Weekly Thoughts 4

The Appreciative Inquiry into Life

If you look back through my high school journals you will see a guy conflicted between being someone he thought he should be compared with the failure he thought he actually was. Perhaps this is typical of any male journaling their way throughout high school, but part of these sentiments and feelings came from the evangelical strand of Christianity.

Evangelicalism and the reformed brotherhood that has taken hold of its mainstream the last ten years is often spent discussing the comparison of who we are versus who Jesus wants us to be (answer: not who we are). This is even further emphasized by circles who firmly step their feet into the Calvinistic, totally depraved, sinners in the hands of an angry God camp. They spend their time quoting David’s ‘woe is me’ Psalms, Paul’s ‘why do I do what I hate‘ speech, and unleashing more self-hating poems than all the songs featured in Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary.

This theology of deprivation is matched by a God who has chosen each of us, even though he hates us, and thus celebration is initiated. This celebration can be quite deep and some of these people are some of the most grateful people I know. However, some of this can lead to a deep sense of shame within people. We cannot believe that we won’t commit more of our lives to God even though He has done so much for us! (This actually leads to another unique discussion within evangelical circles where Christians feel as if they cannot take credit for any of their own talents, because they, being evil, cannot do any good. So all credit goes to God in everything, even being good at sports!)

With this, the Christian is constantly hounded by a constant pressure of living up to God’s standards (even though by theological grounds they literally cannot); this pressure is even exists in scenarios where people believe that they do not have to live up to God’s standards, but merely should want to – an easy way to lead to guilt accumulation. Small groups and spiritual discussions inevitably lead into this sort of talk where people confess that they haven’t spent enough time with God or that they have committed (insert sin here) lately.

To get to my point, I am going to talk about something else I’ve discussed here before – the idea of appreciative inquiry. Now appreciative inquiry (AI) is an idea meant for groups of people, supposed to spark creativity and new ideas, but I thought I would force it into a personal spiritual situation (if you want to read an academic overview and critique of AI, go here).

AI’s basic viewpoint is that rather than taking things from a negative angle, it is much more constructive to build off of the positive that already exists. Look for the places that are already producing instead of highlighting the deficits and from there you can make something greater. The underlying perspective is that in most communities there is already some sort of life force that is causing it to exist and stay afloat. By focusing on all that is wrong, negative results will come forth.

Before I continue I must say I am going to try to avoid making this a positive thinking piece, where all your problems will go away if you think about good things. I am certainly no Joel Osteen (I dwell in the sadness), but there is something to this. Wracked by guilt for so many years, it feels good to let go of the shame that constantly hounded me. Maybe I’m a character from Dr. Strangelove, letting go of worry of the atomic bomb as it’s about to strike, but being set free from the narrative of total depravity has been a blessing.

Narratives and how we inquire into those narratives affect how we perceive ourselves and our own story. When we continually see ourselves as depraved beings who will never measure up, what will come out of it? When we continually tell our children to pray prayers so that hell no longer hangs over them or exhort them with tales of them being incapable of choosing good, where are we leading them? (Sidenote: In a conflict class I took, we studied an almost completely non-violent society whose strategy of avoiding conflict was to insult their children so that they would not develop an ego, negating any sense of pride or indignation of being treated a certain way, because, well, they were entirely unimportant compared to the society as a whole. So I suppose there could be some merit to this way of parenting, but certainly to a Western mindset it sounds strange.)

Appreciative inquiry posits that when the little micro narratives we hold – that when combined make up our beingĀ  – are changed, the macro narrative will also bend in that direction. When our micro narratives tell us we are incapable of good, generally not worthy of love, and are failures, our macro narrative shifts to one deeply sensitive about a lot of small things.

When are micro narratives begin to tell us that we are capable of good, of making beautiful things, and loving people, perhaps those characteristics will abound. When we become wrapped up in a larger story of mercy, justice, and love rather than one of shame and guilty pleasure our lives will expand into greater things.

I say this all while acknowledging that repentance and humility are two of the most important traits a person can have – we must recognize that we are not more important than other people and when we screw up we should seek reconciliation. But when we ask questions of ourselves, let’s look at the ways we are contributing to life, for we are beings wrapped up in a cosmic tale of love, grace, justice, and beauty. Let us not be overcome with shame at our failures.

Weekly Thoughts 3

Locke, Right and Wrong, and a Theological Imperative

The other night I watched Locke, a 2014 drama starring Tom Hardy. Locke focuses in on one man who makes an instant decision and in an hour and a half car ride sees the results of this decision unfold before him as he works through it in various phone calls.

