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Christian education - Sports

Winning at all costs?

Does sport build character? And what does the way you play sports reveal about your character?  **** I recently had the opportunity to substitute teach a high school physical education class. Not knowing a single one of the students, I divided the co-ed class into two random teams for a game of soccer. Within seconds of team creation, I heard moans and groans regarding how the players were divvied up: “This isn’t fair, we’re going to lose!” “Sir, I think you should change these teams because they have Jim AND John on their team!” “We may as well not even play.” Of all the statements I overheard, that last one really struck me. Participation in the activity was only viewed as worthwhile should losing be avoided. The victimized attitudes of these youth were tangible for the duration of the class, with many of the players from the "losing side" displaying anger and resentment following the game. Garbage cans were kicked, pinnies spiked, locker doors slammed, walls slapped, curse words mumbled. I felt hated; after all, I was the dumb substitute teacher who made unbalanced teams that resulted in a lopsided 4-2 soccer "blowout." What sports can foster There is a widespread assumption that participating in sport is automatically beneficial for kids. After all, they can learn teamwork, cooperation, self-discipline, and perseverance, among many other great positive values. Among Christians, too, sports are promoted as a means of building virtuous character. However, minimal research evidence exists to validate this belief. On the contrary, sport participation has a proven tendency to promote and develop less desired character traits: selfishness, hostility, greed, jealousy, hatred, violence and alienation. The truth is, in a sport setting people often act out in ways that would be completely unacceptable in any other setting. Sporting arenas function as special spheres where the rules of life often do not apply. We can see this in the normalcy of violence in Canadian ice hockey participation and fandom. Whether as active participants or merely spectators of sport, we need to consider whether we shine as a light for the Lord. As a fan, do we thrive on the hockey fights and scraps? Does that get us jumping up and down in our seats? As a participant, is it possible for us to bear the mind and love of Christ while donning a killer instinct? Do we really believe that this aggression towards our opponents reflects Christ-like love? Cross-checking and chirping at another person would seem like a strange way to express your love towards them. Lacing up to love your enemy seems less frequent than lacing up to squash your enemy. I’m not bashing our own hockey leagues; I know very little about what goes on there – I just know that I saw a 13-year-old boy drag his opponent to the ground in a headlock in order to score a goal on the pitch during a high-school PE class. I know this infiltrates our own turf and our own rinks. Performance-based worth In the world of modern sport, personal identity – personal worth – is grounded in performance. In this glorification of the self, losing is equated with insecurity, powerlessness and a sense of "non-being," which threatens the very purpose of an individual’s life. As the saying goes, you are only as good as your last game. This value has affected our own sport circles, despite Christians readily preaching that God loves them despite the result of their play. We claim our identity is grounded in Christ, yet, for the sake of upping our game-time performance, we prefer to keep compassion and other-centeredness on the periphery of our competitive lives. Many Christian athletes have a tendency to compartmentalize their faith and exclude it from competitive sport, and are more willing to compromise their faith than withdraw from activity. There is a valid concern that our children are more interested in becoming like Crosby than like Christ. Though modeling the behaviors of others can serve as a valuable educational tool, sport, like money, has become an idol for many, leaving me to wonder if we could cast it out of our lives completely, or if our identity, too, has become participation and performance-based, rather than grace-based. Can Christians compete? So are sports beyond redemption? Should we just avoid playing in them and watching them? To answer these questions we need to examine the idea of competition. Competition is closely tied to participation in sport. Competition is commonly understood as an effort to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same; you are striving to outdo someone, to better someone. Competition is based on comparisons: Who is fastest? Who is strongest? Who is best? Of course, competition goes far beyond sport: we see it in the classroom, in the office, in our homes. We are constantly striving to outdo others. Such comparisons can dangerously lead to a loss of perspective, bitterness, jealousy and putting yourself before others. The problem with this typical view of competition is that pursuing superiority over others (thereby making others inferior) directly collides with the Christian ethic of servanthood, as Paul instructs us in his letter to the Philippians 2: 3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”. It doesn’t read that we can do some things out of selfish ambition. Jesus Christ modeled humility for us so that we would embrace it in all facets of our lives. We are called to deny ourselves, humble ourselves and boast in our weaknesses and shortcomings. How is this possible in competitive sport? A different sort of competition Competition, by its nature, has been suggested to be inherently immoral because it is selfish, egoistic and means treating others as obstacles to be defeated. But is that what competition has to be? When we look at the historical origins of the word, we learn competition means "to strive together, to come together, to agree, to coincide." Note that historically competition echoes cooperation, as it doesn’t mean “to strive against”, but rather “to strive with.” The emphasis in sport, therefore, ought not to be winning, but a mutually acceptable quest for excellence through challenge. This is important, so let me repeat it: competition need not be about winning. Instead it can be about a