Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Conversation Changes Everything

I don't like athletes who try to gain a competitive advantage by using drugs. When I'm feeling grumpy I say "Kick them out of the game and never let them back in." I hold a grudge against baseball's all time home run leader, Barry Bonds, and think his record should be removed from the books. I view Alex Rodriguez as a cheat and wouldn't cry if his career was now over. I don't feel sorry for Lance Armstrong, although I respect the work his charity does.

In the recent Australian scandal where AFL team Essendon was accused of systematically giving their players illegal performance enhancing substances, I would not have thought any penalty was too harsh. Ultimately, the evidence didn't quite support the allegations, but it was still pretty rotten.

I don't like PED's because they unfairly skew the field of competition (as if natural selection doesn't already skew it enough!). They often have nasty side effects. The nasty side effects not only impact the star performers, but the desperate younger athletes who try to imitate the stars as they try to make their own way in the sport. Often the drugs used are simply illegal.

BUT then MY baseball team signs a confessed drug cheat. Jhonny Peralta was suspended 50 games in 2013 for using PED's. I laughed in his face (not literally). And now the Cardinals have signed him! For the good of the team, I'll have to cheer for him each time he comes up to bat.

Peralta didn't even attend the press conference to announce his signing. At that press conference the Cardinals GM had to defend the signing of a drug cheat. All he could say is that if MLB only suspends the player for 50 games, why shouldn't the team sign him once the 50 games are up. The club shouldn't be expected to impose its own ban beyond that the league imposes.

Of course, the Cardinals have already been through all this with Mark McGuire. But here's the point. "Getting to know people makes all the difference." One of the first steps toward hating someone is to dehumanize them. Forget they have a family and feelings. Label them drug cheat/black/gay/some other sin, then call down fire from heaven upon them. It's much easier if you've never shared a coffee with them.

Here's a couple of articles from other spheres of life that make a similiar point:
  • When a black man sits down with KKK members remarkable things happen. HERE
  • This article makes the point that society's view of homosexuality is rapidly changing because "It's difficult to believe that gay people are bad when you know one."
Isn't this kind of what happened in John 8:1-11 when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus. Of course adultery is still a sin. But suddenly this wasn't an abstract question about adultery. This was a specific circumstance about a very real woman who was right there in their presence. Expecting to be stoned she was probably crying and wailing and begging for mercy. No this wasn't hypothetical any more. In this context the evil of the religious leaders in exploiting this woman (and not her lover) as a tool to trip up Jesus changed the emphasis of the moment.

So before you go on facebook, or vent to your friends about "those people" (whoever they are) make the effort to get to know one, or some, of them. You don't have to agree, but God does call us to love them. Unless they're an extremely unpleasant person, it's usually much easier to love someone once you know them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Overcome Bullying with Good

As soon as you saw the word "Bullying" in the title you knew I was going to talk about the mess at the Miami Dolphins where Jonathan Martin has walked out on the team and accused Richie Incognito of bullying.

I really don't want to go into the details of this situation because its so messy I'm not sure that anyone really knows what went on. There've been many articles written on various facets of of this ugly mess:
  • Racism - A Jason Whitlock article HERE and a Shannon Sharpe rant HERE.
  • Violence - A report from NFL.com HERE.
  • Immorality - "Compulsory" meetings at strip clubs HERE.
  • A Destructive Locker Room Culture - Bringing in good influences. HERE
  • Defining Masculinity - a good summary article HERE.
The point I want to focus on today is the widespread response to Martin's bullying claim that instead of walking out on the team, he should have "stood up" to Incognito and bunched him in the mouth. According to this article even the Dolphins General Manager, Jeff Ireland, thought Martin's best course of action was to punch Incognito!

Have you ever heard the advice that goes something like, "Bullies are really cowards. Stand up to them and they'll back down." So if Martin responds to abuse with violence that will stop the violence? I just finished writing a blog post on a separate issue here that included the thought, "Sin never heals itself". Likewise violence isn't solved by more or greater violence.

I'm not saying that walking out on the team was the right solution. Maybe there were other avenues of redress available. I do not that violent retaliation was definitely not the best solution, or even a solution at all.

I wonder if a Christian would handle this situation differently? God certainly gives us a few ideas to chew on in circumstances like this:
  • Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39)
  • I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:44-45a)
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (Rom. 12:17a)
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:21)
I wish I had "5 Easy Steps" for putting these teachings into practice. But this Martin - Incognito story demonstrates how difficult and complicated these situations are. There are so many times where it's incredibly difficult to decide the best specific path forward. Sometimes it means walking away from a situation and risking being misunderstood and called a coward. Sometimes it means reporting events to an authority and risking being called a snitch, and possibly losing some friends. Sometimes it means praying for evil people. Sometimes it means serving people we don't like.

Out of all the verses in Matt 5 and Romans 12 that relate to this issue, Romans 12:21 that most resonates with me. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Do you believe God, really, deep down in your heart, that good is able to overcome evil?