His decision is one wracked with consequences. If he goes one way many of his problems go away, but he will abandon an ideal. If he goes the other, he will lose everything he loves, but maintain his integrity.

Either way there are consequences.

His choices blur the lines between right and wrong. There really is no way that he can have it all.

Right and wrong will always be taught and insisted upon – rightly so – but when pressed hard enough they crumble beneath us. We hold to our ideals, but there is almost always an exception – a but is found.

Murder is wrong. But there is self-defense. But there is war. But there is Hitler and he doesn’t deserve to live.

Stealing is wrong. But there are poor who need to find food for their children. But there is stealing from the exploitative rich to give to the poor.

If you believe that we are socialized beings then culpability for the wrong we do can even be questioned. The abuser is often one who was abused. The racist usually did not grow up in a place where they were able to interact with people who did not look like them. These people commit wrongful acts, but what if those things had not been done to them? What if.

In the film, his wife tells him that there is good and there is bad and in his decision he chose bad and is now is forced to live with it. Some may say the wife is extra harsh, but she is right that mistakes have consequences. Nobody can blame her for the decision she makes. She takes on the role of the justice system, which lays out that we must punish a crime even if it was committed by somebody who had no other option. Or who was abused. Or is repeating a cycle. A standard must be set, justice must be served regardless of the but.

This makes us turn to a broader sense of justice, one which Martin Luther King Jr. insisted the universe was bent toward. If there is a God who reigns over all, one who is considered the ultimate judge (only God can judge me right?), where does God come down? If anyone could truly tell where the standard was set and where a person’s intentions lied it would be God right?

Of course God could judge all of our intentions weighed against our upbringing in a divine formula He has created and knows the answers to (should we call this GodWAR?) or perhaps right and wrong is not so neatly defined – even for God.

The central tenet of Christianity should be grace. There is forgiveness for all, God sees the games we play, how are lives are complexly fashioned by the people around us, and how the decisions we make are always falling into the cracks of our ethics. Unlike the wife in Locke who acts according to justice, God chooses mercy.

Of course there are consequences in daily life, mercy does not exclude bad things from happening. Justice will occur – in some form.

A black and white color spectrum of right and wrong is too rigid to explain life on earth, I’d rather take Jesus’ prayer – “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”, because we really don’t.

There is no truth but love, no justice but grace.

Weekly Thoughts 2

An NFL-centric look at the week

Part 1: A Crack Appears

The NFL has gone through a controversial couple of weeks – with some its biggest stars being accused of domestic and child abuse, a potential cover up scandal regarding a video of domestic abuse, and the always looming discussion about concussions.

In terms of popularity, football is essentially only consumed by one nation – the United States. But what football lacks in breadth it makes up for by being the most consumed sport in television (also television in general).

Those who love it likely enjoy its hard hits and spectacular plays, their Sundays spent consuming 10+ hours of men colliding at high velocities while others avoid tackles with stiff arms and spin moves. As the sport has made the move toward safety, many football fans complained at these newly instated rules meant to protect players. Most football fans are advocates for the violent sport – that’s what these athletes are getting paid for right?

Yet the conversation surrounding football is headed toward further safety measurements. With science always improving and more player health awareness, the effects of football will be studied, more lawsuits will occur, and the NFL will be forced to act further. This, along with the aforementioned abuses and cover up could be the first cracks appearing that will knock the NFL from its American sports throne.

Years ago if you would have told me that there was a chance football could disappear or be relegated to a minor sport, I would have called you crazy. This is no longer out of the question. If the NFL continues to be seen as a cesspool of immorality not only because of its players actions, but also by those who actually run the league, people will no longer be willing to ignore its concussion problem or other iniquities. And people have begun to question. Peter King, NFL insider, and Sports Illustrated writer asked his readers the question “Do you still like football?” after last week’s horrendous showing. If King is growing weary, others could easily catch on.

Another reason football could collapse is due to its lack of an international presence. Football has not caught on with the rest of the world, no matter how many London games get scheduled a year. Baseball has Korea, Japan, and plenty of other countries across the Americas. Basketball has leagues all over Europe and Asia. Hockey and soccer are already global sports, more renown abroad than in the US. Soccer may never catch on completely in the US, but as it grows, it surely steals viewers away from the NFL. The NFL remains stationary and in a globalized world a global presence is necessary.

This begs the question – can football be fixed? Well, maybe. First, it must escape this year, doling out punishments to abusers and likely getting rid of Goodell in order to bring reform 1919 Black Sox style. Precautions to head injuries should continue to take place until the culture of the sport changes from a place where collisions are cheered on as if it were a video game and appreciation should turn to the other wonderful parts of the sport that do make it worthwhile.

