Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Church Draft

Today is Day 1 of the NFL Draft. (Remember when the whole thing took place on one day?) These days it's a three day extravaganza! published a good story here about the development and emotions of "the green room". The hype is not just about the actual draft. The NFL Combine is held in late February and is a 4 day event of testing and examining potential draftees.The NFL Network now broadcasts this event live. The NFL Draft, is not an event, it's a season.

Naturally, the AFL has caught onto this trend and in 2009 moved their draft from Saturday morning to
Thursday evening. The big difference is that most of the potential draftees in the US system are familiar to the public because they played for college football teams that receive enormous coverage. College football is one of the major sporting obsessions in the US. In contrast, young Aussie Rules players represent their high schools or teams that no one pays any attention to. So in the AFL draft you completely rely upon the "experts" telling you how good a player is because you've never had the chance to see him play.

Anyway, all this Draft coverage got me thinking about how I could relate it to the church.  There were several ways I could have gone:
  1. Jesus may have been thinking of the Draft when he chose his apostles: His top 12. John the beloved was his #1 pick. Peter and James rounded out the Top 3.
  2. Would it be fun to draft the top preachers for your church? What do you look for in a preacher? What gifts do they bring to the team? How do they fit the culture of the team?
  3. What if you were starting a new church, what people would you want to draft and in what order? Song leader at #2 or behind Enthusiastic Cold Conversationalist?
In the end I decided just to make the simple point:

the whole concept of a draft is contrary to God's design of the church. 

The foundational assumption of the draft is that some players are more valuable than others. In the sports and business world this is undoubtedly true. Some players make a big impact for a team, others barely raise a murmur. Some receive huge sponsorships, while others are lucky to get a pair of free shoes.

In the NFL the last player drafted receives the unflattering title of "Mr Irrelevant". Although there have been exceptions, most Mr Irrelevants never make the field and many never end up even making the team.

In 1 Corinthians 12:23 God tells the church that "God has put the body [church] together, giving greater honor to the parts [people] that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body." Although some people in the church have less public talents and abilities than others, God tells us that each person is equally valuable.

NFL draftees squirm in the public spotlight of the green room, waiting for their name to be called and wondering who, if anyone, will value them and select them. The message of the church is that God values each and every person. All are welcome. Everyone belongs.

Enjoy the draft. Celebrate the stories of guys overcoming all sorts of adversity to make it among the elite of their sport. Wipe away a tear as you see a mother rejoice with her son. Wince for those in the glare of the TV cameras not selected as early as expected. Enjoy it all.

Then remember that in God's draft there's only a #1 selection, and His choice is you.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Favourites of the Masters 2013

At the conclusion of the first days' play of the 2013 Masters an Australian, Marc Leishman shared the lead with Sergio Garcia. Leishman is certainly not a big name in professional golf. He's only ever won one tournament and in 2012 finished 28th in the FedEx Cup rankings and this year is ranked just 104th on the money list entering the Masters. But he's still a pretty young golfer and no mug. In 2009 he won the PGA Tour's "Rookie of the Year" award.

Yet as I searched to find some articles about his round and bit of his background, I drew a blank. I could find plenty of articles about Tiger Woods shooting a 70. I also found lots of coverage of a 14 year old amateur from China who shot a 73. (Which is truly amazing!!!) I found editorials (Thanks Rick Reilly) pondering if this was going to be Sergio's breakthrough at last. But I could hardly find more than a paragraph on Leishman. Check out this ESPN summary, and at the very end you get a couple of Leishman comments.

Then when the dust settled after Day 2 of the Masters, another Aussie found himself in the lead: Jason Day. One stroke clear of Marc Leishman and Fred Couples. At one stage "The Next Big Thing" from Down Under, Day has failed to live up to that billing. However, he's still had a handy career and is young. Two Aussies in the top 3!!!

Again I went searching for articles and again only found headlines like this BBC gem, "Tiger Woods Stays in the Hunt as Day Leads". Well at least Day got a mention! Again that 14yo stole the spotlight after he was penalised a stroke for slow play. Then even later Tiger hit the headlines again when a review of the days play resulted in him receiving a 2 stroke penalty for an improper drop.

Now I understand how the media works. They make money when people read their articles. Tiger Woods and a 14yo golf prodigy will generate more readers than two relatively unknown Australians, even if they're leading the Masters. Like CNN and Fox sports media also thrives on controversy. So the sports radio today was filled with discussion about the two penalties.
  • Should Guan have received a penalty? 
  • Did the Augusta Golf Club have a grudge against a 14 year old making the cut? 
  • Did it impact the reputation of the course to have kid shoot 73? 
  • Should Tiger have been disqualified?
  • Should TV viewers be allowed to phone in rules violations?
  • Should Tiger have withdrawn?
  • Did Tiger receive favorable treatment?