mutual quest for excellence through the challenge your opponents present you. Competition is defensible in sport given this social contract, mutual quest and voluntary engagement. So, a reformed perspective on competition would be to understand it as a collaborative, mutual striving together towards something excellent, where opponents honor their opposition and cooperate to bring out the very best in one another, as when iron sharpens iron (Philippians 2:3-4; Proverbs 27:17). Some Christians have tried to recast competition and eliminate some of the negatives by talking of it as being primarily about competing with oneself. But this ignores the relational essence of competition, and by removing the interpersonal dimension, it is no longer competition at all. We are relational beings, and the Christian competitor is not only striving for personal excellence and realizing individual potential, but also the potential of their opponent. The hindrances we face in competition, the opposition, are not objects and barriers to be overcome – they are people. The experience is indeed a celebrative experience, and we should be able to experience that shared joy with others. Opponents are made in God’s image too. In loving our opponents while we compete, we are putting them before ourselves. Do you rejoice with your opponents' accomplishments? If Jesus was your teammate, how would you cooperate with him? More, if Jesus was your opponent, how would you act towards him? If triumphing over opponents was the sole purpose of contests, competition would be incomplete and a "winning-at-all-costs" mentality, including cheating, would be both justified and necessary. On the contrary, joyful experiences, the desire and striving for excellence, the concern for achieving competitive balance, fun and enjoyment, all function as goals that transcend the zero-sum experience of beating opponents. The pursuit of fun is improved with the avoidance of alienation and violence. Many of the problems seen in our sport and play are not necessarily intrinsic to sport itself, but rather find roots in our own sinful human nature and an unhealthy obsession with winning. As emotions, enthusiasm and passions are invested so as to create more competitive fun, circumstances all too often and easily dissolve into undesired outcomes. Sport alienates people because it too easily disintegrates into self-serving and self-seeking actions. It is this possibility that players risk when they participate in competitive sport and play, and need to be on guard against. Sport vs. play When you strip away the rules and organized structure of sport, you are left with an inherently playful activity. When people are engaged in sport, they are described as "playing." Play doesn’t serve a utilitarian end – children engage in play not because it will get them something; they play simply to play. In sport, the joy of play has been replaced by a need to win, and an over-emphasis on winning costs us the playful and joyful elements of sporting activities. Currently, sport is not being played – it is being consumed. The current model of sport is business-oriented, and the inherent playfulness within sport has been lost, which is why many Christian scholars are calling for a rejuvenation and recovering of that play-ethic. A win-at-all-costs philosophy is a glaring distortion of God’s desired purpose for our play. There is irony in sport organizations that claim, "It is not about winning or losing, but about having fun." The irony is that we actually have to state this as a mandate! If we have to deliberately instruct participants to express something other than the natural impulses stirred in the game, it is a pretty sure sign that something is wrong with both the game and the people participating. Of course, this is no surprise given out flawed human nature; yet this all the more emphasizes how we structure our games and what we teach our youth. Such mandates are noble intentions, but are often poorly executed; change doesn’t happen with a declaration. If this is indeed the primary purpose of your sport organization, would it make sense, then, to actually keep score? What purpose does it serve? You’ll say, “but kids will keep score anyway.” Absolutely – our me-culture is teaching them that this is important and is the "goal of sport," and therefore highlights why it is extremely important that you reorient that purpose. Children will lie. And cheat. And disrespect. Participating in sport, regardless of a certain mandate, will not teach them that winning isn’t as important as having fun or being active. You must teach them that. The odd anomaly in the sport system gets this. The Canadian Soccer Association has recommended eliminating league standings for youth under the age of 12. As of May 2013, B.C. Soccer stopped posting scores and standings from U12 tournaments. Likewise, in a recent U12 tournament hosted by a Surrey soccer club, scores were not kept, no winners and losers announced, no trophies or medals handed out. These approaches encourage broader youth development instead of a "win-at-all-costs" model. Coaches will then equalize playing time, experiment with different positions, encourage "free play," and children are free to make mistakes without feeling pressure from teammates, coaches, and parents for their shortcomings. So too, especially in reformed circles, I would expect to see an appropriate rewards system. What do we teach our youth when we reward them with an icecream or a doughnut after they scored the game-winner? What would happen if instead they took that $2 and dropped it in a charity jar? Emphasis ought to be on cooperative play and displaying love and respect to your teammates and opposition. Since the emphasis is on this, winning is not discussed and merely functions as a by-product. So, which do you typically applaud: your child’s respect for and inclusion of others, or your child scoring a goal? What would happen if we counted passes made instead of goals scored? By applauding and celebrating certain behaviors, we teach our kids about what we believe matters most. So, the next time your child walks off the pitch, I urge you to say one of these things: “I love watching you play!” “Let’s go thank your coach!” “Can I get you something to eat?” “That looked like a lot of fun!” Winning isn't the problem To keep things clear: winning isn’t the