Hard Hits: Faith and the NFL :: The Weekend Reading List

“I remember, every season, multiple occasions where I’d hit someone so hard that my eyes went cross-eyed, and they wouldn’t come uncrossed for a full series of plays.” — Kyle Turley, former offensive tackle for the Saints, Rams, and Chiefs
The NFL, Malcolm Gladwell says, “is a moral abomination… Can you point to another industry in America which, in the course of doing business, maims a third of its employees?” Gladwell compares the NFL to dogfighting where an owner, “willingly submitted his dog to a contest that culminated in her suffering and destruction. And why? For the entertainment of an audience and the chance of a payday.”
“[Pro] Football is one of the most dehumanizing experiences a person can face.” — Dave Meggyesy, former linebacker, Cardinals (1963-69)
“Dehumanizing sounds so extreme, but when you’re fighting for a football at the bottom of the pile, it is kind of dehumanizing. It’s like a spectacle of violence, for entertainment… It’s make-believe, really. That’s the truth about it.” — Chris Borland, former linebacker for the 49ers
“Part of what makes dogfighting so repulsive is the understanding that violence and injury cannot be removed from the sport,” says Gladwell. “It’s a feature of the sport that dogs almost always get hurt.”
Think Progress notes that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease which manifests in symptoms similar to Alzheimers, is the smoking gun of the NFL’s methodical destruction of its athletes lives. “Dr. David Geier of The Post and Courier reports that evidence of CTE — which has been linked to depression, suicide, and memory loss — has been found in the brains of 87 out of the 91 dead NFL players who were examined by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.”
The latest research on traumatic brain injuries shows the greatest damage to an athlete’s brain tissue — and future — comes from the “normal” hits, not the colossal ones. Sub-concussive hits, impacts which do not cause a concussion, occur up to 1,000x per season for an individual linebacker, adding up in the tens of thousands over a career that starts in high school.
This is a story the NFL has worked aggressively to suppress, including forcing Sony Pictures to take “most of the bite” out of an upcoming movie “for legal reasons.”
In the short term, players (even young ones) become addicted to prescription drugs and marijuana to manage their physical pain; and in the long-term they experience degenerative neurological disease at disproportionately high rates.
Many fans expect new technologies like instantaneous impact data and improved helmet design to help athletes stay in the game longer. Yet there are two problems which make this unlikely. First, sub-concussive hits occur in practice, even in the comparatively less violent “shells” practice where players only wear helmets and shoulder pads. More importantly the NFL’s most aggressive investments in technology are not to improve player safety, but to increase fan engagement and revenue.
“We’re focusing on making [local games] a five-to-six-hour, driveway-to-driveway experience.” — Brian Lafemina, SVP Club Business Development, NFL
This year the league is investing in RFID chips which will sit under both shoulder pads of every player in the league, as well as on the officials, yard markers, and pylons. CIO magazine reports that “The NFL plans to use the data generated to power the NFL 2015 app for Xbox One and Windows 10, allowing for things like ‘Next Gen Replay’ that will allow fans to call up stats for each player tied into highlight clips posted on the app.”
Some Christian communities’ obsession with the NFL is a living confession that we are as of-the-world as we are in it. The fallen reality of the game should dramatically reorient our posture toward the NFL. Christian communities could start by discussing how to rightly engage with the NFL — and how much time and energy is appropriate to dedicate to spectator sports in general.
There is nothing else to be done, not so long as fans stand and cheer. We are in love with football players, with their courage and grit, and nothing else—neither considerations of science nor those of morality—can compete with the destructive power of that love. — Malcolm Gladwell
If Christians’ interactions with professional sports are no different than someone outside the church there is simply no testimony to be seen. Faith reorients our understanding of human dignity, fortifies our desires for justice, and releases us from the clutches of media overindulgence. We should lend our voices to reforming sports in every way we can — knowing that our loudest votes for or against the current state of the NFL come through our money and time.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 6 (Listen 3:34)
1 Corinthians 16 (Listen 2:54)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 7 (Listen 4:26) 2 Corinthians 1 (Listen 3:52)
2 Samuel 8-9 (Listen 4:51) 2 Corinthians 2 (Listen 2:13)


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TBT :: The Transcendence and Sufficiency of the Gospel

