Being the church is a team sport

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2

That’s Eugene Peterson’s version of Paul’s earnest appeal to the Romans. Paul is telling them to stick with Jesus and not get sucked into the ways of the world. It was a temptation 2000 years ago, and I think the situation has gotten worse!

Not sure this is what Paul meant in Romans 12.

Paul is addressing the Romans who live in a huge, influential, and coercive empire. In fact, that empire is so influential there is almost nothing that has influenced the Western World more. The worry for Christians in Rome seems to be that they may be too radical for their own good and get killed off. On the other hand, they may just take a page out of Corinth’s playbook and be indistinguishable from the world.

I think Paul is talking about Jesus transforming his whole body. But since Paul’s words get abused all the time (see the much-misinterpreted chapter 13), you could actually think that he is telling us to be radical individuals. I don’t even think our concept of individuality existed then. So I think we should think again if we think our style of dress and preference for music is what makes us who we are in Jesus and adherents to Paul’s charge in Romans 12.

It’s a hard balance. I want to be a real part of the world, all things to all people, so that I can be effective in helping people follow Jesus. I want the world change from the inside-out too.

The church, in general, seems to have fled to the other side of this argument and merely developed its own subculture. When religion is cultural, it may as well be a social construct. I’m thankful that my faith is based on revelation and not just on something as arbitrary as culture.

I don’t think anyone is immune from valuing their individuality over the greater good. After the Reformation the church, at large, became reduced down to people’s preferences. That’s how so many denominations formed. We made our preferences in dogma and I think that weakened our efforts. It’s ironic because the church is known for “hypocritical,” “judgmental” and “anti-gay.” As a collective, we have separated ourselves into insignificant categories, in the name of pluralism and diversity, but we still cannot seem to knock the negative stereotypes.

These labels sometimes cause Christians to rebel because they are embarrassed about how Christians usually work and we hide Jesus and talk about cooler, but still Jesus-y, things. Could be anything, really, that we want to adorn Jesus with so that he seems acceptable. We want to adorn him with a new thing because the old adornment didn’t work.

So we make him a national symbol. We say he guides the military and the president. We start to study him and talk intelligently and academically about him. We turn him into a hippie. The church and the people in it can easily just become what the latest fundraiser wants it to.

It is easy to do that. In fact, there are so many great causes and ideas, we could really foster some confusion, and such radical individuality that we hurt our main work: making disciples. It is interesting because in seminary it seems like the professors want us to discern our individual voice. When studying the Bible, personal interpretation and meaning are what dominate. The academics don’t seem to emphasize our whole selves. We really are truly in Christ only in community and community only really works for Jesus if it’s on a mission. When we are together, we can be full Christians—and I’m afraid that the American idea of the individual often competes with that.

That’s ironic because I don’t think our individuality is the only reason we want to be accessorized. Sometimes I think we

don’t like being a part of the whole. We are afraid or shy. We think if we become too much a part of the family, we’ll be like Wal-Mart. It could feel too patriotic. In our minds, our individuality helps us assert our radical separation from the domination system. But it seems to me that the domination system thrives because we are so atomized.

That’s why the covenant is such a radical expression. We are committing to Jesus and explicitly to an expression of His body on earth. We are the church. We are a body filled with citizens. We are on the same page. We are unique individuals, but united, focusing on the most important things together. I not only think that’s radical, I think it’s fun. Some of you know, I’m a sports fan—four-for-four Philly too: Sixers, Eagles, Flyers, Phillies. I am committed to rooting for these teams. I love our fanbase and doing it with them.

As I listen to sports talk radio all day, there are debates and discourse and dialogue that the hosts and the callers engage in (in fact, I was one of the callers just the other day), but there is a sense of unity and mission to them. We all want the same thing: to win. I don’t really know what winning looks like in the church, but I do want to help people follow Jesus, and I think I do that best with a united revelation, not just individual expression.

Finding faith in the desert

Two green seedlings growing out of soilFor many of us, Lent starts out with some faith. You can imagine faith like a plant. It could be a seed, dormant in the winter. It might feel like a dying seedling, needs a little attention and love and care. It needs time. What happens, though, when your faith doesn’t seem like it’s there? When God seems silent? When there is nothing to grieve because you don’t remember even what it was like to have that relationship? What happens though when you’ve lost your faith? When the ground is so frozen you can’t imagine anything growing out of it. What do you do?

