I Used to Watch Sports – A Confession

The Super Bowl is coming up in one week.  One of my earliest sports memories is Joe Montana throwing the winning touchdown to John Taylor to lead the 49ers to victory over the Bengals.  I fondly remember many other Super Bowls.  Last year I enjoyed watching the Packers defeat the Steelers, as anytime the Steelers lose it is a good day.


That is my confession.
As this Super Bowl approaches I realized something: it will be the first complete sporting event I have watched on television since the last Super Bowl.

That is my confession.

I used to watch sports all the time.  Penn State football, Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies and Flyers were the main games in town.  As life got busier my time watching sports shrunk, but I still caught many Eagles and Penn State games each year.

Then a couple years ago Emily and I decided to save money by not having cable television.  We do not watch much TV and everything we watch we could get online for free (The Office, 30 Rock, The Simpsons).  Why pay for something we do not need?  The only thing sacrificed would be sports, but I could always catch the Penn State game at a friend’s house.  Which I did, and still do, occasionally.

The thing is, I don’t really miss it.  Sure, I feel kind of out of the loop when I go on Facebook and see status after status about the last game (recently most of which revolve around Tebow).  That is easily remedied though: a few minutes on ESPN.com as well as tuning in regularly to ESPN radio gives me enough information to intelligently take part in most sporting conversations.  It also gives me enough knowledge to do well in Fantasy Football (playoffs in both my leagues, second place in one!).

But in such conversations I admit, I’m a fake.  I don’t watch the games.

So in a week I’ll gather with friends to watch the Super Bowl.  I am hoping to see the Patriots get a win for as a Philly fan I still have a irrational hatred of all New York teams (and those Steelers).

Then in 2012 I’ll listen to the Phillies on the radio when I’m in my car and I’ll pull for them to get another title.  But as for watching an entire game, I imagine the next one will be the 2013 Super Bowl.

Listening to the Saints – Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well”

All shall be well. All shall be well.  All manner of things shall be well

Julian of Norwich was born around 1342.  Very little is known of her life.  Apparently she became gravely ill at age thirty and expected to die. Seven days later the illness passed and she experienced sixteen visions, or revelations. These visions led her to meditate on the death of Jesus Christ. She became an “anchoress”, a recluse living alone in a hut near the church in Norwich, England.

She devoted her life to prayer and contemplation. Her writings became the book Revelations of Divine Love, a spiritual classic. This was the first book written in English by a woman.  Though she lived in solitude, she did gather a reputation as a counselor during her life as many sought her out to speak with her (Source for Julian’s bio found here).

Over the past year  I have been reading some of the classics of Christian spirituality . It has been a challenging experience as their works require a different kind of reading then I usually engage in.  They need to be read slowly and meditatively. There is a spiritual depth in them that cannot be sped through. In this I have been convicted: there are so many books I desire to read that I often am tempted to plow through them, getting the gist of what is going on, before moving to the next one. The mystics cannot be approached in this way (very few books should be approached like this, on that note).

Upon finishing Revelations of Divine Love I went back and looked at my highlights. Surprisingly, since I did not think I highlighted that much, there were nearly sixty passages with highlights!

One theme that comes through in Julian is trust in God’s love and strength. God is all we need, and in this quote the entire universe is portrayed as a mere nut in God’s hand:

 I saw that He is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us, claspeth us, and all encloseth us for tender love, that He may never leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding. Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it.

This love of God is clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that saves us, restoring us to our Creator.

The precious plenty of His dearworthy blood descended down into Hell and burst her bands and delivered all that were there which belonged to the Court of Heaven. The precious plenty of His dearworthy blood overfloweth all Earth, and is ready to wash all creatures of sin, which be of goodwill, have been, and shall be. The precious plenty of His dearworthy blood ascended up into Heaven to the blessed body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there is in Him, bleeding and praying for us to the Father,–and is, and shall be as long as it needeth;–and ever shall be as long as it needeth. And evermore it floweth in all Heavens enjoying the salvation of all mankind, that are there, and shall be…

There is a good deal more in Julian worth reflecting on, which I will get to in another post.  What Julian is most known for is the phrase “All shall be well”.  In a moment of doubt, she clung to the fact that one day all things shall be well.

