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[205] Trump & the NFL

My son, from New York, came to Las Vegas a few weeks ago.

Ambivalent about Trump, he did remark about the President’s savvy, making an interesting point along the way. He noted that whenever The Donald is knee-deep in major issues—speaking to the UN, the crisis in North Korea, the devastation of national disasters, inability to get a health bill or tax reform passed, along with other challenges—he seems to start a Tweet-driven brushfire out on the perimeter, one that gets huge media reaction on a matter of little long-range consequence, but one that sends attention flares everywhere. While the real matters of substance—the ones on which elections hinge–leave him open to criticism and attack, these are pushed to the sideline, with debates about National Anthem protocol, charges of fake news, and other pre-emptive verbal strikes taking the main stage and devouring myriad hours of punditry. These secondary, though media-obsessed matters often become, in Shakespeare’s words, “much ado about nothing” for the nation, but they serve a diversionary purpose for our President. DC

[204] Hugh Hefner

So Hugh Hefner is finally gone.

If one reads all the post mortems on the horse-faced man, often clad in the pajamas or wearing a silly naval captain’s hat, one would think she were reading about two different people. Many secularists regaled Hefner for his philanthropy and kindness to various and sundry individuals and causes. Others saw him as a dark figure, one whose endeavors contributed to more STDs, abortions, pornographic addictions, and violence against women (as sex objects).

Let me add one more thought. Hefner, amid his lifetime of myriad bedmates, lamented that he had never met “his soul mate.” His lifestyle has been glorified by the Epicureans of our time–those who mock the advocates of sexual restraint as people who do not “get it,” and hence are missing out on the full life, one filled with pleasure. Hefner, however, amid his all-out devotion to blond hair, huge mammary glands, and multitudinous copulation partners a fraction of his chronological age, found no soul, and no real mate. Perhaps it was Hefner who really missed out. DC

[203] Jobs

Many of us in the faith-and-learning community have a mission statement—to glorify God. Our attempts such a lofty aim are often feeble, failing, and disappointing. Our efforts often draw confused, bemused, and even rejecting responses from secularists who seek first wealth, acclaim, and temporal pleasures. If ever you wondered whether trying to serve God is a waste of life, you would do well to read these last words of Steve Jobs:  

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.  In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.  However, apart from work, I have little joy.  Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.  At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death.  In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me. 

Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth.  It should be something more important:  For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood.  No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me. 

God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life. I cannot take them with me.  I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love.  This is the true wealth that will follow you; will accompany you, he will give strength and light to go ahead. 

Love can travel thousands of miles and so life has no limits.  Move to where you want to go.  Strive to reach the goals you want to achieve. Everything is in your heart and in your hands. 

What is the world’s most expensive bed?  The hospital bed.  You, if you have money, you can hire someone to drive your car, but you cannot hire someone to take your illness that is killing you.  Material things lost can be found.  But one thing you can never find when you lose: life.  Whatever stage of life where we are right now, at the end we will have to face the day when the curtain falls. 

Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends…  Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbors.  DC

[202] Escape

I watch sports to escape the byzantine realities of daily living. Among the last things I want is to have my escape experience used as a platform to hash out current issues. But it happens all the time. On TV, I will have to hear Bob Costas engage in a bit of social critique as it relates to a player, a team, a league, or a sport. Costas is not a competent social scientist. He announces sports. Let him be happy with that.

He can get away with it, because Costas is careful to stay safely inside the politically correct foul lines. Curt Schilling, however, was jettisoned by ESPN over a Tweet or two—nothing on the air, just Tweets that hit a third rail of political incorrectness. I am rankled by this as a Christian, as this politicization of sport is generally a subtle way of spraying the listener, viewer, or reader with liberal values. Please understand, this is not a closet attempt to render a conservative counter. It is a plea for even-handedness, or better yet, nothing at all.

And then there is politically incorrect language or opinions coming from the mouths of athletes. These athletes are hardly towering intellects. Permit them their First Amendment rights and leave them alone.

Even in the case of the sensitive matter of domestic abuse. Why do you think universities and professional teams bring the steel shoes down on sports figures even alleged to have cuffed around a domestic partner? Because they are on the side of righteousness? Were that the case there would be myriad other misdeeds for which athletes would be punished. It is simply because domestic abuse is currently among the most highlighted and condemned of wrongdoing in the culture at large, and the sporting establishment cannot afford not to be on the politically correct line of scrimmage on that one. It is about politics not ethics.

When I go on the ESPN website there are features galore that are poorly thought hybrids of sports and current social issues glued together in a story about an athlete, team, or coach. Exhibit A: “The Undefeated,” a largely polemical site dedicated to African-American people and race issues in sport.