Lastly, Mike Pesca of Slate’s The Gist podcast suggested on a recent episode of the show that perhaps violence to women occurs so rampantly in the NFL because it is a place largely devoid of women (go to 20:50 for his take on the womenless culture of the NFL). The NFL certainly is a male-centric culture and is one that is naturally violent, so his points do make sense. I am a believer that the more we interact with people who are different than us, particularly on a equal level, the harder it is to intentionally cause damage to them or discriminate against them. Violence is usually accompanied by some sort of dehumanization. What would a more womanized NFL look like? It’s hard to say, but to break through the NFL’s tough guy culture certainly seems like a step in the right direction.


Part II: The NFL Sparks Discussions of Corporal Punishment

Adrian Peterson was accused of abusing his child in what he would later claim to be something fairly normal in the way that he was raised. This opened up a larger discussion surrounding religion and discipline, namely through William Saletan at Slate (apparently I need to widen my news sources…) and Matthew Paul Turner’s op-ed at CNN. Saletan decries spanking as something that prevents understanding and increases violence, while Turner goes after a sect of people that believe the Bible encourages corporal punishment. Both are an interesting read and inspired me to reflect on my own experiences.

I grew up getting spanked. We had a paddle that was specifically used for spankings – I can still picture it in my head. Despite – or because – of these spankings, I turned out fine. For better or worse, I don’t remember how much I got spanked, but it seemed to work appropriately (or perhaps my fear of transgressing in any manner was built into me via wooden paddle). My parents didn’t abuse it, my dad never pulled out his belt to whip me with, I don’t remember any aggression or Biblical references accompanying the spankings. It was always a punishment for wrongdoing and once it was done, it was done.

With that being said, I don’t think I will spank my own children. Nor do I generally believe corporal punishment to be a positive (though I will certainly conduct research). My wife is Swedish – a place where spanking is illegal and there is no precedence for it. To a Swede corporal punishment is synonymous with child abuse. And really it can be hard to tell the difference.

When you look at one parent spanking versus another where is the line drawn? When is it discipline and when is it abuse? There is no way that you can define it. Spanking is a violent act. In order to define it, the conversation would have to turn to how hard you can hit your kid or how often. To me this is not productive. Good people with good intentions can make mistakes; good people can succumb to bad intentions.

Should spanking be a thing? I say no. I am sure good can come from it, I really am, but the amount of bad that can come out of it, plus the fact that it is nearly impossible to decipher the good from the bad, pushes me over the edge.

I’ve been there, I’ve grown up around spanking that was probably done as healthy as could be done, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather parents hitting their children not be seen as acceptable.


Part III: A Timeline of a Football Match (The Breaking of a Heart)

5:20 – All right! Football baby! 1-0 49ers taking on the Bears. First game at Levi Stadium, Marshall and Jeffery are hobbling, and the Bears lost to the Bills last week. Easy 2-0.

5:40 – Blocked punt! Whaaaaat!?!?!? #SLAPHANDS

5:45 – Crabtree baby, FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL

6:50 – TOUCHDOWN!!!! Oh wait… Penalty? Anquan Boldin touched a guy? Awww man. Referees are such bummers.

7:00 – Hey that might have been a touchdown, let me wait to see if there were any penalties…………………………………………………………………… Oh good, we scored!!!!!!

7:10 – Penalty on Justin Smith for 6 yards, 1st down Bears. Aw shucks.

7:15 – Penalty on Cox for 5 yards, 1st down Bears. Aww shucks.

7:19 – Penalty on Dial for 15 yards, 1st down Bears. Awww shucks.

7:22 – Touchdown Bears. 17-7, oh well we’re probably still the best team in the league.

8:00 – Field goal by Dawson on the opening drive, yeah we’re definitely going undefeated this season.

8:10 – Penalty on Lemonier, 5 yards, 1st down Bears. Aw shucks.

8:14 – Penalty on Johnson, 5 yards, 1st down Bears. Aw shucks.

8:20 – Touchdown Bears, 20-14. Well you know our offense is unstoppable right now! No problem man, no problem.

8:30 – Oh Kaepernick that was a bad pass!

8:35 – 21-20 Bears lead. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

8:37 – Why must man toil the way he does? The sun rises and the sun sets but the days are meaningless. Life. is. meaningless. Where are you God in my misery?!?

8:40 – Ohh Kaepernick that was a bad pass!!

8:44 – You know Rust Cohle was absolutely right, he absolutely was, he was the truest detective, yes he was.