That itself is a good reminder for us in the midst of our lives.

Just Laws to Protect Trafficking Victims: What the Church Can Do

How you vote in the presidential election does not really matter.

I am quite disillusioned with politics.  Too many powerful religious people think it is their job to pledge support to a presidential candidate.  I wonder how Jesus feels when his people are reduced to a voting bloc?  Recently a large group of evangelical Christians gathered together to decide which candidate to throw their support behind.  There have been a few blog posts about this recently, showing the problems inherent in it, which I urge you to check out: Timothy Dalyrmple calls it a travesty and David Neff calls it dangerous.

Anyway, in this I think there is a misconception that real change comes through how you vote in a presidential election.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not think Christians should sit on the sidelines.  I think our interaction with the powers of government should be wiser than simply voting once every four years.  There is much more we can do and I think it starts at the local level.

(Much of what comes next is a summary from the Polaris Project website, but the page I got it from has been taken down*)

There is legislation proposed in Pennsylvania (House Bill 235  by Representative Clymer; State Bill 338 by Senator Leach) that would require placement of the National Human Trafficking Research Center Hotline number in key establishments, including places of transit (truck stops, welcome centers and bus stations) and in venues where victims may be found “at work” (such as hotels/motels, strip clubs, massage parlors).  The hotline provides callers – victims, tipsters, community members – with a bridge to help by linking callers with one or more of over 3000 resources across the country.  Placing this hotline in key locations is critical to fighting human trafficking.  Texas was the first state to require the posting of the hotline in public locations.  Since that time Texas has consistently been the highest in call volume to the hotline, resulting in rescued victims and a greater awareness of crime throughout the state.

Requiring that this hotline be posted would cost the state of PA absolutely NOTHING as the businesses would have to print it themselves.  Further, it may generate money for the state in fines to businesses that do not post it.

My hope would be that churches take time to encourage members to call on political leaders to pass this legislation.  Perhaps this could happen as a unified effort by small groups in the church, or by the effort of individuals.  Either way, what I am asking only takes a few minutes..

Calling on those in power to create just laws has a long tradition among the people of God…just read the Old Testament prophets such as Amos.

Here is what you can do:

1. Determine who your STATE senator and STATE representative is by going to http://www.legis.state.pa.us.  I live in Wyomissing so mine are Mark Gillen (http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/house_bio.cfm?id=1209) and Mike Folmer http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senate_bio.cfm?id=1080)

2. Then place a quick call to your senator and representative, urging them to take action NOW to help victims of human trafficking.  Urge them to support and cosponsor the bipartisan bill by Senators Leach and Vance to post the Human Trafficking Hotline bill.  Here is an example of what you can say: “Hi, my name is ____ and I am the representatives constituent. I am calling to urge the representative to cosponsor and support HB 235, legislation that will help victims of human trafficking right now in PA by requiring the National Human Trafficking Hotline in certain establishments. Will the representative support this legislation?

2b.  Or you can email them.

3. Call Senator Pileggi, Majority Leader of the Senate (717-787-4712) and Senator Corman, Appropriations Committee Chair in Leadership (717-787-1377). These senators have complete power over whether a bill goes to the senate floor for a vote.  When you call, ask the senator to bring SB 338 to the Senate floor for vote as soon as possible.

We are privileged to live in a country that cares about justice (or at least claims to).  Perhaps in a different situation our interaction with the powers that be would be slightly different.  But in this situation, I think we need to be people who work for justice in all capacities.  This does not end with making a phone call or an email.  It goes on to influencing those around us so that more and more people do not look the other way when faced with injustice.  It continues with creating ways to help those rescued from trafficking.

It is all that and more.  But it is not less than calling on our leaders to do the right thing.

*The Hotline is run by the Polaris Project.  Until last week they had a whole page on their site with action (Most of what I wrote starting with the paragraph on the PA legislation was from their page) but that page has been taken down.  Either way, their website is very helpful.

Classics, Kindles and Tolstoy in 2012!