1 Corinthians 15.1-2
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 
By Leonard Ravenhill
In 1912 H.G. Wells said, “It is possible for us to have a new race of people by intellectual and biological processes. We don’t need the Bible, we don’t need the church, we can pull down the hills of wealth, we can fill up the valleys of poverty.”
  • He didn’t talk about sin and redemption and wickedness.
  • He talked about the adequacy of materialism.
  • He talked about the inevitability of progress.
  • He talked about the sufficiency of man.
  • They were going to bring in a new millennium by their own genius.
And then a shadow came over the sky. We had the 1914-18 war.
In 1939 came the 2nd World War.
H. G. Wells had written his outline of history, but the last book he wrote, in the middle of World War II, was not this rosy optimism. His last book was Mind at the end of it’s Tether. And he said, “There is no hope for humanity.” And he said one more sensible thing, “There is a little cavity somewhere in the human breast which can be filled by God and only by God.”
We miss the mark telling people who are morally good, and very excellent many of them, that Jesus Christ came into the world to make bad men good. He did not. That’s a fringe benefit.
The first argument God has with a man is not that he’s bad, it’s that he is DEAD in trespasses and in sin. And Christianity is the only Gospel in the world, the only message in the world, where a man’s God comes and lives inside of him.
I believe one key to the apostle Paul’s life was this, “This – one – thing – I – do.” He lived God. He thought God. He prayed God. That’s all.
  • You can lash him, you can’t whip it out of him.
  • He can float on a piece of wood in the Mediterranean a night and a day – thirty six hours, you can’t wash it out of him.
  • They tried to starve him, you can’t starve it out of him.
He’d had a vision of the cross, he’d had a vision of the resurrection power.
He’d realized the greatest thing this side of eternity is to be a God filled man. And goes out and proclaims that message, whether he goes to Jews, to barbarians, the Greeks, the intellectuals. He is as at home in the intellectual capital of the world, Athens, as he is in the religious capital of the world, Jerusalem.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen – 6:10)
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen – 8:06)


Judging by Appearance

1 Corinthians 14.25
[Through prophecy] the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 
Americans spend just less than half a trillion dollars each year on beauty and personal care products.
Market research firm Euromoniter International reveals that the rise of the selfie has been equally matched by a rise in skin-care products. Prolific selfie-takers — likely descendants of the Greek god Narcissus — want their skin to appear smooth and perfect, and they’re willing to pay for it. If not in product, in a host of apps designed to shelter reality from friends and potential mates.
The American obsession with appearance goes far deeper, and has far darker consequences, especially in regards to weight. Vanderbilt Law School Professor Jennifer Bennett Shinall’s research reveales the impact is greatest upon women, “As women become heavier, they become less educated and earn lower wages.”
“Normal weight women, on average, have over a year more education and make almost seven dollars more per hour than morbidly obese women.” — Jennifer Bennett Shinnall
Fortunately there is increasingly more conversation about appearance discrimination. Unfortunately most of it is built around self-actualization and the ability to control the darkness in our hearts. In contrast, the story of what happened in Corinth isn’t about the church learning to get better at tolerating the appearances of those outside of it.
We cannot see the heart of another person nor, if we’re honest in our evaluation, do we often give it significant weight even when we do. God’s message to the church in Corinth stretched them beyond themselves; pursue your faith in ways which draw you nearer to me; I see what you can’t.
God’s calling is one of trust and dependance in order to overcome our pride and brokenness. And it goes a step farther: the logical assumption is that God not only sees others’ hearts but ours as well.
Our sophisticated ways of managing our external lives are the selfie-enhancing-face-cream of hiding the darkness in our hearts.
Human beings are profoundly strong creations with the strength to appear how we want. God sees past our tailored clothes, resumes, and curated social feeds. But only the sacrificial work of Christ is sufficient to forgive, restore, and redeem the secrets of the heart.
What good news it is that God loves us first. It is only when we live in this reality that we can take part in communities which look past the appearances of others, forgive them if they have hurt us, and demonstrate Christ’s love in such radical and beautiful ways that they are welcomed in to restoration, healing, and new life.
Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 3 (Listen – 6:35)
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen – 5:40)

Fatherhood’s Collapse, Love’s Destruction

1 Corinthians 13.13

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

There are few ways to understate the brokenness of fatherhood in our culture. The Washington Times reports that 11% of kids grew up in a home without a father in 1960. Today that number is over 33%.

