Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Archive for May, 2016

On Instant Replay

Posted by flyingbk on 05/18/2016

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We live in the golden age of watching sports. Social media (especially Twitter) has allowed for quite the enhanced viewing experience. It’s like we’re all spectating and cheering with one another at a virtual neighborhood bar. For example, when the Mets won the National League pennant last October, one of my primary reflexes was to check my Twitter baseball list and re-tweet a wave of celebration; it’s the online equivalent of a high-five and hug.

These days, it’s also easy to know when the sports Twitterati will become outraged. One such instance occurred in last night’s Mets-Nationals game (one-word game summary: THORRRRRRRR). In the bottom of the 8th inning, the first base umpire blew a call, temporarily robbing Washington of a turned double play. But because Nats manager Dusty Baker had already used his challenge, the play could only be reviewed if the umpires decided to take a look. The umps did take a look, and properly reversed the call. Sure enough, on Twitter, there was explosion. The main outcry was that it wasn’t fair to take a look at it since Baker had used up his challenge.

But. Isn’t the point of instant replay to get the call right? Sure, the call hurt my team, but the call upon further review was correct. What last night’s instance does prove is that the current replay system in baseball is highly flawed. Last week, in a Mets-Dodgers game, Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts asked the umpire to wait THREE different times in the same half inning so that he could decide whether he wanted to challenge the call. Not to challenge the call, mind you, but to simply choose if he wanted to use his challenge. This is highly inefficient.

The same applies in the NFL, which also possesses a preposterous replay system. There is a simple remedy to all this madness, and it’s a little mind-blowing to me that college football has the right idea while the pros do not.

In both MLB and NFL, you do the following: There’s another referee/umpire on site. Only he decides if a play should be reviewed. He immediately buzzes his colleague if he wants to take a look, and then he makes a speedy ruling. Here’s why that’s better: 1) Games would be faster. Roberts, or any manager, holding out his hand for the umpires and fans and players to all wait is silliness. A football coach taking out his red challenge flag from his sock is even more silly.

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But here’s the main reason why the current replay systems are awful: Why are we giving football coaches and baseball managers even more responsibilities?? There’s enough on their plates as is. These guys are control freaks; if you give them the agency to challenge any play (however insignificant in the flow of the game), they can’t help themselves. These are the same fools whose reflex is to punt at their opponents’ 40-yard line or bunt when the opposing pitcher is wild. How many times have we seen a NFL coach throw the red flag on a early drive or a baseball manager use up his challenge in the first inning? They are as helpless as Odysseus when the siren of any extra form of control cries out to them. (Sadly, this is also a trend in any power structure- bosses, even pastors, end up garnering more roles when they’re not even good at those things.)

Let’s get rid of all that. Let the NFL coach not have to worry about a red flag. Let the baseball manager go back to looking silly on the top step of the dugout in his sweatshirt. The game will be faster, there’ll be less dead time in contests, and the honchos won’t look as dumb. Everyone wins!

Also, if you have a replay ump in baseball, you still keep the number of umpires in a game at four. Why four and not five? That’s because the replay ump would replace the home plate umpire, who should be replaced with a robot. But that’s a topic for another time.

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Peterson Ch. 4: The Apocalyptic Pastor

Posted by flyingbk on 05/10/2016

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The famous words of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden come to mind while reading the fourth chapter of Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” (And there may not be a better example than Steph Curry’s overtime blitz last night. My, my goodness.)

Referencing Revelation, Peterson names St. John his “patron saint for pastors.” There is a similar vein to chapter 3 about we all just want to live ordinary, crisis-proof lives and simply desire for pastors to serve as “checkout clerks” of religious goods. The prescription in that chapter was subversion. In this chapter, it’s apocalypse:

Apocalypse is arson – it secretly sets a fire in the imagination that boils the fat out of an obese culture-religion and renders a clear gospel love, a pure gospel hope, a purged gospel faith.

Peterson writes about apocalyptic prayer, poetry, and patience. He notes how John is praying in the Spirit in Revelation 1:9-10 and is in fact praying throughout the entire book up to 22:20: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” There is listening, silence, constant alertness.

One danger as a pastor is to provide silver, bite-size linguistic bullets. To share a thought, provide an insight, but to keep it short and palatable so that the listener feels fixed up and we both walk away all warm and fuzzy.

No. We must pray. One way I’ve been challenged recently is how often I tell people that I will pray for them, but then I really don’t (don’t tell anyone). Of course, a remedy is to pray on the spot, right then and there. Now that’s apocalyptic and urgent. After all:

Prayer is the most thoroughly present act we have as humans, and the most energetic: it sockets the immediate past into the immediate future and makes a flexible, living joint of them.

Next up is poetry. Again, there are similarities from last chapter in using parable as subversion. He reiterates the power of words to encourage, empower, heal, restore. It is such a high privilege for a pastor to take time to craft his words carefully when he preaches, teaches, leads, counsels, even socializes. We get to assemble sounds and images on a regular basis and they will pack quite the punch if we learn how to deploy them.