Enough already. All I really want to know is who is ahead in this game–the one I am wishing I could be watching on my personal and private “Gilligan’s Island.”

DC

[202] Top 10

I can remember the days during which stations and programs and publications would trumpet their weekly Top 10 pop music singles. Dick Clark’s weekly Top 10 was eagerly awaited.

The church has its own Top 10 when it comes to sin. For years it demonized homosexuality, rooting its condemnations in scriptural proof texts. As the years have passed it has looked the other way when it comes to divorce and “shacking.” Pushed against the spiritual wall, evangelical pastors will speak against these practices, but you will see a lot of birthdays pass between sermons on those misdeeds.

Drunkenness has been roundly condemned to the point of advocating teetotaling. Gossip, divisiveness, and inhospitable behavior, not so much. Foul language is out, but racism is still quite acceptable. A few weeks ago I heard my first sermon on “Racism in the Church” delivered by a white pastor.

If you think pastors are preaching the whole counsel of God, then you belong in the Flat Earth Society. And I am not simply going after pastors on this. Many of them realize the reaction they would get from their congregants, should they inveigh against pet sins, would remind one of the actions of those who resisted Christ two centuries ago.

Please understand, I am not advocating excising sin from the attention of the church, nor am I advocating that churches make sin its central focus. I am advocating a humble and sober effort at total discipleship, one that levels the playing field when it comes to the various types of sin, and leaves those Top 10 lists of transgressions back with the Dick Clark Top 10. DC

 

 

[201] Down

Early in 2017, Pew research reported that evangelicals were the only religious group in the US that did not enjoy a better reception than it did in 2014. More important perhaps, Americans were increasingly less likely to know an evangelical personally than anyone from another religious background.

Pew applied a “feeling thermometer” to determine the warmth level of feelings toward the religious groups. While evangelicals held steady at 61% in being warmly regarded, Muslims went up 8% to 48, while atheists jumped up 9% to 50%.

Two thoughts on this: First, atheism has now gained mainstream acceptance. This does not mean there are more atheists than in the past, but it does mean they are now able to come above ground and engender little resistance. There is a price for people of faith to pay here, and that is encountering more open atheistic opposition to matters of faith.

Second, and perhaps more disturbing is that Americans are less likely to know an evangelical than a member of any other religious group. It is good the Apostle Paul is not around to see this. He would gag. How can this be? Evangelicals are definitely not the smallest in number of the religious groups. It is because of the fortress mentality that has long typified them. And it is not working. This shouts out the need for evangelicals to get outside of their religious ghetto and interact with the rest of the world. It is time to preach to someone other than the members of the choir.

Little surprise that there is such naivete among evangelicals with respect to the subtle invasion of our national culture by secular-progressives. They may be too busy painting the lines in the church parking lot to see how their relevance continues to dwindle as those hostile to the faith reshape the nation. DC

[201] No Counter

I don’t think Christian colleges are doing enough to counter post-modernism, particularly that aspect of this philosophical heresy that affirms the absence of truth. The notion that truth is relative–or more accurately, an individual phenomenological opinion—is a bedrock doctrine in the postmodern catechism.

It is everywhere, even at Christian colleges. Many of the students there profess a personal faith, but they have little use for “Thus saith the Lord…” thinking. The former is personal and even malleable. The latter is unbending and calls people to discipleship.

Postmodernism is arguably the biggest threat to Christianity in our time, because it invalidates truth. There is no foundation in a postmodern Christian “faith.” It is a faith without facts. It offers a discipleship without discipline, a set of beliefs with nothing immovable in which to believe. It is postmodern thinking that makes marrying out of the faith acceptable, because after all, who really knows what is true?

And again, postmodernism is everywhere—even in Christian colleges. I have long advocated for a required course in apologetics at every Christian institution of higher learning. We need that now more than ever—for the truth of the Christian faith is all we have that separates us from our secular counterparts. DC

[200] Fake News

“Fake news” has now entered the mainstream vocabulary. There is plenty of fake news.  We are in a new era of “journalism.”  Remember All the President’s Men?  Ben Bradlee directed Woodward and Bernstein to get multiple sources on anything Watergate that went to press.  Now a “story” with no on-the-record sources will do.  You need only “sources close to…” to launch it on the 24-hour cable channels and the blizzard of online sources.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Here are two principal ones.  We no longer have three major news networks, and a nation of newspapers going to press once or twice day.  Now we have myriad television and internet sources all enmeshed in byzantine competition for viewers and clicks.  To get that flow, you need to get there first.  Second, everything is now 24 hours, not two printings a day and an evening news hour.  So there is much time to fill and not much hard news with which to fill it.  Hence, opinion and discussion are passed off as information.

