Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Clinquant Characters or Real People?!

“But in a culture in which accountability is something to be shoveled off to the next sucker down the line, their place of employment comes with a rigid measure of success or failure. Ever try to bargain with a scoreboard? Those implacable numbers up there in lights are the captains of the fates of men such as Meyer. It is easy to reduce them to figures on a television screen, there to bleed for our entertainment. Gladiators in headphones. It is easy to forget they have vulnerable bodies, vulnerable psyches, vulnerable families.” – Mike Lopresti (USA Today)

The above is a direct quote from an article written in response to the shocking and sudden news of Urban Meyer’s retirement as head football coach at the prestigious University of Florida, and his just as sudden “un-retirement” and decision to take a leave of absence instead. I must admit that this quote struck a deep chord in me. Why? You might ask. Well, in a manner of speaking it is intensely personal for me because I have a son who plays college football, but also because as a pastor, I have, to a very limited degree experienced some of what Urban Meyer must be feeling. It is a difficult thing to live your life under the scrutiny of the public eye and be judged for decisions that are often intensely personal and intensely difficult. Most people have the benefit of second, third, and fourth guesses to make very personal decisions in private, and sadly, they often sit in judgment over those who, for better or worse, have only one opportunity to make personal decisions under the glare of very public scrutiny. Men like Meyer are mercilessly held accountable for those decisions even when those holding them accountable don’t have all the necessary information to make a qualified judgment.

As the story unfolded over the weekend, I listened to the “Talking Heads” on TV second guess Meyer’s decision as well as the timing of his announcement. They speculated as to what the “real reasons” might be for his retirement and pondered whether he’d earned the right to be able to put the University of Florida football program on hold for an unspecified period of time while he sorts out his personal/health issues. Some of them made so bold as to suggest that he’d pulled a “Brett Favre.” Why does such a personal issue have to become such a media feeding frenzy? Doesn’t he have the right to wrestle with the weight of personal decisions and ultimately recant a previous position he’d adopted? We’ve probably all wrestled with and rescinded a major decision at least one time in our lives, and yet we don’t accord him the same right? Before you make the absurdly tired argument that you don’t live in the public eye and he does, so that means that increased scrutiny comes with the territory, I want to remind you that that is exactly what my argument is against. Like the above quote suggests, we seem to ignore the fact that these public figures are human and have feelings and families when we vilify and denigrate them as if they are simply “figures on a television screen” and nothing more.

I subscribe to an internet site that does a splendid job of covering the A to Z’s of USF football, where my son plays. I have had to bite my tongue on numerous occasions as I read many of the insensitive and spiteful comments about individual players who might have had a less than stellar game, or who've run into trouble as a result of violating a campus traffic ordinance. They are called unmentionable names and derided and insulted as if they are clinquant cartoon characters as opposed to real people with real feelings and real families. Their commitment is called into question as well as their pedigree, and I’ve often wondered if the fact that we purchase a season ticket and support the boosters club gives us a right to rudely invade the private lives of people we don’t really know. I know what it feels like to have to make a decision that affects the lives of multiple people around me while knowing that I’m fallible and imperfect. We often lack the character to extend to others the same grace and courtesy that we expect to be extended to us.

Urban Meyer has decided to take a leave of absence instead of retiring. Why isn’t that sufficient for us? Why do we have to second guess his reasons, his motivation and his timing? I’m not sure that it’s sufficient to say that the public nature of his profession invalidates his ability to live a private life, because to say so would be to disregard his family’s rights to privacy too. I’m convinced that we spend inordinately more time than is appropriate making other people’s business our business, and I wonder if the fact that we spend our time living vicariously through “celebrities” invariably presages such unbridled invasions of privacy. Just my two cents!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Give someone a Bible for Christmas!