“The scale of marital breakdowns in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of. There has been nothing like it for the last 2,000 years, and probably longer.” — Lawrence Tone, Princeton Historian

Paternal absence is so high — near pandemic — that we have barely began a public conversation on quality or character of fathers. For many, it wasn’t a father’s absence, but the character and quality of his presence that left the deepest wounds.
While Scripture uses many images for God, few of them create the mixed emotions of talking about God as Father. The effects of this reaction cannot be underestimated. Our view of love is anemic because our view of fatherhood is so damaged. It is God’s fatherhood that gives the depth, intimacy, and love we desire most.

If God is only a teacher, we miss the relational depth we need. If he is only creator we lack intimacy with him (he is like a watchmaker). If he’s only a judge he can love the law, but isn’t required to love the one in his courtroom.

The Christian view of God as father does not simply take the characteristics of earthly fathers and polish them up a bit. God as our Father creates a new image of a good, true, and perfect Father.
But where is this fatherhood rooted? The Bible says God is love. Not just that he has love or shows love, but that his very nature is love. In this sense, 1 Corinthians 13 could be paraphrased:

Dad is patient. Dad is kind. Dad does not envy or boast. Dad is not arrogant. Dad is not rude. Dad does not insist on his own way. Dad is not irritable. Dad is not resentful. Dad does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Dad bears all things for his kids. Dad believes all things about his kids. Dad hopes all things for his kids. Dad endures all things for his kids. Dad’s love never ends.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 2 (Listen – 5:07)
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:23)

Sept 4

Humor’s Moral Purpose :: The Weekend Reading List

“Laughter has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometime be refreshed.” — John Chrysostom
Stephen Colbert taking over the desk of The Late Show this coming Tuesday is the crescendo of the past two decades of comedy. Modern comedy’s cocktail of political satire, tongue-in-cheek commentary, investigative reporting, nonsense, and Roonian rants — neatly packaged to go viral online — is now firmly rooted in prime time.

Scripture instructs believers to pray for “kings, and all who are in high positions.” Praying for those in government is often talked about; praying for cultural influencers (those “in high positions”) is often overlooked.
“For however often Jon Stewart and Colbert dismissed the notion that they had any mission beyond the (very difficult) one of telling great jokes, they had become a portal through which viewers made sense of American insanity. Their shows served as dense clouds of satirical antimatter.” — Joel Lovell
The Atlantic observes that “there are two broad things happening right now—comedy with moral messaging, and comedy with mass attention—and their combined effect is this: Comedians have taken on the role of public intellectuals.”
“Amy Schumer on misogyny, Key and Peele on terrorism, Louis C.K. on parenting, Sarah Silverman on Rand Paul, John Oliver on FIFA … these are bits intended not just to help us escape from the realities of the world, but also, and more so, to help us understand them. Comedians are fashioning themselves not just as joke-tellers, but as truth-tellers—as intellectual and moral guides through the cultural debates of the moment.” — Megan Garber
Long before the comedic pundits of today, G.K. Chesterton asserted that, “Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or in German.” While not all comedians are truth tellers, we can’t overlook the nuance and depth of work in those trying to integrate faith, truth, and goodness into satire.
GQ called Colbert “one of the country’s few public moral intellectuals.” The fashion magazine’s cover story highlights his faith as a core component of both the comedian’s worldview and work. At his previous show, Colbert had a quote from Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin taped to his screen: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.”
“That impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I’ll start there. That’s my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next—the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.” — Stephen Colbert
As Colbert alludes, modern comedy may continue to influence culture and belief, but faith is handed down from family and cultivated by the church.
Martin Luther believed that “You have as much laughter as you have faith.” Because of grace Christians are free to enjoy satire. The firm foundation of faith allows us to laugh at our sometimes absurd world while also trusting a God whose love, grace, and justice transcend our momentary realities.
Today’s Reading
1 Samuel 28 (Listen – 4:04)
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 4:04)
This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: 1 Samuel 29-30 (Listen – 6:13); 1 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 4:04)
Sunday: 1 Samuel 31 (Listen – 2:03); 1 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:20)
The Weekend Reading List