With instant gratification for everyone, and new philosophies and world views for sale, it seems like we can’t even hold on to anything for a long enough time to grieve its loss.

It seems like we lease our faith, we lease our commitment, until it’s time to sign another lease. Owning the whole thing is intimidating and we let the other “church people” do that. I hope this Lent can be an opportunity to reengage our ownership.

The big philosophical question that surrounds faith is, largely, a Western phenomenon. For most of history, human beings did not have the super amount of information and technology to believe that the only thing that existed was what they could see. The material world being all that we have is a little bleak. I’m not sure most of us believe that. In fact, the most ardent atheists and materialists I know are post-Christians, usually rebelling from something or another; they changed worldviews, but kept the evangelical dogma. Those folks seem to be the exception. Most people seem to be open to some sort of faith, but don’t know how to get to it. Or feel bad about where they are. Or they are just confused and they just can’t see another option.

I just want to relate to that confusion and doubt for a moment. We might feel bad about ourselves for our lack of faith, for our doubt, for our wonder even. The people with real faith, like the people that talk into microphones at our Public Meetings, well, I’ll never be like them.

It’s OK to have questions. Questions are good. Questions deepen. I’m not sure I have all the answers and I don’t necessarily strive for that. I like the process of faith, which I think is a journey, more than it is filled with right answers all the time. In fact the more rigid we are, the more dichotomous we are, I think the more likely our faith and relationships are to suffer.

My suggestions for finding some faith this Lenten season:

Try to get to a place where you don’t believe you are the center of the whole universe and that your mind is all there is. I don’t think many of us think we know everything in the world, or that no mystery is worth leaving unanswered. The universe is big. The material world is even infinite, it would seem. There is more to it than what we can observe. So just beginning there is a good starting place if you have doubt.

Move into more flexibility. As we begin this journey of faith, I want you to consider whether your rigid faith broke. If that’s the case, let’s move toward softening it and see if it can withstand some flexibility. Did the upbringing or even the media’s portrayal of dogmatic Christians “break” your faith? Did it push it to a zone where it couldn’t be recovered? Go back and consider your past and see if you can soften aspects of what you have been told are absolute and move and see if that doesn’t move you closer to God.

Ask yourself what your motives are. Are you like the Pharisees? Asking Jesus rhetorical questions to justify your rebellion? Are you questioning and resisting God and looking for a good reason not to follow him anymore? Is your question about proof really just a way to prove to yourself that faith is foolish? Are you looking for a reason not to believe? Ask yourself those questions. See what is happening in you that is not so readily apparent and maybe you will start to have faith in another thing that is not always readily apparent.

Ponder what philosophy you do have faith in. Who has won you over? What has crept into to undo your faith? Where are you filling what God used to fill? Are you experiencing pain that you are coping with in one way or another? Lent is a great time to free yourself up of a variety of encumbrances, of living more simply for a season, to see what has pushed God out of your life.

Get into the incarnation like Thomas. Experience Jesus. More than just being removed waiting for him to show you his wounds after he’s resurrected, let him come to you. The Body of Christ, hopefully, is a breeding for faith. Our PMs, our cells, our teams, hopefully inspire you to believe.

Prayer, as well, is the ultimate Lenten discipline for faith. If you are doubting and you are wondering and you can’t move into faith with God. If you don’t feel it and you are afraid of that, offer a prayer to God. Begin by trying to relate. This might be hard to do because you aren’t sure if there’s anyone on the other end listening. But try. And try to do it with words. I love the silence and meditation of contemplative prayer, but this time try to address God directly and maybe audibly.

Finally, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Have a little faith in yourself. Believe that you have the capacity to believe. Push yourself beyond your own self-image and see if a little self-care can’t make room for God, too. Believe that you deserve the love of Jesus and that it is available to you.

You don’t have to be one place or another, you don’t have to evaluate your faith to wonder if it’s deep enough or not. Jesus is OK with who you are. I hope you can work to be too.

