Monthly Archives: February 2013

Wrestling Out of the Olympics: Another Perspective

As many of you may have heard, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to recommend wrestling be completely cut out of the Olympics as part of the regular program in 2020. As someone who’s life has been spent in the sport – competitor, coach, and fan – let’s just say I’m a little more than ticked off. But, taking a few weeks to think about this, it’s time to look at the reasons behind such a move and what it means.

Let’s get past the obvious ones: Money is the motivating factor, there was no sufficient lobbying body for wrestling, the IOC is corrupt, wrestling has some corruption in it, etc. And, there’s the discussion of values, what wrestling embodies as a sport – hard work, sacrifice, dedication, etc – isn’t valued anymore. And while there’s some merit to that, I think that isn’t the heart of the matter.

The heart of the matter is, we like to be entertained.

And not only do we like to be entertained, we like to have that entertainment come as cheaply as possible – eliminating any signs of risk and cost – what it took the athlete to get to that point, and the outright experience of losing. That’s what makes wrestling so hard to watch in my mind. It’s not so much that the rules are hard to follow, that people don’t understand the scoring system. It’s the brutal, harsh reality that comes both within and at the end of a wrestling match. Two people fighting each other in order for only one to triumph in domination, the other to experience complete failure. One person experiences joy at the expense of another. One is humbled and in some ways, humiliated at the expense of another’s triumph.

Look at the Olympic Games today – most of the events, the ones we really enjoy, are more entertainment than anything. People are judged on aethetics, form, and technique (diving, gymnastics); others are part of popular culture (basketball, hockey); others are based on indivdual skill (shooting, curling, etc). This isn’t a debate on whether they’re sports or not – because all of them require great athleticsm and skill. But they’re entertainment – they are played and marketed as such. A person can fail miserably and we as spectators don’t feel any great shame or humiliation at their failure. It was the effort – it was entertaining.

Wrestling isn’t like that. Watching the loser of a wrestling match is uncomfortable – and is very unentertaining (although some would say that watching people have a meltdown is entertaining – but they’re strange). I think it’s uncomfortable because well, it mirrors life so well. To have all your efforts and training and dreams crushed in front of people by another you were trying to do the same to, and know that really, you’re fully accountable for that result – it just plain sucks. And isn’t life like that too? We lose a job, an addiction is revealed, we have moments where we’re fully aware how inadequate we are as friends, spouses, and parents, and so forth….there is nothing funny, trivial, or entertaining about that. Our insecurities, inadequacies, and vulnerabilities are bared before the world. We’re left helpless, and there’s nowhere to escape or hide from that.

Sports today are about entertainment…as escapism. People watch sports today because I think they’re trying to find something that helps them escape those realities of risk and cost – of feeling uncomfortable and humiliated. Think about it – the NFL, the NBA, MLB, NHL…..it’s about marketing entertainment, while eliminating any mention of the cost: concussions, broken bodies, performance enhancing drugs that lead to future health problems. It’s the same with the Olympics: it’s called sport in the name of “goodwill,” but it’s primarily about entertainment.

It’s why I think wrestling and even running (the other sport that I think embodies uncomfort) don’t ever catch on. If you watch a distance race or a wrestling match, you’ll see how painful the experience is – there’s a reason why not everyone wrestles or runs distance races. Who would subject themselves to be exposed in that way – pain, undignified, and if you lose, humiliation.

But those who compete in wrestling know something: that those losses, while humiliating for a moment, build a resiliancy in us. Maybe it’s a built resistance to humiliation, pain, and shame. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not so afraid of my insecurities, vulnerabilities, and inadequaces. I can take them head on – talk about them, work on them, learn from them, and even be ok with them being exposed from time to time…..and I think that, is a more life-giving way to live.

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Filed under Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

Homecomings….

This past weekend, I headed out to Virginia Beach, VA. I was there primarily to recruit wrestlers for Augsburg College at the AAA Virginia State Wrestling Tournament. But, I got to visit and preach at my “home” congregation, St. Michael Lutheran Church. Since 2005, St. Michael has been a meaningful place for my faith. I’ve grown in so many ways – fellowship, doing youth and kids ministry, serving on church council, assisting with worship, and even utilizing my organ-playing skills during Lent in 2008 (long story).

St. Michael has also helped me through some tough times in my life – carrying me through them, and in their witness to me, helping me wrestle with tough questions about God and life, about this gospel message we proclaim, a message about the move from death to life…..cross to resurrection.