In this ESPN article Gene Wojciechowski argues that Tiger didn't receive special treatment with his penalty. But when we consider how much of a draw Tiger is and how he impacts TV ratings at first glance it sure looks like he received favorable treatment. And perception is everything. In years to come this will be remembered as the Masters in which Tiger should have been disqualified.

Then when Day 3 is finally in the books 3 Aussies find themselves in 3rd & equal 4th. This is a remarkable opportunity for a proud golf nation that has never had a winner at the Masters. Several Aussies have come close, but all found ways to lose. So who are the media going to write about now? Tiger again? Guan?

Well, finally the leader of the Masters gets some love!! On the ESPN home page there's a story all about Grant Snedeker. Mind you, there's also a headline about a certain 14 year old golfer and his slow play again. AND a picture of Tiger with the headline "Tiger Shoots 70".

So what's my point?
1. C'mon Aussies!!!!  Pleeeeease, can one of you win this thing and erase the ghosts of 1996!!! (I just cringed typing that!!)

2. Favoritism is evil! I understand and accept the commercial realities that mean not all golfers are treated equal. But I don't like it. It stinks. God thinks so too. That's why he warns the church several times not to play favourites.

Favouritism ruined the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. When the church in Corinth came together the wealthy ate together, and the hungry Christians watched them. Paul went so far as to say that their celebration of the Lord's Supper wasn't even the Lord's Supper. It was unacceptable!

Favoritism. Prejudice. Racism. Elitism. Cliques. Homogenous Communities. Call them what you will, it has no place in the church.

The author of James addresses this issue as a major topic in chapter 2. Here's his summary.
"If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers."
But that wouldn't really happen in the church today would it? Surely we wouldn't treat two guests on the same Sunday morning differently based on their clothing, or piercing, or education, or wealth, or beauty, or marital status, or number of children, or singing ability, or... Surely we wouldn't do that in our church!

"REALLY? Not even if Tiger Woods walked through the door?"


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Redemption of Tiger Woods

I'm a little late to the party, but certainly not shy about jumping on a bandwagon!

When Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the end of March, he reclaimed the #1 world golf ranking from Rory McIlroy. Woods last held the #1 ranking in October 2010 and fell as low as 58 in the world in November 2011. But in the last year Tiger has won a whopping six tournaments including three so far in 2013.

Tiger's form on the golf course has been awesome. But Nike found a way to bring controversy to Tiger's success. Shortly after he achieved his most recent victory Nike rolled out the following advertisement.

To be fair, it's important to first understand the back story. According to this article, "Winning takes care of everything." is something Tiger has used "at least since 2009 - whenever reporters ask him about his or other golfers' rankings." So basically, he's only referring to his ranking and his golf reputation. It's not possible to fault him on that front. Winning is certainly how you get to be the number one golfer in the world.

However, Nike is surely guilty of a double entendre with this ad. I imagine that only a small portion of the public recognises the original context of this quote. The vast majority of people seeing this advertisement will focus on the word "everything".

I suspect that close to 100% of sports fans know the reason for Tiger's fall from the top ranking in 2010. In 2009 Tiger's marriage dissolved after his serial affairs became public. Tiger took a break from golf as he dealt with these personal issues. This even included checking into a clinic to address a sex addiction.

After this dramatic fall from grace it has taken 3+ years for Tiger to climb back to the top of the golf heap. While anyone can admire his focus, discipline, talent and determination on the golf course, it's not easy to admire him as a person. The selfishness of his actions destroyed his marriage and irrevocably changed his relationship with his children. His immorality was not victimless.

So when Nike takes a statement made within a specific context and promotes it to the world, "Winning takes care of EVERYTHING" the superlative instantly brings to mind EVERYTHING, not just golf.

Of course, winning doesn't take care of everything. It doesn't restore trust in a marriage. It doesn't make Tiger more present in the life of his children. It doesn't make him more admirable as a person. Most importantly, from a Christian perspective, winning doesn't remove the sin from his life. Being the greatest golfer in the world at any given moment does not count at all toward gaining redemption in God's eyes.

The only "holes in one" that have eternal consequences are the holes hammered into Christ's flesh. My sin, your sin, and Tiger's sin were placed on Jesus.  Colossians 1:13-14 expresses it this way,
"For he [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Our redemption can only come from accepting God's forgiveness through Christ. Our best efforts in golf or life will never result in full redemption. Tiger may reclaim the ranking, the headlines and even respect from some people, but none of it will be true redemption without Jesus.

Although most Christians will verbally acknowledge our dependence upon Jesus, many of us still seek redemption through our own efforts. Perhaps it's working on turning our lives around. Maybe we try to patch past relationships. Sometimes we think that if we pile enough guilt on ourselves God will respond to our remorse. Yet all of these involve something other than depending upon God's grace.

More Reading:
Here's another preacher's blog on the topic, that presents a slightly different perspective.
Here's another reflection by a sports writer that focuses on Nike's role. [some strong language]