When pluralism is patronizing

I was having a great conversation with my two new friends the other day at W/N W/N (my new favorite coffee shop) about academia’s condescension of people with faith, or for me, people with Christian faith. Most of the professors in the humanities didn’t have the audacity to just reject faith as a brain-dead explanation for how the world works (like some of the science professors would). But they did have a kind of patronizing way of “equalizing” all of our faiths as cultural expressions that should be included, tolerated, and accepted. The religion of postmodern pluralism dominated the liberal academic landscape of Temple University, it seemed.

The common debate between modernists and postmodernists is not unlike the one that happened a few months ago between Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Michael Steele, Nicholas Kristof, and Ben Affleck. The sides of the debate seem to include no one with actual faith, just worldly philosophies that either lump all faiths together as “evil” or “tolerable.” The academic debate rages, meanwhile people with actual faith in God are marginalized—they are sent to the kids table, not able to have a real conversation with the adults.

The postmodernists think the modernists are prejudicial, while the modernists think the postmodernists are ignorant. What they don’t realize is that capitalism and “democracy” (really oligarchy in the U.S.) and postmodern pluralism are “faiths” of their own. They are neither tolerant nor rejecting faith, just subscribing to a different one.

For me, in college, just like we were encouraged to be tolerant of gender, race, class, orientation, age, faith was just another social construction to be tolerated. Tolerance, alone is such a low-level action compared to say, love. Acceptance almost seems like a concession. I think as Christians, we are called to be reconciled, not so that we can function as individuals, but rather, to live as the Body of Christ. Paul says it this way:

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

Here’s another way: We are finding our true selves in Christ. Jesus reconciles all of us to him, and we find our true selves in him, not in any worldly identity or social construction. The unifier is Jesus Christ and the unifying principle is the Gospel.

You can imagine that for a person who thinks Jesus is the reason to transcend all social construction, why it would be offensive to have that person’s faith characterized as one of the social constructions to be transcended. For many members of the faith being compared with other faiths as mere cultural artifacts is offensive. Often, beliefs are not just a matter of where they were born or where they grew up, they were a revelation from God.

I hear the argument, surprisingly often, that faith is as arbitrary as language, for example. I don’t blame them for thinking this—Christians, in particular, have made their faith a fabric of U.S. culture and have defended it as such. The U.S. civil religion and American Christianity are so enmeshed, most people think they are one in the same. The idea then becomes that faith is just another aspect of our identities. I speak English because I live in Ireland. I’m a Muslim because I’m Egyptian. I eat coq au vin because I grew up in France. I follow Jesus because I was born in a red state. Everything about me is merely a product of my culture. Because of that, individuals are stripped of, truly, as System of a Down sings, “the single most potent element of human existence… faith.”

When we reduce people down to social constructions and then tell them to transcend them, we are asking them to subscribe to a philosophy (that could very well be a social construct of its own). The postmodern idea of pluralism, for lack of a better term, is a faith in its own right, at least a worldview. It is one that removes Christ from the equation of justice and equality and reconciliation, and makes Him just another additive. The modernist that decries all faith as foolish (like Bill Maher famously does) is just as prejudicial as the postmodernist who thinks all of them are equal.

At least the modernist emphasizes a scientific philosophy that supercedes another philosophy; at least he or she is being honest. The modernist seems to have a belief system that is worth debating. The postmodernist makes it seem like there is not an overarching philosophy that dominates, but rather that all our equal. Beyond that thin layer, though, is social constructionism, a falsely just, body destroying, individually edifying idea. How it invariably influences us is worth considering.

Faith is not just a cultural artifact. Exporting the concept that it is, is in fact a form of evangelism, which the academic, pluralists so frequently hate and criticize. I suppose, like anything, so long as we agree with the prevailing philosophy, proselytizing is OK. I’m committed to the revelation of truth, as the Holy Spirit brings it to us in the body.

Jesus gives us more than fake plastic love

I watch enough TV shows to know that there is an arbitrary standard for how relationships should look, how our marriages should feel, how our bodies should be crafted, and so on. Despite the postmodern deconstruction of everything, it seems to me that we still maintain a standard of appearance that makes us all feel inadequate. Even our faith is a victim of the fake plastic life that Radiohead so aptly coined in their 1995 The Bends single, “Fake Plastic Trees.”