One of the things that makes me most happy is when my students read a book I suggested.  Upon returning from break a student told me he had finished The Hunger Games (okay, not necessarily the most spiritual books for a campus pastor to suggest).  This same student was reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the story of Raskolnikov, a student who commits a horrible crime and faces the psychological punishment that comes with it.

Awesome.

This same student had purchased a Kindle Fire.  There is much discussion about the growing prevalence of e-books and how this is affecting book sellers and reading habits and so on.  In my own non-scientific study, one tremendous benefit of e-books is the introduction of the classics to people who may have never read them.  I have enjoyed downloading free books by the likes of Dostoyevsky, Dickens and Austen.  My sister and two of my students have also used their Kindles to get into old books.

One of those students plans to join me in reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace in 2012.  She may not start it for a while as she is now swamped with assigned reading.

I plan to start it soon.  For me, 2011 was a Dostoyevsky year and 2012 may be a Tolstoy year.  First I read Crime and Punishment.  Second was Notes from the Underground, a weird book in which the first half is a rant on the pointlessness of life and the second half is a tale of this underground man’s foray into society.  Third was a re-read of The Brothers Karamazov which, upon my second go-through, became my favorite book of all time (sorry John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany).

I plan to read more Dostoyevsky in the future.  But I want to move on to the other great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy.  So far the only Tolstoy I have read is his treatise on nonviolence, The Kingdom of God is Within You. War and Peace is on my Kindle and ready to start…though I am intimidated as it is about the longest book ever.

I have read about how these two novelists present different views of God and humanity.  Dostoyevsky’s books are certainly dark with violent crimes and people suffering from their own psychological punishments.  At any rate, I noticed this article today, “God who Writes Like Dostoyevsky“.  It has me really chomping at the bit to get into Tolstoy and then maybe back into some Dostoyevsky again.

On Campus At PSU Berks – Picking Up Trash for Jesus (Again)

CSF tries to find ways to practically serve the campus on a regular basis.  Finding things to do is not as easy as one might think.  I think there are a few reasons for this:

1. Campus runs like a well-oiled machine – it is not like there are huge fields of uncut grass or piles of garbage laying on the sidewalk.  They employ people to care for campus.

2. Many needs students have are individual needs which will be met by other individuals.  In this it is important for the Christian students to be there with their friends for support.  This is one reason it is vitally important our CSF activities, such as Bible study, do not become a high-walled safe-haven for the Christians to retreat to.  They need to be out there among their peers, representing Christ.  That said, this will happen on a more individual level then on a large-group level.

3. When it comes to figuring out ways for CSF, as a group, to serve campus…maybe we are just not that creative!  So ideas are welcomed…

This past Tuesday we decided to perform a service we had done in the fall: pick up trash for Jesus.  In September we decided to walk up and down the hallways in the dorms, knocking on doors and asking if the residents would like us to take out their trash.  When asked why we were doing this, we simply said it was an act of love and kindness because that is the kind of thing we Christians do.

We did not get through all the dorms so I am sure we will be doing this again.  It is a fantastic way to meet people who may never even consider coming to a Bible study.

It is also a way to awkwardly meet the guy who answers the door in just a towel!

Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Recently President Obama declared January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month.  It is great that this issue is being taken seriously by those in the halls of power.  Here is the beginning of what Obama said in his speech (and you can read the whole thing at the link):

Nearly a century and a half ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — a document that reaffirmed the noble goals of equality and freedom for all that lie at the heart of what it means to live in America.

In the years since, we have tirelessly pursued the realization and protection of these essential principles. Yet, despite our successes, thousands of individuals living in the United States and still more abroad suffer in silence under the intolerable yoke of modern slavery.

During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we stand with all those who are held in compelled service; we recognize the people, organizations and government entities that are working to combat human trafficking; and we recommit to bringing an end to this inexcusable human rights abuse.

Human trafficking endangers the lives of millions of people around the world, and it is a crime that knows no borders.

Trafficking networks operate both domestically and transnationally, and although abuses disproportionally affect women and girls, the victims of this ongoing global tragedy are men, women and children of all ages.