Dear Cousin Christian,

I know, I know, I don’t write nearly often enough, but you know how caught up we get in our often too-busy lives. Anyway, I’m writing what will probably be my last open letter to you in 2009, and so I thought it would be a good idea if I sort of took advantage of the season and write to you about what’s stirring in my heart these days. It’s been a “hellish” year for so many people I know. Many have lost homes, cars, and jobs. Other’s are deeply in debt so overwhelming, that they often wonder if they’ll ever find their way out. Tragically, I know, and have read of many others who have lost loved ones to sickness, war, and senseless deaths.

Interestingly enough though, life goes on (as life is wont to do) and we find ourselves living out the process and unwittingly acquiescing to the status quo. So, would you mind doing me a huge favor and pausing from stacking all those gifts under the Christmas tree so we can talk for a moment? You see, I’m reminded at this same time every year how much we throw around the well worn clichĂ©, “Christmas is about Christ and not about culture. It’s about His presence and not presents,” while we live the very opposite of what we claim to believe. I realize that Christmas has been hijacked by political correctness and so we have come up with every appellation in the book to describe Christmas other than the word Christmas itself. Why, we’ve become so focused on being politically correct that we no longer even care about being factually correct!

As in every other year, this year many of us will incur debt that we’ll struggle to repay simply because we’re trying to keep up with the culture. Our fatuous largesse will serve to make for a ‘fat’ December and a miserable January. The reality is that this season is an amazing opportunity for you and me to really make a difference in someone else’s life so that the Real Light of the season shines brightly through us. There are families with terminally ill kids that will spend Christmas in the hospital. There are conditionally single parents who will spend Christmas far away from their families because they’re fighting in a war defending the freedom we cherish so highly yet take for granted. There are families that have lost loved ones and others that fear they’re about to. There are hopeless, homeless people wondering around in the cold praying that Christmas will provide a place to sleep and a meal to eat, and all the while we stack the gifts higher and higher around our evergreen trees covered in tinsel and artificial lights.

So, what if we chose to actually live out the Scriptures this Christmas and actually be kind and generous to the widows, the hurting, the broken-hearted, and those who can’t help themselves? What would it look like if we actually chose to obey Jesus’ words and love our neighbor as ourselves? What difference would we make if we chose to stop stacking the gifts around our own trees and start stacking them around the ‘trees’ of people who could use them more than we could? Remember that the reason for this season is the fact that Divinity stepped into humanity and the Potter became the clay. Remember that Jesus walked among His creation and healed, loved, encouraged, and inspired the seeking, the hurting, and the broken-hearted. Well, He still does today. Through you and me. Mark Batterson said it best in his book, Primal.

We have access to hundreds of Bible translations in every size, shape, and color imaginable…. For better or for worse, your life is your unique translation. Just like the Septuagint or King James Version, your life translates Scripture into a language those around you can read. God doesn’t just want to speak to you through Scripture; He wants to speak through you. He wants to write His-story through your life.

Wondering where or how to begin? Well here are a few suggestions:
I recently learned of a young pastor, Matt Chandler (I’ve never met him) who is dealing with a malignant brain tumor. He is lead pastor of a wonderful church called The Village Church, who, judging by their website are making an amazing impact in the community in which they serve. I imagine that Christmas really isn’t about presents under a tree for Matt, his family, and his church family this season. So first, you can pray for Matt. Then you can send a card or note of encouragement (go to their blog and find out how) reminding him that he’s part of a larger Body that is sharing in his pain and praying for a miracle. Or there’s Elin Nordegren and her kids (Tiger Woods’ family), who could really use your prayers this Christmas. Betrayal usually makes for a miserable yet stentorian bed-fellow. Then there’s Chris Henry’s (the recently killed NFL player) family who are still trying to make sense of the senseless death of their 26-year old dad, son, and fiancĂ©.

But don’t stop now. How about your neighbor down the street who can’t afford a Christmas meal? You know, the one stuck in a wheelchair that makes it hard for them to get around?! Oh, while we’re at it, I heard that your local soup kitchen could use some help and some supplies, and even the Salvation Army mentioned that they could use some gently-used clothing this winter considering that the number of homeless people has risen dramatically. Whatever you decide to do, remember that you are the most amazing translation of the Bible that some people will get to see this Christmas, so let your words speak loud and clear as they attest to the fact that Jesus is here! Give someone a ‘Bible’ for Christmas. Give someone the gift of your love and life attesting to the power of Jesus’ love. Have a very blessed and hope-filled Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Cornered Tiger!