In that song, the writer describes three people (a woman, a man, and himself), who are on a path to having the perfect life, one that is free from blemish, at least from the observers’ perspective. The refrain of the song tells us what this kind of mentality does to an individual: it wears them out. Gravity always wins. Without Jesus, life is hopeless.

The world’s cars look shiny but the engines are shot. As Jesus put it in Matthew 23 to the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

We are more concerned with how we look than who we are and what we do. Our marriages, our bodies, and our faiths should look perfect.

And so we need to have perfect bodies. Cindy Crawford’s non-Photoshopped pictures have just surfaced and the world can now gaze at her un-airbrushed body so that we feel better about how we look. When the propaganda artists are exposed, we might feel a little encouraged. When the standard is deconstructed, we see hope in the rubble. But I wonder if there is hope just in the destruction.

On Downton Abbey, the picture perfect marriage of Robert and Cora Crawley is disrupted when Cora starts flirting with an art collector. At the cocktail party, Robert and Cora still look perfect, but the room feels their coldness.

When the Evangelicals write their idealistic CCM about endless faith, singing forever, and limitless happiness, it can be hard for us to relate. So we celebrate when Sufjan Stevens or Katy Perry or David Bazan describes how their faith crumbled.

The shiny veneer we put on everything wears our souls out, we rejoice when the outside laminate wears out too.

Thom Yorke wrote about it in 1995 and for the last twenty years, we’ve been buying ripped-up jeans, dressing down on purpose, and flipping the bird to the artificial standards that the capitalists give us. We are OK with the messiness. In fact, what is messy or not is relative.

Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about working on our interior life, and not focusing on the exterior. It seems to me that we have managed to care about neither. We don’t nurture our souls. We just settle for our flawed selves because the pressure to be perfect is too great. Plus, tomorrow we can just buy something else.

It seems like we still don’t care much for our interior life: our true selves, faith, prayer, relationships, but we have redefined what that shiny veneer looks like. Deep down we still may think we are inadequate, unimpressive, fatally flawed with no hope of restoration. Our relationships don’t work, we always end up in the same place, the incremental growth is just too slow. We need to be transformed, not just tuned up.

Rather than just celebrating when the celebrity bodies, relationships, and faiths break apart, let us move toward becoming whole people in Jesus. Not superficially obsessed, not preoccupied with how we look and not so defeated that we can’t pray, worship, or commune. Jesus gives us something else.

Let’s move toward rejecting the world’s standards, but move toward restoring our souls in Jesus. There is hope for us. Jesus, incarnate, came to us and suffered alongside of us. He entered death and misery and defeated them. That gift is available to us too. We can be free of the shackles of the world. In his resurrection, he can untie us, like he untied Lazarus from the curse of death and damnation. We no longer need to damn ourselves for not being good enough. Jesus gives us an opportunity to be one with him. Through him, we are transformed. We become part of his body. We move into our true selves. We aren’t perfect, but he has made us good enough.

The impracticality of peace and why I love it

I wrote this before the President asked Congress for permission to begin a three-year military campaign against the IS, but as a result it is all the more relevant.

obamaPeace is impractical. Peace is impossible. That’s what it seems like the disillusioned idealists are saying.

One of the members of our panel on the Iraq aftermath hosted by the Circle of Peacemakers last Saturday noted that the Kurdistani population of Iraq welcomed Barack Obama’s airstrikes targeted at the Islamic State because the U.S. was targeting their oppressors. The old adage goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

For me, it is a familiar argument. In my upbringing the typical American patriotism that fuels the military industrial complex was not why my parents were so supportive of the war on terror. It was because, in their minds, the war on terror was targeting people in the Middle East that have persecuted them while they were still living in Egypt. When the terrible events of 9/11 happened and it became apparent that radical terrorists were behind the attack, my parents welcomed the opportunity for a president to be “tough on terror.” Peace does not seem possible when your freedom to exercise your faith is threatened. Peace does not seem practical when your “nation” is stolen from you by the decolonization of your region and you’re hopelessly oppressed by warring political parties (as is the case with the Kurds).

What do we do with the case of radical, violent terrorists? How do we handle the violence of the Islamic State? How do we have a conflict with a violent person?