8:55 – 28-20 the Bears are now ahead. Ohhhh boy.

8:56 – THESE WOUNDS WON’T SEEM TO HEAL, THIS PAIN IS JUST TOO REAL. THERE’S JUST TOO MUCH THAT TIME CANNOT ERASE! *Sob*

9:05 – Oh come on Kaepernick throw it to hi—- awww $*&!

9:06 – Why would I ever choose to watch football. Or sports. No one should do this, no one should EVER DO THIS. Football is the worst thing that humankind ever came up with. Worse than Maroon 5. Worse than water chestnuts. Worse than lukewarm water. Worse than a skipping DVD….

9:07 – HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME, I MADE MY MISTAKES. GOT NOWHERE TO RUN, THE NIGHT GOES ON AS I’M FADING AWAY. I’M SICK OF THIS LIFE. I JUST WANNA SCREAM, HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME?

9:20 – My wife looks at me, she asks me if I’m okay. I don’t respond. ‘You look like you just found out a loved one died.’ You just don’t understand!!!

oh football.

Weekly Thoughts 1

The last few years Christian organizations have fought for their sense of religious freedom, decrying government mandates that would force them to carry healthcare like birth control. They have maintained that birth control should not be mandated for them to carry as it goes against certain religious beliefs (this to be pandered later).

This has lead to and has been accompanied by a wider discussion of religious liberty – regarding how much the right to religious liberty should give people and organizations. Does religious autonomy grant one the right to be exempt of certain laws? Does it grant one the right to discriminate?

Well in one sense, every religious organization does discriminate by only hiring those who are a part of their religion or specific denomination. The right to religious exemption does allow for discrimination at least in hiring and firing practices.

But if a group believes that they should be allowed to discriminate by sexual orientation (as has been done) or disallow government given rights because of a religious belief, how should the government react? This tension has risen, with the government stepping in in some cases.

This prompts interesting questions on both sides. First, how should the government react to religious groups, particularly those who are more radical and exist on the fringe? While the government tends to be quite willing and capable of being inclusive of religion and religious leaders through tax exemptions, allowing religious private schools the same authority as public education, and the capability to exert influence in politics, there is a line that should be drawn. Not all religious belief is equal – those who actively go against government policy will not and probably should not be allowed benefits by the state. Where is this line drawn? It’s not so easy.

On the other side, religious institutions, especially Christianity – whose ground I stand in- also has a line that is being discovered. Religious schools and companies want to refuse birth control (why you may ask? I am not entirely sure for those Evangelical groups because it is not really immoral or anti-Bible; my best guess is it is because they don’t want to make it seem like their people are having sex – the ultimate taboo or because they believe that birth control can be abortion inducing. Which, to be frank, seems ridiculous because the human body is more likely to abort a fertilized egg than birth control is. It’s strange that us non-Catholics aren’t all over promoting birth control having lead the huge anti-abortion campaign of the last couple decades – I guess it’s an unwillingness to condone sex out of marriage even if it is saving the lives of babies. Pick your poison, or sin.).

At some point religious institutions will have to make a choice – whether this choice comes about by birth control or in having to allow openly gay members – a choice will have to be made whether to separate from the government or not. Religious institutions are given benefits by the United States government, which is why the rage seems so loud when laws are placed that seemingly go against religious beliefs. But if the government continuously pushes against certain subjects (gender is certainly next) religious institutions will either have to adapt (as some progressives push for) or separate.

This is where I see a bit of hypocrisy. Where Christian Universities are outraged about required birth control – claiming religious exemption from the government – they also support this government through various ROTC and Military Science programs. They say ‘hey we don’t have anything to do with that’ while building up and even advertising for the most prominent representation of government there is – the US military.

I would attempt to argue how the Bible does not necessarily condone the violent means by which the US armed forces are used, but all of those arguments lie in the Pro-Life belief. The sanctity of human life, people made in God’s image, thou shall not murder, etc… They are all there. Sure one could argue a just-war thesis that connects the US or we could go back to a Manifest Destiny theory – but please let’s not do that. The Bible doesn’t say much about abortion and really the science does seem inconclusive as to when a baby is a human life. This inconclusiveness is probably the same as what we know as to whether the US military force was justified in any of the last several wars. But one side receives all the outrage.

A day could come where Christian organizations may have to give up their position of power and influence in America to hold fast to their beliefs (right or wrong), though it may be hard for some to imagine a religious leader choosing to give up power, it may have to be done. I think the hypocritical level of religious institutions to support the military while claiming exemption in other areas shows more ties to conservative politics and ethics than any sort of religious cause.