Thursday, February 24, 2011

God and High School Wrestling

If you watch SportsCenter, or read, you'll have heard about Cassy Herkelman's victory over Joel Northrup at the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament to become the first girl in the history of the tournament to win a match. The twist? Northrup defaulted, rather than wrestle her.

The reasons Northrup gave for his decision to default were that "wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner." By invoking God, Northrup invoked the wrath of notable columnist and Damon Runyon Award winner for "outstanding contributions to sports journalism" Rick Reilly. In his February 19 column, Reilly wrote that God has no place on the wrestling mat. When the other competitors, including the Herkelmans, praised Northrup for being "strong in his religion" and claimed that "you have to respect that," Reilly asked why:
"Does any wrong-headed decision suddenly become right when defended with religious conviction? In this age, don't we know better? If my God told me to poke the elderly with sharp sticks, would that make it morally acceptable to others?"

Now, I have several problems with Reilly's stance on this matter. First of all, his argument (if it can be called that) is a classic straw man. He sets up something that is obviously flawed (the comparison between Northrup's decision and poking the elderly with sharp sticks) just so he can knock it down. There is an obvious, and huge, difference, between a person declining to participate in an event (passivity) because they believe the are doing what God has required of them and actively engaging in the wounding of others for the same reason. It feels silly even to type it. Clearly, there are sins of passivity: when we say that confession each week, we confess our sins, both things done and left undone. But it is ultimately a fool's errand to decide what God has called a certain person to do, and whether or not that person is being faithful to that call.

My larger issue with Reilly is his claim that God shouldn't be involved at all. What good is religious conviction if there are limits to its applicability? Reilly's use of the phrase "in this age, don't we know better" is particularly troubling. Such language has been used to shunt God off to a supposedly impotent corner so that we can do just what we want with supposed impunity. I say "supposedly" and "supposed" because God is not impotent and we remain liable for the things we do. God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7).
Again, I am not making "sinful" or "righteous" assignations to Northrup's decision. I am merely suggesting that while, as Reilly rightly notes, it does not "say in the Bible not to wrestle against girls? Or compete against them? What religion forbids the two-point reversal?," it is imprudent to suggest that there are areas of our lives, be they our business practices or our wrestling strategies, that are free from the touch of God's power.
And what of other things we hold dear, better than which, "in this age," we seem to know? Like the idea that we are not ultimately judged according to our deeds or that a criminal's death can save the world? In some sense, Reilly's appeal to "this age" undercuts his own argument. This age is twisted like any other, and, despite our protestations, we don't know any better.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Truth from The Onion

'How Could Someone Do Such A Thing?' Populace Wonders Of Event That Has Transpired Literally Millions Of Times

BRANDON, SD—As more details emerged of Friday's horrible but relatively commonplace manifestation of human nature in Brandon, SD, citizens nationwide somehow managed to enter a state of shock, apparently struggling to comprehend an act that, throughout history, has happened thousands upon thousands of times.

In the wake of the tragedy, Americans have expressed a deep sense of bewilderment, though it is unclear why, given that events just like the one Friday have taken place frequently throughout their lifetimes.

"I still can't believe what happened," said 48-year-old Linda Durland of Atlanta, who for some reason has been unable to extrapolate from literally millions of previous examples the fact that such acts inevitably repeat themselves. "It's just unthinkable."

You never expect something like this to happen," said 29-year-old Brandon resident Janine Ackerman, though she would be justified in expecting something like this to happen, and then happen again and again and again, and so on, ad infinitum. "It just came out of nowhere."

At hundreds of vigils held throughout the country Saturday night, Americans came together to mourn the victims of the incident. According to reports, many collectively vowed to ensure that an episode like this never happens again, a pledge that people must rationally have no intention of keeping, as it would entail the impossible task of forever altering basic human nature.

In Brandon, the mood reportedly remained one of stunned disbelief this weekend, as residents grappled with how their community had become the scene of such tragedy, all of them presumably under the impression that their town is something other than a collection of human beings, which is all that appears to be required for such an act to occur.

"If it's possible for something positive to come out of this terrible turn of events, perhaps it will make people stop for a moment and realize how short and precious life is," said Daniel Romero, 45, of El Paso, TX, who, until this event, seemed to have somehow ignored the most omnipresent characteristic of his species: its mortality. "You have to recognize that each day you have is a gift and always remember to cherish your loved ones."

At press time, Romero remained unaware that he, like everyone else in America, will completely forget the incident within a week and then abandon his own sensible advice.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Aladdin Makes No Sense

As I've said before, having a two-year-old has made me a connoisseur of Disney movies. When you watch these movies over and over again, things start to jump out at you. Only sometimes, when you're lucky, are they useful, theological things.

One of these things has ruined Aladdin for me forever. The thing I noticed is this: The genie mis-grants one of Aladdin's wishes! Aladdin wishes to be a prince, so that he can impress and marry Jasmine, but the genie only makes Aladdin appear to be a prince! He gets the trappings but not the juice. Obviously, this is important, as it provides the story's main conflict...but it's a HUGE plot hole. When Jafar controls the genie, and wishes to be Sultan, he is made the ACTUAL Sultan. When he wishes to be an all-powerful genie, he is made an ACTUAL genie. In neither case does Jafar's wish only grant him the APPEARANCE of his wished-for state.

Therefore, dear reader, I submit to you that Aladdin got gypped.

If we can liken our omnipotent God to Aladdin's all-powerful genie, we need to make sure we don't get gypped. When we're promised righteousness and salvation as a free gift (a granted wish) we need to make sure it's real. Not a shadow or a trick. It can't be something we're called to account for later, as Aladdin is.

And, in fact, our righteousness is precisely the opposite of Aladdin's prince-hood. Aladdin appears to be a prince, but isn't. All the genie's power went into the robes, menagerie, coterie, and theme song. And it's a catchy song. But there's no magic left to make Aladdin an ACTUAL prince, which is all that really matters. We, on the other hand, appear to be unchanged in the slightest. We are beset by the same selfishness, the same mercurial nature, the same everything. None of God's power has gone to changing our exteriors. What HAS happened, though, is a total renovation of our nature. We have become the princes that we wished to be, looks be damned.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Mom Lied to Me

You probably heard it when you were a kid, too: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Our moms said this so that the merciless taunts might be forgotten. Though well-meaning, it's just not true. A good friend once amended the platitude: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will [expletive] up my life forever."

Exhibit A consists of the many wounds we all still carry from all the times we've been derided, scorned, excluded, and shunned. Witness Exhibit B:

That was Peyton Manning, interviewed at the Pro Bowl in 2003 about Mike Vanderjagt, the then-kicker for his Indianapolis Colts. Vanderjagt had questioned Manning's leadership ability on a Canadian TV show, and this was Manning's frustrated response. A few seasons later, Vanderjagt was cut, and has been out of pro football ever since. The "liquored-up" tag has stuck. Vanderjagt even has a legal affadavit, signed by Manning, stating that his characterization of Vanderjagt as "liquored-up" was inaccurate. Details of Vanderjagt's story since the incident can be found in a very well-written article HERE.

Suffice it to say, words are powerful. Sticks and stones may hurt, to be sure, but words can hurt, too, and the damage can last longer.
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