These are the same kinds of questions that came up when I was speaking about the collective national anger at Koinos Community Church. One new couple’s question was, “What about World War 2? What about Pearl Harbor? The Nazis? What would you do then? Isn’t violence justifiable at that point?

Thomas Aquinas came up with the Just War Theory that attempts to discern when a Chrisitan should wage war and how he or she should act in said war. According to Wikipedia, the criteria is unachievable. No U.S. war has ever been a “Just War.” These systematic criteria are too idyllic to be helpful.

I think Jesus already established our criteria. I am not sure Aquinas needed to come up with something new to appease the powers. Love your enemies. Take care of his sheep. Christians have no business fighting in a war when Jesus died to end all of them. Whose life do we have the right to take? Who made us those kinds of judges? When did we become our own gods? The nation-state and the military might associated with explain why we have a god-complex. Our endless material acquisition can explain why our interests are so easily threatened and why are anxiety is made so high. I think when you assume so much power, when wealth and domination are your goals, you can get into wars rather easily. The United States has demonstrated such for years.

Regardless of the unrealistic criteria Aquinas set up, and the so-called “idealism” of Jesus (there are other Christians who think every time Jesus mentioned peace, or even the poor, he was strictly being “spiritual”), what happens when people are suffering around the world and the only way to respond, seemingly, is to return an eye-for-an-eye? What about the Islamic State? What about Boko Haram? What about Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians? What about police brutality against people of color? Is not violence OK? Other than the imperative from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek, here are four reasons why I think peace is a better solution for violence prevention then, well, more violence.

  • First: who makes the rules of practicality? Are the warhawks coming up with what is practical or not? Science? Modern logic? Postmodern indifference? When we have a premise from which we criticize another argument, we need to wonder where that premise came from? Who thought of it? Who funded it? My premise, and the beginning and end of the question for me is Jesus. My basic rule is: Jesus saves—nothing else does.
  • War is expensive. Some estimates peg the wars in Afghanistan costing the U.S. $4 to 6 trillion. There are estimates that are much higher. It is hard to determine this, but one thing is certain, war costs more than peace does. The question we need to answer is: how can we help those who are in need? If that is our goal, as Christians, is war the best thing for them? What else can we use the money for? Violence seems to be the answer for an individual who has lost an imagination.
  • Before we focus on a specific issue and say “peace is impractical,” let us consider the cycle of violence. In the Middle East alone: the Ottoman Empire’s fall, the decolonization and how England and France cut up the Middle East that followed, and the subsequent violence among a variety of groups points to a bigger problem. The U.S. did not let Jews running away from Nazi Germany enter its borders easily, and moreover, the League of Nations and its harsh reparations on Germany allowed such a brutal dictator to emerge. The question of violence is never as simple as the warhawks make it seem.
  • Violence begets more violence. It is rare, unless under absolutely oppression, that violence causes less violence to occur. Nation-states that conquer other nation-states usually commit the sins of their predecessors (the Russian Revolution is a good case-in-point). Even when violent radicals in the Middle East were oppressed by Western-style dictators, the radical movement grew underneath them. Groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are fueled in military dictatorships.
  • When we kill someone, we are saying that there is no hope for them, even in Jesus. We rob a person of their chance to follow Jesus. God may still have mercy on them, but we take away their opportunity—when it is not our right to. Murder is universally illegal it seems, unless you have an arbitrary flag pasted on your shoulder. Our societies seem to have spoken on the issue, but we turn a blind spot to warfare. It is against our God-given nature to kill someone else, but it becomes more realistic once we think that person is about to harm our friend. That psychological manipulation and the PTSD is causes is reason enough not to go to war, but more importantly is killing the enemy that we crafted and his or her chance to be transformed. What should we do with the IS? Idealistic, I know, but help them follow Jesus.

Sorting through our anger with the Psalmists

I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and I’m Egyptian too—so I was trained in the ways of passive aggression. At a young age, it was pressed into me, not to be angry. Tantrums were wrong and so I had to figure out other ways to channel my anger. I don’t think I had good habits, and I carry that lack into my adulthood. Rather than talking about what is bothering me, I try to just change how I feel about it. I don’t have the hard conversations I need, and the pressure builds and I blow my lid.

