Posts Tagged ‘Cubs’

Legalism. We hate the word and all it conjures. Jesus hated it, saving some of his harshest criticism for the Pharisees and their fanatical attention to the law while ignoring the heart.

I grew up knowing Christians who would burn records, condemn certain books and never be seen at R-rated movies, yet who were horribly racist, or gluttonous, or indifferent to the poor. The church is experiencing a backlash against this sort of selective legalism, and that’s been a good and God-honoring thing.

I wonder sometimes, though, if disillusioned Christians (me included) have become so resistant to legalism that we also shun the ideas of personal holiness and intentional living.

If, for instance, I park myself in front of the TV some evening, scroll through a hundred channels and eventually land on some mindless reality show and veg for an hour, I’m probably not honoring God with my use of that time.

On the other hand, if I intentionally engage the same show, with an eye toward the spiritual state of our culture, and pop culture, then I probably am honoring God with that time. I’m engaging my brain and I’m letting the Holy Spirit, in effect, sit there next to me and have a conversation that I later can share with someone else.

In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

T.J. Addington, in his book and blog, “Leading From the Sandbox,” writes about intentional living — which he boils down to mean, “Does my schedule reflect my personal priorities?”

Take that thought further: Do my entertainment choices – even when no one else is looking — reflect my personal priorities? Or, more precisely, do they reflect what I would like for my priorities to be?

Maybe the more-common question is: Is it worthwhile for Christians just to spend time being entertained, with no higher purpose? Just a little time to rest and recharge?

I think it depends on whether that entertainment moves me closer to God, or further away from God. As Paul would ask: Where am I fixing my thoughts?

If I watch a movie or TV show with a lot of extra-marital sex, or drunken debauchery, I notice something about my spiritual condition. It has sunk. Not because I want to emulate the people on the screen, but because I’m letting myself be entertained by watching depictions of sin. And then if I’m going to keep watching, I have to shut the door on God’s voice – like the end of the “Godfather” movies where Michael Corleone shuts the door in his wife’s face so the men can discuss the evil business they do.

And even in that little example I open the door to a “What’s appropriate for Christians?” conversation that makes people uncomfortable. I can watch the Godfather movies as a profound commentary on America, family and hypocrisy … or I can watch them as brutally violent gangster movies. I can watch “American Beauty” and be struck by its message about the spiritual emptiness of affluent suburbia, or I can watch it because it has a lot of sex and nudity. Where am I fixing my thoughts?

Can entertainment be spiritually neutral? Sure. If I watch a few innings of a Cubs game, my relationship with God doesn’t change much. Then again, I may get either angry or depressed about the sorry state of my team. Being a Cub fan does make one very cynical.

If I watch “30 Rock,” or reruns of “Seinfeld,” can I appreciate those shows’ great writing and wit, and get past their very unbiblical worldview and content? Again, I think it depends on my spiritual state of engagement and where my thoughts are fixed.

And can I watch “Caddyshack” and appreciate the … oh never mind.

The bottom line is, this conversation leaves more than one spiritually solid place to land. That makes legalists uncomfortable.  At the other end of the spectrum, it touches nerves. But our entertainment choices do affect our spiritual condition. Let’s not avoid the conversation because we’re afraid of lapsing into legalism.

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My name is Jim, and I am a Chicago Cubs fan. (clap clap clap clap clap)

This has not been an enjoyable summer, as far as baseball goes. The Cubs stink. Maybe you’ve heard. They have a real chance to be mathematically eliminated from the pennant race by the end of August – pathetic even by Cubs standards. They have a player allegedly named “Darwin Barney.” Their manager has retired and gone home to Florida. 

None of this represents much progress in my nearly 40 years of Cub fandom. As a kid, I spent many summer afternoons watching Chicago Cubs baseball games on WGN-TV. In the 1970s, the Cubs (then as now) ranged from mediocre to awful. Yet, play-by-play announcer Jack Brickhouse made every game sound like the fate of the world depended on its outcome. The last-place Cubs could be behind 12-0 in the ninth inning, but a wind-blown home run by Joe “Tarzan” Wallis still would elicit an enthusiastic  “Hey-Hey!” from Brickhouse.

Tarzan

Cub fans’ blind optimism never stopped all of the better National League teams from regularly beating the snot out of our team. But it was hypnotic. Watching the same team day after day, and never having known anything different, I was totally comfortable with the Cubs’ level of bad baseball. They’d win a game just often enough to keep me watching. They had their own heroes, unbeknownst to fans of the good teams: Jose Cardenal … Champ Summers … Carmen Fanzone … Pete LaCock.

ESPN hadn’t been invented yet. So, other than an occasional Saturday Game of the Week on NBC, the Cubs were the only baseball I ever watched. We couldn’t get cable, either, so at our farmhouse 90 miles from Chicago, barely-in-range Channel 9 delivered a fuzzy picture at best. For all I knew, Cubs games were played in snowstorms and there was no ball.

Then October would roll around, and NBC would broadcast the playoffs and World Series … on channels where we could see the ball and tell that the plastic grass was green. In that era, postseason games usually involved the Oakland A’s, Cincinnati Reds or, later, the New York Yankees. It was like watching a whole different sport. These players were faster, stronger, better hitters and pitchers, and they hardly ever made errors.

The point is, I was so wrapped up in the Cubs that I had no clue about the rest of the baseball world. Sure, the Cubs would engage those other teams and players sometimes, but never in a game that mattered to anyone else. You’d never see Cub players in Sports Illustrated, or on the cover of Street and Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook. They were completely off the sports radar. Yet, today I could name just about any Cubs player from the 1970s, or quote their random, meaningless statistics, and you would nervously shuffle away from me.

I thought about this in the context of a lunch conversation recently with some older Christians. They talked about a conference that people in their church had attended in another city.  “While they were walking around downtown, they saw a group of gays and transvestites, and they witnessed to them,” one guy said proudly.

I’m sure those “gays and transvestites” sprinted to the nearest church and turned to Jesus, once the strangers from out of town had set them straight within 45 seconds.

I mention this story not to criticize my lunch companions. They truly love God and they love other people. Our conversation did bug me, but it bugged me because it uncomfortably held a mirror to my own life in the church. We’ve isolated ourselves within the Fortress, poking our heads out just often enough to score points in the sight of other Christians. Everything in life revolved around some activity at, or related to, church. We’ve had our own bookstores, our own music, our own TV channels, even our own Painters of Light.

We have been as irrelevant as 1970s Cub fans. The broader culture, the one other people experience – the Yankees and the Reds – happened on channels that we didn’t ever watch.

In the past several seasons, Cub fans have quickly lost patience as our team has fallen short, and now has deteriorated into a bad semi-pro team. It’s not working any more, this act of being just good enough to keep the fans loyal. The isolated baseball world I grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. We know how bad the Cubs are.

The isolated church world doesn’t exist anymore, either. A more culturally savvy group of Christ followers is less and less willing to settle for the Fortress approach. It’s not that we’re defecting en masse to other religions, though some do. Most end up choosing one of two paths. One, they lose enthusiasm, then lose interest altogether, after experiencing too many of those “What am I doing here?” moments; or two, they discover each other and begin reforming their churches or forming new churches that look a whole lot more like the New Testament.

In both baseball and church, there will always be a percentage that supports the team regardless of its ineptitude. They will quickly fade to cultural irrelevancy. As a Cub fan, I guess I can live with that. As a Christian, I had better not.