Monthly Archives: June 2013

Promoting Wrestling: An Idea

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to teach wrestling to elementary age and middle school kids from North Minneapolis. Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis did their two-day Vacation Bible School (VBS for you church types) on the campus of Augsburg College.

There I was, in the Augsburg wrestling room, with about 10-15 kids, trying to keep them organized and focused, running them through drills and teaching moves; wrestling a little live and playing a game. We had a blast during those 50 minutes, even though I had to constantly work to hold their attention.

There was one moment though, when their attention was held 100%: I ran into one of our wrestlers getting a lift in about an hour earlier, and I asked him to come in and talk about where he came from, how he got started in the sport, and why he loved it, and loved wrestling for Augsburg. And he came in and talked, and the kids listened to every.single.word. It was incredible.

It got me thinking: we’re trying so hard to promote the sport of wrestling these days. With the sport trying to gain inclusion into the 2020 Olympics after being eliminated from the program, and with college wrestling programs always being threatened with elimination because of revenue and Title IX, we’re looking for all sorts of ways to grow the sport.

In my mind, I wonder if as college coaches, and even high school ones, if we need to expose young kids, parents, and adult to our athletes more. I wonder if we let our athletes tell their stories and why the sport means so much to them, perhaps that is the best PR we have, and thus the best way to promote the sport.

It was interesting too, because there was a parent in the room, and as much as she appreciated my working with the kids, she appreciated more what my wrestler had to say to the kids. “Our kids need to hear more messages like that from college kids.” she said.

Our athletes are already front and center – they’re the ones competing. I wonder if we put them front and center in promoting the sport – in ways like this – as much as possible, we might just generate even more interest in our great sport. Maybe it’s less about coaches and other upper level folks in wrestling being the ones promoting the sport. I say, let’s use our best asset: our athletes and their amazing stories.

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Wisdom from the Mat: Wrestling Camps

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working at Augsburg College’s wrestling camps. It was a hectic two weeks: up at 7am every morning, and done around 9 or 10pm every night. So today, the first day after camps, I can honestly say I’m exhausted and recovering. But, it was a great two weeks, and I’d like to share with you why:

1. Hanging out with youth and young adults is awesome. I got to coach a high school team who didn’t have their coach with them this week; I got to teach technique to kids 12 and under; I got to spend time with our current Augsburg wrestlers and I got to know the incoming freshman for this fall. Let me tell you this: there is nothing more energizing and life-giving than living life with young people around a shared passion. You learn so much, laugh a lot, and have some pretty meaningful conversations as well. I’ve said it before: wrestling’s one of those sports where life is mirrored pretty accurately – you get to see people’s good and bad sides, you get to see what makes them tick, and what ticks them off; and you say and do things that are just downright ridiculous and funny.

2. Wrestling is the most inclusive, diverse, and fair sport and community I know. Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme, because no community is 100% inclusive and diverse. But bear with me for a second: think about it. This past week, there were kids from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds and contexts, racial ethnicities (at least as much as possible in Minnesota!), physical and psychological abilities, and even gender (yup, had a female camper this past week). It’s a sport in which as long as you both weigh relatively the same, there’s no reason you can’t compete against each other.

And in camp, everyone wrestles. I saw kids who were out for the first time and kids who were multiple state and national champions. I coached a kid with learning and emotional disabilities. Think about it: who can’t wrestle? You can be any body shape or size – you can be blind, deaf, without a hand or limb (or in some cases I know, without any full-sized limbs).

We talk a lot about the need for diversity and inclusivity in this country and in our society as a whole. What bothers me is that we push the one sport that actually exudes and lives it as a part of its culture to the margins. Kids learn this important lesson at wrestling camp, and from the sport: you may not like the kid across from you. You may think they’re weird, strange, or completely backwards. But you have to respect that person for having the courage to step on the same mat with you and face you. You have to respect that that person is just that: a person; someone who has put in the same amount of effort, and is just entitled to the opportunity to win a match as you are. Win or lose….respect is paramount.

3. Honesty is rare, but honesty is always the best bet. Ok, my wife tells me this all the time: wrestlers are strange. We’re a bit to aggressive most of the time, and a bit too outspoken for our own good. When I hang out with wrestlers, I become a bit too abrasive, a bit more aggressive than normal.

But that comes from honesty. I think that mindset comes from the fact that more than any other sport, wrestling demands honesty. You have to be honest with yourself and with others, and where you stand with them. It’s funny, we hardly ever agree. In fact, we often are so stubborn we don’t give into each other. But we’re always honest with each other. And we can laugh about our shortcomings in the patience and temperament department. But I will always appreciate the honesty I know I get from those I know in wrestling – I can ask them for feedback, and I’ll always get a straight answer. I’ll always know where I’ll stand.

4. Life is about living passionately. You might as well do what you love in this life….it’s too short. And, it’s what God intends…at least the way I understand it. As I age (I’m almost 35) I’m starting to realize that my body physically cannot keep up with 18-24 year olds any more. But I never feel more alive than when I’m drilling or wrestling live. It’s not about winning or dominating so much any more; (ok, it is more than I care to admit!) it’s about that rush I get from pushing myself physically and mentally when I know it’s becoming less and less possible as I age. It’s about doing something that makes me feel alive when I do it….and it reminds me that such a mindset should extend into all other aspects of our lives as well. Be fully alive – in our relationships, families, jobs, pursuits, etc.

As I sit here, I wish life were more like my sport: more honest, more passionate, more diverse and inclusive, and just full of life-giving interactions in general.

But then I ask myself: What’s stopping life from being that way? So maybe I’ll take a cue from these past two weeks of wrestling camp, and from the sport I love so much – I’ll bring a little of my wrestling culture to the other aspects of my life…and maybe it’ll be better for it.