Not only that, when I don’t take care of my anger in other situations, people that I feel safe being angry with get my wrath. Could be my kid, or some other “weaker” people. Our anger, even if it doesn’t manifest itself in physical violence, has the power to injure people.

When we shame the angry, we are responsible for what happens to our community afterward. When we don’t handle our emotions, and they are ours to handle, we are responsible for how they manifest themselves. We need to create a safe place for emotions to be expressed in healthy ways.

We need to be honest, honest with God, and honest with others about how we feel. We cannot simply think our feeling is bad or good. They are what they are. They get a connotation based on how we respond to them. There are negative and positive emotions, but I am unsure there are moral and immoral emotions.

The Psalms, songs in the Bible in the middle of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible), offer us an opportunity to look at least one way that we can express our anger, this inevitable human emotion.

The Psalms are emotive—they are not typically intellectual and cerebral, at least they are not intellectual or cerebral first. Already, when we read them, we know that the writer was in touch with his or her emotions, and if we already have a predisposition that emotional expression is wrong, we will have a tough time with the Psalms.

They are written using emotive language, often hyperbolic language (they exaggerate for effect), and their main purpose is not theological or doctrinal exposition. We can certainly find those things in the inspired words of God, but that is not the purpose they serve. So just because a Psalmist says it or does it, doesn’t mean we should follow suit—nor does it mean that it was a right behavior or action for the Psalmist even at the time. David wrote most of the Psalms, his life was filled with sin, murder, adultery, jealously, and so on—often times those emotions are fueling his writings and so we get Psalms that have a variety of expressions that are not inherently wrong, but perhaps shouldn’t be mimicked.

The Psalms are not literal, and are often metaphorical. Moreover, they are pieces of literature with a specific form, pattern, and notably function. Their function is usually addressing a specific situation in the life of Israel, the Psalmist, or something else.

It is inappropriate then to just assume that we should find a personal meaning in the Psalm that we are reading—that probably applies to the whole of Scripture—but notably the Psalms. God was speaking directly to a group of people, and even though we can find value in the Psalms for us today, let’s not be so explicit about it.

Finally, the Psalms themselves are literary units, not to taken out of context. Not just the context in which they were written, but the context of the Psalm itself. Trying to find meaning or theological value is problematic in general, but exacerbated when we selectively quote a Psalm.

The Psalms teach us not to be afraid of our emotions. He lets them out. He’s not afraid to tell God what they are and tell God what he should do about it. I admire that kind of openness. I’m not sure we have that audacity all the time. Most of the time, we’ll just stop believing in God if we are mad enough or oppressed enough.

In the laments, the Psalmists know what they are complaining about too. They are aware of what they want and what God may do for them.

The laments and imprecatory show us how to express our anger. Or rather, that it is OK to express it. The Psalm doesn’t “cure” its writers of their anger, but it gives them an outlet. And if you pay attention to the tone of the Psalm, sometimes they get “calmer.”

For us, journaling, talking to your pastor or a therapist about your feelings—by itself—is positive. We don’t even need to solve the problem at this point. We just need to be honest about how we feel, at least to begin with. For some of us that admission of anger is hard. It’s hard to acknowledge we are angry, especially if we think being angry is wrong. If we can overcome our fear of our emotion—hammered into us by our culture, by our faith, and by our parents—we might be able to at least take the step of expression.

After we sort out our emotions, we may be able to let God comfort us and console us in our anxiety. We know what we have, perhaps why we are angry, and we can get a level head. God helps us compose ourselves so that we can actually solve the problem that is at the root of anger. It could be circumstantial, but it might even deeper than that. Our residual anger may have to do with not forgiving ourselves or something that wronged us years ago. It may have to do with whatever present thing brought it to light. But when we have a calmness about it we can begin to relationally sort through what is bothering us. Prayer, contemplation, solitude help with that clarity.

Finally, and I think this is important for Christians to consider, have a conflict. Not an anger-filled, hurtful screaming match. I think we can sometimes get very angry in our relationships and just let it rip with the argument that “we never get to express how we feel.” Well, that might be true, but it’s no one’s fault but yours. A vitriolic tantrum is never justified. Freaking out doesn’t work, even if you rarely do it. Continue to rarely do it, but find a place to express your anger in a healthy way, but then have a reasonable discussion.