Here in Berks county the organization Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE) is working to mobilize citizens to become activists in ending human trafficking.  I have been taking part in FREE meetings for over a year and the more I learn the more I want to do…and on some depressing days feel like there is very little I can do.  My role with FREE is to lead the group that seeks to educate and equip faith communities.

You can read my first monthly email to local faith communities here.

One thing we can do today to take action is to call for the release of Sara Kruzen.  Sara was raped at age 11 and then forced into prostitution by the man who raped her at age 13.  At age sixteen she fought back, killing the man who was her rapist and pimp.  Since then she has served 17 years in prison.  There is a movement to call on the governor of California to step in and release her.

Sara is not a criminal, instead she was the victim of repeated crimes who fought back in self defense.

Sadly, there are many like her out there who are used and abused every night.  Much of the rest of society sees them as “whores” and “hos” who chose that life.  The truth is they are victims who need our help.  The real criminals are the pimps and the men who buy these girls.

Why I am not Quite a Pacifist

Stories like this one are the reason I am not a pacifist: Was This Teen Mom Wrong to Kill Intruder?

A young Oklahoma mother shot and killed an intruder to protect her 3-month-old baby on New Year’s Eve, less than a week after the baby’s father died of cancer.

Sarah McKinley says that a week earlier a man named Justin Martin dropped by on the day of her husband’s funeral, claiming that he was a neighbor who wanted to say hello. The 18-year-old Oklahoma City area woman did not let him into her home that day.

On New Year’s Eve Martin returned with another man, Dustin Stewart, and this time was armed with a 12-inch hunting knife. The two soon began trying to break into McKinley’s home.

As one of the men was going from door to door outside her home trying to gain entry, McKinley called 911 and grabbed her 12-gauge shotgun.

McKinley told ABC News Oklahoma City affiliate KOCO that she quickly got her 12 gauge, went into her bedroom and got a pistol, put the bottle in the baby’s mouth and called 911.

“I’ve got two guns in my hand — is it okay to shoot him if he comes in this door?” the young mother asked the 911 dispatcher. “I’m here by myself with my infant baby, can I please get a dispatcher out here immediately?”

The 911 dispatcher confirmed with McKinley that the doors to her home were locked as she asked again if it was okay to shoot the intruder if he were to come through her door.

“I can’t tell you that you can do that but you do what you have to do to protect your baby,” the dispatcher told her. McKinley was on the phone with 911 for a total of 21 minutes.

When Martin kicked in the door and came after her with the knife, the teen mom shot and killed the 24-year-old. Police are calling the shooting justified.

I think this woman was fully justified in killing the intruder.

One of the questions I wrestle with, that I think goes right to the heart of following Jesus, is when is violence ever justified?  Jesus won the greatest victory ever won by laying down his life on a cross.  He called his followers to take up their crosses and follow him.  Thus, if Jesus did not use violence to defend himself than there is no way we should either.

Further, Christians have faith that there will be a resurrection someday, that this life is not all there is, and that what looks like a defeat can turn into a victory. I am challenged as I read about the early Christians who were so sure that Jesus was Lord and Savior that they were willing to die for it.  They figured that if God did not save their lives that was okay, as they had a greater life in the future.  Again, if we too believe this then what reason can there be for self-defense?

That said, I think the teen mom in the story was completely justified in using violence to defend herself and her baby.

It seems clear to me that Christians are given the choice to lay down our lives or defend ourselves.  If I am threatened, I can use force to defend myself or I can choose not to.

But I don’t see any evidence that I can make this choice for others.  In other words, I can choose to lay down my life rather than use violence on others.  I cannot choose to lay down the life of my wife or daughter.  If I am walking down the street and see a child being abused, I cannot choose not to use force if necessary to save that child.

I think God may call us to allow ourselves to suffer, as Jesus suffered.  I don’t see evidence that we can allow others to suffer.  If anything, I believe we are required to ease the suffering of others.

(For the record, I think when we talk about Christian nonviolence we need to remember that one aspect of it is that justice will come on the perpetrator.  God is a God of justice.  Christian nonviolence has always held to the hope that God will one day  punish evil.  They just do not believe it is their role to be God’s instrument in that.)