John certainly utilizes his entire toolbox in Revelation. It’s a book that is meant to be fully engaged by our imagination. In his wonderful book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Tony Reinke writes about the power of a sanctified imagination, and uses Revelation as his primary example:

The imagery in Revelation was written to make us holy…
The imagination-stretching images are God’s way of sliding the spiritual defibrillator over the slowing hearts of sluggish Christians. The images are for Christians who are growing lazy and beginning to compromise with the world, Christians who are allowing their hearts to become gradually hardened by sin. The answer is a spiritual shock. It is God’s way of confronting worldliness and idolatry in the church…
This explains how the images in Revelation are heeded. The images give us eternal focus and cause us to reevaluate our priorities. The images fuel our zeal to kill personal sin, keep us alert to the purity of the local church, inform our counsel for fellow sinners, deepen our love for the lost, make us diligent in prayer, disgust us with personal idolatry, dissatisfy us with worldliness, and stir a longing in our hearts for Christ’s return. Revelation invites us to see ultimate reality through our imaginations, in breathtaking, earth-scorching, mind-stretching, sin-defeating, dragon-slaying, Christ-centered, God-glorifying images that change the way we think, act, and speak. To view imaginative literature as a genre fit only for the amusement of children is an act of spiritual negligence.

(Yeah, definitely read this book if you haven’t.) Bible reading tip: Whenever you come across any word image, take time to visualize it just right, and get lost in that image. Then you witness the power of a sanctified imagination. We lose so much today in our image-based society when movies and TV shows and video games do all the work for us.

Now we get to the Wooden flourish. John writes in Revelation 1:9 (NIV): “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (emphasis mine). This is a super duper long patience (hypo is the Greek root here). Pastors need to be exceedingly patient with all people. There is ever urgency, but the work of God’s kingdom takes time. Peterson wryly notes that “an impatient person never finishes [Revelation].”

Sadly, that’s why we often institute programs. Programs are more facile and miles less messy than people. It’s easier to measure the success of programs than the growth of people. But a pastor must never lose sight of his main calling as a shepherd.

In the end:

Apocalypse ignites a sense of urgency, but it quenches shortcuts and hurry, for the times are in God’s hands.

Amen. May we strike that right balance, and always keep in mind that the ‘earth is a tomb.’ Take it away, Islander:

 

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Peterson Ch. 3: The Subversive Pastor

Posted by flyingbk on 05/03/2016

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In this chapter, Peterson essentially commissions pastors as secret agents. First, he addresses the current culture. Many churchgoers today simply want to feel safe; they want God as part of the equation, but only as one of the addends. Worship, prayer, and even salvation are marginal (he deftly refers to Christian salvation as a “brand preference”). That’s the result when America, suburbia, and our egos become the integral parts of the sum. He writes:

It is the oldest religious mistake: refusing to countenance any real difference between God and us, imagining God to be a vague extrapolation of our own desires, and then hiring a priest to manage the affairs between self and the extrapolation. And I, one of the priests they hired, am having none of it.

This is the quandary many a pastor faces: People want you to teach about, talk about, and remind them of God into their lives occasionally. They nod their heads in assent during our sermons, smile appreciatively at our encouragements, laugh courteously at our jokes. But keep the real kingdom language of battle and violence to a minimum, lest you upset the apple cart.

I believe at this point, we have two options. We can seek to assert our importance, emphasize our points with strained punch and gusto (“This is what the Bible says!”), and cajole, coax, wheedle our people to live the lives we envision for them. But here’s the rub a la Peterson:

Pastors especially seem to assume that everybody, or at least a majority, in a congregation can be either persuaded or pushed into righteousness and maybe even holiness, in spite of centuries of evidence to the contrary.

Doh. Yeah, that first approach won’t cut it. So what is a pastor to do? His prescription is gold: “truth-telling and love-making, prayer and parable.” The best example of this, of course, is Jesus. He frequently told parables, and he is a master in subversion. I’m learning more and more that there is so much genius in the way Jesus taught, and there is a wealth of tools and techniques that we can glean. I highly recommend two other books that I’m currently consuming: Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus by my self-minted late mentor Robert Farrar Capon and Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness.

Parables are fantastic because they meet the audience where they are, and the people think to themselves, “This person gets me!” And certainly, everyone loves a good story and is prone to getting lost within it (Aside: I recently started listening to NPR’s Embedded Podcast. Excellent storytelling). But in due time…

As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded!

That’s subversion at work. A good pastor is a subversive one. So in conclusion:

That pastors need an accurate knowledge of Christian doctrine is universally acknowledged; that they need practiced skill in the techniques of Christian subversion is a minority conviction. But Jesus is the Way as well as the Truth. The way the gospel is conveyed is as much a part of the kingdom as the truth presented…
Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women.

In our society today, there’s a growing de-emphasis on words. But the pastor must never fall victim to that trend. A pastor must always immerse himself in words through books, all kinds of good writing (narrative, expository, even polemic), crafted sermons and teachings, and of course, the Word of God. A pastor who uses words well, but also knows that more can be less, is an effective one.

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