I think most of the time, we just try to repress it. Some of us will channel all of our anger in yoga, or in exercise, or in whatever else. We might overeat or drink too much. We never address the root of the problem and we think curbing the emotion is all we need to do. When we think anger is the problem, we just try to get rid of it. But anger isn’t right or wrong. It just is what it is. It’s a great indication that something is wrong.

So, in a sentence, my advice and word to you is: express your anger, think about it, write about it, and discern what is at its root. If it’s something in your past, learn how to cope with it, forgiving who you need to. If it’s in you, learn how to change your behavior as you go through healing—use a spiritual director, pastor, or therapist. And if it’s with someone else, take a time out, and then return to the person trying to have some conflict resolution.

David and the Psalmists give us permission to be angry, if we need that, and he gets his process going by singing out about it. Maybe we can write a Psalm too.

All things to all football fans

I’m a football fan. Last Sunday the Super Bowl was on, and even though I did not particularly care for either team (in Philadelphia, we really hate all the non-Philly teams), I was excited to get home from the public meetings and watch the game. The second half is what I caught, and truly, it was entertaining. But, even as an avid Eagles fan and supporter, I received some peace from the Lord about a predicament I would be in if the Eagles should ever, fingers crossed, compete in the Super Bowl again. As you may know, Circle of Hope holds its Sunday meetings at 5 and 7 p.m. If the Birds were in the game, the two “events” would compete. For me, it’s OK to miss the first half, even if my beloved Eagles are playing. For me, it’s clear what’s more important!

For some of us, the decision not to watch the Super Bowl is ideological. The NFL is barbaric and violent. The commissioner of the league is unethical, caring strictly about profit and image, and rarely the welfare of players, let alone any sort of morality that extends beyond the league. He is ready to cover up scandals that hurt his goals—the difference between him and a Congressperson is negligible. The players can be narcissistic and selfish, putting others down for their sake. They can be cold-hearted and opportunistic, even cheating when the opportunity strikes. Moreover, they can be falsely sincere, idealized, and artificial.

A lot of my friends are in the camp of thinking football is pointless, too. Sometimes I get so emotionally wrapped up in the game, it is a wonder why I care so much about players I don’t even know that don’t even represent my city. Sometimes it seems like I’m just rooting for the laundry. It is pointless.

On the other hand, it’s fun and exciting. It’s great to get riled up with other people and root for the hometeam. Some of the greatest joy I have experienced has surrounded the success of my sports franchise (game one of the 2001 NBA Finals is my favorite sports moment ever). More than that, the parties are great times to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes the parties in our community as so great, that they make our mission feel like a distant second. If all my friends are at a party and not the Sunday meeting, why would I even go worship? It isn’t too extreme to think that football can replace the whole church!

Certainly, one could make a Christian argument against watching sports, and specifically football, as I hope to have demonstrated above. You could also make an argument for why watching it is crucial. I hope believers don’t fall into one camp or another. What would Jesus do? What would Paul say?

Perhaps there is another reason to watch sports. I told my friend Charlie that one of the reasons I watched the Super Bowl and why I watch football in general is to add a dose of “normalcy” to my otherwise abnormal life. Among other reasons, I watched it to relate to Philadelphia, a big time sports town. The last thing, I think, we want to do as Christians is to isolate ourselves from the world because of our esoteric tastes or extreme interests. I think we want to relate and know the world, so that I can do my part in its redemption. Jesus Christ did that himself when he came in the form of a person to relate to us. Paul says that he was all things to all people.

So for me, I want to be all things to all sports fans. I’m not sure I should devote a lot of time and energy to it, but truly, knowing who Pete Carroll was and why he called it the world’s worst play, and what #deflategate was all about, made me a little more relevant. I think it boosts my credibility. Talking about football endlessly, which is sometimes what I endure (and participate in) on local sports talk radio is probably not too helpful to the cause.

However, I don’t want to get legalistic about what to consume, nor do I want to make the mistake that the fundamentalists make as they essentialize our faith in one way or another. So despite the vile things that happen in the NFL, knowing about it, may actually prove to help me in our whole mission. I suppose you’ll have to know the world before you can change it.