And perhaps, with some of these lessons you can do the same…..and I would encourage you to check out this awesome sport that I and many others love so much: wrestling. In fact, a great opportunity is this weekend. The U.S. World Team Trials is going on this weekend. They’re being streamed in the internet – check out FloWrestling.

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“Christianization” & Kid Bishop: Backlash

Well, it seems my previous post caused a stir with a few folk. I accept that; again, it’s what I get for my rash response, and somewhat insensitive one. However, I did get this comment:

As my grandson said, “IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!!!” Cannot imagine how someone so mean and judgemental of a child barely 9. years old coud become a Lutheran pastor. Think about wrestling or boxing. You need to release your hypocrisy.

Well, there ya go……and I say, “fair enough.”

I did e-mail her back though. Here’s my response. To all of you, regarding my original post: “Am I out of line?”

Ma’am,

Thank your for you passionate comment. I understand from your place, how you would understand my comments.

Please hear me out on this: my attack isn’t on your grandson. I’m sure the makers of this video did it in good faith, and with the best of intentions. I’ve gotten such comments and I understand where they come from.

I just wonder: how does such a message look to outsiders? As a minority, I am offended in some ways that our ELCA, that wants to celebrate diversity, rather than celebrate the message of a “secular” voice, a young African-American boy, feels the need to put out a “better message.” A “Christian” message. And from an ELCA that is VERY white, I found it hypocritical of the message of diversity the ELCA prides itself on.

This is not an attack on your grandson, ma’am….this is not his message, in my eyes. He plays the part he was asked to play well. I only hope those the made the video would consider the message they are sending to a world that finds us hypocritical and insensitive to the needs of others, particularly non-Christians. I think we need to honor a world God is present and active in, and that means those skeptical of Christian faith, rather than think and believe it our mission to save it and them with our Christian works and service. It goes to the integrity of not only the Lutheran tradition, but the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again, I don’t want to change your feelings; they are yours and you have every right to voice them. In fact, I appreciate and thank your for them. However, I cannot apologize for my own stance & criticism – criticism not of your grandson, but of the messages of exclusivity and piety we inadvertently perpetuate.

The ELCA is a place of respectful conversation, even in disagreement. If you would like to converse further, I would welcome it. If not, I wish God’s blessings upon you.

Sincerely,
Aaron Fuller

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Filed under Children, Youth, Family & Young Adult Ministry, Culture & Social Issues/Ethics, Missional Thinking & The Church

On “Christianizing” the World & Life

This morning, I checked into Facebook and saw that a Synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA-the church I’m affiliated with) produced a video called “Kid Bishop” that mimicked the popular Kid President videos that have gone viral on YouTube.

Of course, I reacted pretty strongly to it….to put it bluntly, it pissed me off. It’s one of my biggest annoyances with the church and Christian culture in general – taking something from popular culture and putting out a Christian version of it. But, in my rashness I posted a rant on Facebook, which I usually condemn in others. So I’m guilty of hyprocracy and a lack of tact, I’ll own up to that.

Here is my Facebook status post, my reaction to “Kid Bishop.”

1. This is horrible.
2. It isn’t witness or mission.
3. For a church that keeps telling everyone that they’re all about diversity: Really? A white kid? And with the implication his message is better than Kid President’s? (A black kid)
3. I still like Kid President better. A whole lot more.
4. I know I’m being extremely judgmental. But sorry, I think this is just wrong.

I got called on my status by another person in the ELCA…a pastor. And I’m glad she did: one, it reminded me what a jerk I can be sometimes, which I need to be kept in check on (my wife will affirm that!), and two, I got me to reflect a bit more on the problem of what I call “Christianizing” the world and life around us.

First off, when it’s done the quality is poor and it’s just plain cheesy: poor acting, poorly constructed puns and jokes based on insider language. In that light, it makes Christian faith out as some sort of bad novelty. While all for embracing awkwardness and nerdiness, I’m not sure I want the core of Christian faith and the life of the church to be banished to the realm of novelty, a la Trekkies or Star Wars.

I think there is something deeper to Christianizing: it sends the message to both those inside and outside the church that Christian life is significantly of more value than secular life. It effectively says, “The message of the church is infinitely better than any message that the world could ever come up with.” Kid Bishop and his message is infinitely better than Kid President’s. If we believe that, it runs contrary to the core of a Lutheran understanding of mission. Mission is witness: sharing and telling the good news about Jesus Christ. But it’s a witness that says, here is how faith has changed my life and how I see this world. It is NOT a witness that says, faith is important, and this is why you should believe and buy into it.

A good friend of mine hit it on the head – such a statement is only for insiders, those within the church. But it isn’t for those outside the church. And perhaps Christianizing things has a place then…but the result is brand-loyalty, not a deeper sense of an experience with God’s grace and a call to discipleship and mission of witness and service to others.

Christian mission asserts and takes seriously God’s activity and presence in the world….at least in Lutheran circles. When we are constantly Christianizing secular messages and things, we negate the value of a world that God created, redeems and gives life to. We marginalize this world that God loves for the benefit of increasing our piety.

And, we deny God’s very presence and activity in the world and in secular things, which runs contrary to the Theology of the Cross. A Theology of the Cross says that is EXACTLY where God is found – in the world. In ordinary things. In human suffering and weakness. In human longing for reconciliation, freedom, and hope.

I think I’ll keep my rant posted on Facebook, because I think it’s high time the church gets out of the business of Christianizing the world, and instead proclaiming that the messages of hope we hear in the world – cries for justice, love, peace, belonging, community – messages from the likes of Kid President, are synonymous with God’s message to the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics, Missional Thinking & The Church