an ugly truth about the Pharisees. Take a look at Matthew 15: 14 where he accuses the Pharisees of being blind guides leading the blind. The image of the blind leading the blind is humorous, but it also pointed out the spiritual blindness of religious leaders who were leading the people astray. This enraged the Pharisees. The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus and the truth of his message. They eventually killed Jesus for such remarks. If nothing else, this teaches us that satire is effective at getting to the heart of a matter. It can also be lethal. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and where best to apply satire. But in the hands of immature, ideologically blind people, satire can be misused. It’s like placing a loaded gun in the hands of a two-year old child.

Perhaps satire is best used by those willing to apply it evenly, including against those things they themselves cherish. No sacred cows. In other words, it is one thing to mock political ideologies, religions, and ways of life you personally dislike. It is quite something else to mock hypocrisy, ugliness and evil in your own camp. It’s easier to find courage to do the former. You see, hypocrisy, ugliness and evil do not reside in just one ideology or another. They are everywhere.

Yes, as a Christian I stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, despite the fact that the magazine has a reputation for mocking all religion, including Christianity. But I do not stand with Charlie Hebdo so much as I stand against the evil that would deprive us ALL of the right to speak our conscience. Perhaps it is time for Christians to stop standing with our left-wing or right-wing favorites and simply stand against evil.

Here is the thing about Charlie Hebdo’s ideology: It doesn’t have a solid foundation. By mocking all religion they leave only one source to determine right from wrong, good from evil—the law of man which is based on the sensibilities of man. The problem with the law of man, as necessary as it is, is that it does not lift up the soul of man. It only enables man to live side by side without slaughtering each other. And even at that it is a poor tool. Only God and his law and mercy and redemptive power can elevate the soul of man.

As Christians, we know that God does not ask us to avenge his name when unbelievers commit blasphemy or mock our sacred things. We are only witnesses and ambassadors who he uses in the world to peacefully persuade people to surrender their lives to God. Attempting to win converts through force and violence goes against God’s purpose. If people refuse to believe, or if they mock our God, all we can do is turn them over to God and let him deal with them with his justice and mercy. We are not judge, jury and executioner. Apparently Islamic fanatics do not have such a doctrine. It seems like the God they worship depends on human hands to dispense justice on the street, like a vigilante. That’s vanity.

Can you trust Nebraska?

Bruce Dern / Cannes Film Festival, 2013

Bruce Dern / Cannes Film Festival, 2013

The day has been long in coming, but it finally arrived: I have now reached the age where people no longer feel obliged to get me a Christmas present. Alas, I have become the old grandpa who has everything he needs. Perhaps I should not have included a Harley motorcycle and a young mistress on my Christmas wish list to my wife. (Just kidding, Harleys are too expensive to maintain.)

It’s funny how the older I get the more I seem drawn to stories about older people. It’s probably because the issues of the young can begin to seem a bit banal at this stage of life. Anyhow, I recently watched the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern. You may remember Bruce Dern from those old western movies where he often played the bad guy. Dern’s role in Nebraska is quite different from his prior films. In Nebraska he plays Woody Grant, a cantankerous but also gullible old man who sets off on a cross country quest to claim a million dollars he thinks he won in one of those sweepstakes contests that advertisers mail to the elderly. Spoiler Alert! His son attempts to dissuade him from traveling across the country to collect the sweepstakes prize that Grant did not win. When it becomes clear that Grant will not back down, his son decides to take him on the road trip to the sweepstakes office. Along the way they experience some funny situations and some serious drama with family members and old friends who come to believe that Grant has won the money. To make a long story short, Grant and his son arrive at the sweepstakes office where Grant is informed that he does not have the winning number. Grant leaves the office very disappointed. The girl at the sweepstakes office asks Grant’s son if his father is ok. “Yeah, he just believes what people tell him,” the son replies. The sweepstakes girl responds “That’s too bad.”

I can’t get that response from the sweepstakes girl out of my head. Why? Because at first I agreed with her belief that it is too bad that an old man would believe anything that anyone would tell him in our modern society. But then I began to realize that the problem is not predominantly with the Woody Grants of the world. The problem is with the majority of us who have allowed our society to become a place where survival often depends on mistrust. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the Bible warns us to be trusting AND shrewd. There is real evil in the world that would like to harm us.

Yes, the sweepstakes girl is partially right: It is too bad that Grant trusts everyone. But it is not too bad for Grant, as the sweepstakes girl believes. In reality it is too bad for the rest of us. We are the ones who stand by while evil crafts our society into a place of mistrust. It is not how God intended the world to be. I do not think God looks down on the Woody Grants of the world. He looks down with a sad eye on the rest of us.

Proverbs 3:29 says “Do not contrive or dig up or cultivate evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly and confidently beside you.”

You see, we have a corporate responsibility to look out for each other. If you spend much time in the Old Testament you will find places where the prophets tried to warn their society that the people were allowing too much lying, cheating, robbing, deceptive business practices, as well as other crimes of violence. And don’t be fooled, we tend to think of some of these sins (such as cheating and deceptive business practices) as less serious. The truth is that even these so-called trivial sins are violent sins because they destroy the trust of an entire society of people.

Don’t be discouraged by all this. God gives us tools to fight evil that schemes to destroy trust. For example, our age of information is a double edged sword. Corrupt individuals and corrupt businesses can hide some of their sneaky practices by using complexity to their advantage. On the other hand, cheated customers can spread the word faster via the internet. We still have a voice. Are we using it honestly?

Why is trust within a society so important? If it becomes impossible to trust anyone, even Christians in the church, it makes it harder for people to trust God. I know we should always be able to trust God, even when we can’t trust people. But that’s not always how it works.