It’s been over 2 years since I’ve last been back. We still claim each other – they are my “home congregation;” I am one of their members – but there aren’t as many familiar faces, and the faces that are, aren’t as well known. It’s the reality of being away, you drift a part as you’re not so integrated into their lives on a daily basis.

However, there are some experiences that just tie us together. Last week, someone who I had known well, passed away suddenly. Her health was declining, but she got sick, and within about an hour of being in the ER, she died. This was one of a few tough deaths the congregation has been through. And, if you’ve been following this blog at all, you know from my life, that I’ve had a tough winter in the way of close deaths too. Really, death is an experience that ties all of us together. In a very striking and somber way, our mortality is one of the fundamental things of what it means to be human.

I’ve found that faith and trust are hard in such moments….but perhaps not so much in community. This mini-homecoming reminded me of that. We never trust alone – we are given the gift of people in community to surround us where God and the Spirit are present, being faithful to us, caring for us, even in the smallest of trust. It points to a God who is so faithful to us always, fully, even when we aren’t and can’t be.

We never trust alone….that’s something to be thankful for, and perhaps, something that nurtures and strengthens our own meager faith.

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Filed under Church Devotions (Advent/Lent, etc)

For Pastors & Pastor-types: What I’m giving up for Lent…

I’m giving up reading bible commentaries for Lent.

Ok, before you judge and condemn me of committing pastoral suicide, hear me out. First, I value scholarship and the insights that come from them. Systematic Theology helps us in that it assists in deepening an understanding of God, bolstering our own theology (we all have a working theology, which are simply notions of who God is and how and why God acts). But, theology is NOT God’s Word.

I differentiate God’s Word from “where God speaks.” God speaks through not only scripture, but the tradition (theology) and personal witness as well. But, I think one of the problems I have with my tradition is the emphasis that gets placed on systematic theology that comes from high intellectual scholarship. And I’ll be blunt: God’s Word is not the same as the words of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Rolf Jacobson, Andy Root, David Lose…..the list goes on.

That’s not to say I don’t value the insights of these folks, but I’ve discovered recently, in my preparation for preaching and teaching, that I gloss over the biblical text, and then go straight to the commentary or exegetical study, usually written by someone else. And when I don’t do that, I start with my own notions of what I think the text is saying, and look for it in the text. And honestly, that is a BAD thing….because it shows a lack of trust and faith in God’s Word to say something meaningful on its own on my part.

Lent’s theme is often one of repentance, which is simply, “turning towards, or orientating one’s total self, to God.” And I think reading biblical texts only will be beneficial in that way, and in a number of ways.

– I have to struggle with the biblical text.
– I have to reflect on who God is and what God is doing with respect to my life, the lives of others.
– I have to reflect on what God may or may not be saying with others, actual living people, who may or may not agree with me, and will actually talk back to me.
– I run the risk of engaging other theological traditions, and actually seeing what’s beneficial in them.
– I have to actually fully engage the Biblical text as God’s Word.

Assumption/Disclaimer here: For those of you on the more “liberal” side of our Liberal, Mainline, Protestant tradition, I equate God’s Word with the Bible. In the Lutheran tradition, scripture is the “norming norm.” Read: it’s not infallible, not without error. But it is inspired, it is normative for Christian faith and interpretation.

And if that’s the case, then I suppose it’s not necessarily a horrible thing I give up commentaries for Lent….

PS: Also, my internship congregation is using the Narrative Lectionary. We’re studying the Parables in Luke for Lent, so perhaps my Lenten discipline is a perfect way to engage and be surprised and amazed by these stories anew!!

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The Transfiguration Sermon I’ll never preach.

em>For some reason, I decided to write a sermon for this Sunday, known as Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a weird story, a weird celebration of the Church…but for some reason I felt compelled to speak. Or write, I suppose.

Here’s the funny thing: I’m not preaching this Sunday. And, I doubt I would ever preach this sermon ever in a church for lots of reasons: unhealthy self-disclosure, too “dark” and cynical, it’s rough and unpolished, etc. Perhaps I really just wrote it for me, because of what’s going on in my life right now.

And so, here’s the “sermon” I wrote. I’ve always been hesitant to post a sermon….seems narcisstic. And, you never get the full weight of delivery, the spoken word. But, perhaps I do because it’s healing in some way, and well, I feel compelled to share with you.

Thanks for taking time to read this, and all my posts, folks.

Transfiguration Sermon_Mom<

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