I like Jim Rome. I enjoy listening to his very opinionated monologues on his show “Rome is Burning.” I like him mostly because he’s completely impartial when it comes to whom or what he’s burning on. Recently he’s had quite a bit to say about Eldrich “Tiger” Woods’ ‘extra-curricular’ activities, and he has not been bashful about ‘ripping’ Tiger’s behavior. Clearly Jim’s not worried about burning bridges or amassing enemies, and if he was then he most certainly picked the wrong business to be in. It’s an often vicious and puerile world in which we live, and the very people that lay down their garments to celebrate your arrival into Jerusalem while waving palm fronds, are the same ones who will be shouting “crucify him” three days later. Now while I certainly decry Tiger’s alleged philandering, I’m not sure I agree with the logic that he owes the public a detailed explanation for his choices simply because he’s making money endorsing products that the public are using, and I’m even more amazed by the sudden and swift change in the public’s perception of him. According to the survey I read, Tigers “favorable ratings” were as high as 83% in 2007. Last week they dropped to 56% and today they’ve plummeted to 36%.

This shift in the public’s perception of Tiger Woods has evidently stymied the effectiveness of his ability to market products, and so a number of his sponsors are pulling his product endorsements, most notably Tag Heuer and Gatorade. Gatorade has discontinued production of their Tiger-Focus drink while Tag Heuer has discontinued their golf version wristwatch reportedly designed by Tiger Woods. Marketers have pulled all ads featuring Tiger from prime-time TV as well as from numerous cable networks, and the last commercial featuring him ran on November 29. Clearly his less than pellucid comments on his website have not endeared his fickle supporters to him, and even his ‘former’ pro-golfing-buddy, Jesper Parnevik, has not had too many kind words to say about Tiger, especially since he introduced Tiger to Elin (Tiger’s wife).

Interestingly though, there has been one loan but persistent voice that has spoken out in Tiger’s defense in a very public setting: the voice of pro-golfer, John Daly. John Daly has been nothing but gracious about Tiger’s misfortunes since the story broke in the press and since alleged partners have continued to crawl out from the woodwork of their shallow lives, for their proverbial fifteen-minutes of fame. John suggests that whatever Tiger may have done is between him and his wife, and goes on to express sadness at the negative comments and attitudes towards Tiger by some of his professional colleagues. It strikes me that John Daly has himself been ridiculed and vilified in a very public setting for his battle with alcoholism. Only someone who’s experienced the pain and the shame of public humiliation can express the kind of compassion and grace that John has and continues to express towards Tiger. John’s response to Tiger is proof that failure can be a good thing. When, through our own personal failures, we recognize that within every human lies the capacity for sin and bad choices, we are less likely to be so harshly judgmental about other people’s poor choices. This might actually make Tiger a better and more compassionate person.

Am I suggesting that Tiger’s behavior should be excused? Absolutely not! I am however suggesting that it’s not up to you or me to determine what the penalty for his choices should be. His wife, I’m sure, is quite capable of handling her personal business with the help of people that are in her life relationally, without the added stress of the public weighing in on what they think the penalty should be for Tiger's asinine behavior. Interestingly enough, Tiger’s endorsements are being pulled because he’s essentially been ‘two-faced’ by living a secret, adulterous life while acting as if he was a faithful family man. Each one of the corporations that have pulled his product or endorsement has categorically stated that the timing of their decision has nothing to do with Tiger’s current woes. Seriously?! I guess being corporately 'two-faced' is acceptable since no one has to take personal responsibility. I’m saddened by Tiger’s choices, but I’m rooting for him and his family to navigate through this painful season, because if they do so successfully, it will be further evidence of the grace of a loving God. What are your thoughts?