Here is one more.  You better talk loud to be heard over all the cable shows, bloggers, podcasts, and on and on.  Better to do that with explosive innuendo and a few lies than the sterile nature of fact.

The gospel is about truth.  Truth shows up in the Ten Commandments.  In John 8:32, Christ says the truth sets us free.  What does fake news do?  DC

[199] Subtle Politics

Much of the ruckus over Colin Kaepernick’s not being on an NFL roster is not about football.  First, a fact needs to be stated.  There are roughly 100 quarterbacks on NFL teams.  Kaepernick, a Super Bowl quarterback but a few years back, is easily better than half of them.  Hence, the logic is that he is not in the league because owners do not want the baggage of a player who very publically refused to stand for the National Anthem last season.

No matter that Kaepernick has stated he will not persist in this practice.  He is damaged goods in the economy of the NFL.  No team has signed him in a league with many teams in need of insurance at the critically important quarterback position.

Note well that the public clamor over this omission of Kaepernick is not, however, focused on some football injustice, or some attempt by owners to protect their brand against a potentially objecting fandom—the millions who did not approve of Kaepernick’s symbolic protest.  It is focused on race.  And it is more than a scattered group of activists who point to racism as the underlying motive of the owners.  It is an organized attempt by the political left—those who embrace identity politics—to make this about race.  They are “racializing” the matter to advance the identity politics cause.

In the larger scheme of things, the plight of an unsigned multi-millionaire quarterback is not of much consequence in the context of North Korea, Charlottesville, and a health care crisis.  And that is why that narrower matter—football–is not the subject of this blog.  The point here is that those who are committed to identity politics will use very subtle means to make their case.  If they can shift the paradigm from simple alleged unfairness to racism they can turn Kaepernick’s circumstance into one of racism—the unfair treatment of one who identifies as an African-American—a headline grabber, given the unhappy history of race relations in the US.  And that shifts the goal of politics from one of advancing the national welfare to one that promotes the interests of individual subgroups, as they vie with other groups for power.

It is hard to make a case for identity politics from a faith-and-learning perspective, because it is an offshoot of postmodernism—the notion that there is no truth, just personal and cultural perspectives of subjective reality.  More important perhaps, is the need for vigilance; to “see” the subtle workings of ideologies as they visit everything, even football.  DC

[200] Icons

I read a stunningly insightful book recently, entitled Dinner with DiMaggio, soon to be reviewed in these pages. The book caught the essence of what it meant to be an American icon. I reflected on the concept of national icons. From the ‘40’s to the ‘90’s there were so many—DiMiaggio, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Billy Graham, and Michael Jackson, among others.

They were so big they were commonly referred to as idols.

But the era of the genuine icon is, for the most part, gone.

The reason is that we are in an electronic age. In the previous era, the media was narrow, consisting mainly of radio, newspapers (literally print on paper), popular magazines, television (limited mainly to three networks), and movies. In short, the modalities were few, such that once a celebrity became nationally marketable he or she would dominate almost all of the layers of media reaching the public. Hence, an icon went deeply into American culture—dominating every point of contact with the public with each segment of the media reinforcing the others.

Two forces have changed all this: Cable TV and the internet. We now have myriad television channels and a world wide web with infinite points of contact. No one person can dominate all these. Hence, we have moved from national icons to what we might call niche icons. In addition, because of the incredibly wide expanse of contact, we are more aware than ever that we are not a homogeneous nation. We are nation of identifiable subgroups.

This makes the spread of the gospel easier and more difficult. It is easier because there are so many more apertures—so many more windows through which we can send the gospel out. It is more difficult because we have no Billy Grahams—icons whose fame and charisma can draw millions to their televisions—all at the same primetime hour–to hear a galvanizing message.

All of this begs the question: Are national revivals a thing of the past? With things moving horizontally rather than vertically, some say it is. Time will tell. We may indeed have to shape the gospel presentation to demographic niches, much as missionaries of the past did, learning the language and the culture of the particular people to whom they were to be sent before leaving American soil. Just as Christian colleges strategize to recruit students from various demographic segments, the church needs to strategize when it comes to evangelism—going to people “where they are,” to paraphrase John Calvin. From another vantage point, there is the concept of “going viral.” We must communicate the gospel knowing it has no boundaries in terms of its appeal, and there is nothing more viral than the Holy Spirit. DC

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