problem. The issue is why a person wants to win. If you or your child desire first place in order to demonstrate your superiority, or claim supremacy, or to protect your ego, competition will often deteriorate into ethical and moral lapses. Instead, foster a desire to win that translates into great effort, support for others, testing and developing one’s limits and exhibiting the core values of your community. Sports can teach our youth about who’s number one, or who is actually Number One; they can teach children to bend rules, or obey them; and they can teach children that opponents exist to be victimized, or to be loved and respected. On their own, sport and competition will not teach these things naturally. Sports do not educate youth – people do. True Christian joy can be expressed aesthetically and playfully in thankful celebration to God. Just like "listening" is important in music, and "looking" is important in art, "feeling" is important in sport. As Christian athletes sharpen their skills, the beauty of their artwork (their expressions of creativity and imagination) may be a blessing to themselves and to others. Our bodies are temples of the living God, so we ought to treat them as such - not idolizing them to superior heights, but taking care that we are using them to glorify God. The real challenge will be in whether or not that joy persists even when losing…even when "failing" or performing poorly. We must set aside personal egos (deny ourselves), accept and acknowledge failure as normal (humble ourselves), and play as if love and respect were verbs. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” - Matthew 16:24–26 Legendary basketball Coach John Wooden challenges us all with his words: “I don’t want to tell, based on your actions, whether you outscored your opponent or whether your opponent outscored you.” Conclusion After reflecting on how those students reacted towards me after I selected those teams on that glorious sunny afternoon, I realize that I wasn’t hurt by the bitterness expressed towards my decisions, nor was I disappointed that they began to hate me. Mainly, I just felt discouraged. I’ve seen a lot of different behaviors in various sport systems through my young career. I’ve participated in sport since I could hurl a toy across the playroom; I’ve coached sport at pre-school, elementary, high-school, university and national levels; I counsel athletes and performers regularly as part of my job. Sport pays my rent and feeds my family. What discouraged me about this incident was that this was not a public school or a secular sport club; it was our own Reformed Christian School. These were Christians at play. In that moment I recalled Coach Wooden’s sentiment: “Sports do not build character; they reveal it”. So, what are they revealing in you, and those you influence? This article first appeared in the July/August 2014 issue. If you liked this article you might also be interested in our other sports-related articles: When we understand our opponent isn’t our enemy…., Boys and sports, A Good Coach is Crucial: the potential and danger of school sports teams, Sports teams are important for our Christian schools, and Daughters in sports. Questions for discussion 1. Children can learn all sorts of lessons from sports. a) What are some good ones? b) What are some bad lessons? 2. What can parents do to encourage the former and discourage the latter? 3. Of the four reasons listed below to be involved in sports, which should be given priority in our Christians schools? How might we choose to order these from most important to least important? a) So that students can learn to be very good at that sport b) Because sports is a means by which we can teach students other things, such as teamwork, leadership, discipline, compassion etc. c) To help students stay physically fit d) For the sheer joy of playing. 4. What are the qualities of a good Christian coach?...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

2081: Everyone will finally be equal

Drama 2009 / 25 minutes RATING: 8/10 “The year is 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law you see; they were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else…" In 2081 a “golden age of equality” has been ushered in by the “Handicapper General” whose job is to assess everyone’s abilities and, if they have any advantages, to then assigns them “handicaps” to take them away. In the film’s opening scene we meet George who, being a little stronger than most, is sunk down in his easy chair by the heavy weights he’s been assigned to sap his strength. He’s also outfitted with earphones that hit him with piercing sounds to make it impossible for him to use his higher than average IQ. Meanwhile, his wife Hazel sits comfortably on the couch, knitting. She hasn't been outfitted with any handicaps because she's been deemed to have no advantages. So they are equal. But is it an equality we want to have? Hazel and George are now just as fast, just as strong, and just as able to do math as one another. But this is an equality of the lowest common denominator. To bring this equality George's gifts had to be diminished until he was at Hazel's level. And for the government to bring about this type of equality, it had to treat them quite differently: Hazel is free, while George is in chains. Surely this isn't what we mean by equality, is it? There must be some other, better sort? While the film doesn't really direct us to the equality that is worth pursuing, the Bible does. In passages like Leviticus 19:15, Ex. 23:3, 1 Timothy 5:21, and James 2:8-9 we're pointed to a type of equality that involve treating all alike, not favoring the less advantaged over the rich, or the rich over the poor. Instead of endorsing 2081's equality of outcomes, God tells us to extend an equality of treatment. 2081 is so short I don't want to give any more of the plot away. But if you're looking for a great conversation starter, this is a fantastic film to watch and discuss, though be sure to do so with a Bible in hand. You can watch the trailer below, and to watch 2081 for free, follow this link (you do need to sign up to their email list, but they won't spam you, and you can always unsubscribe). Questions to consider In 2081 equality is said to have been achieved. But has it really? Are Hazel and George and Harrison equal to the Handicapper General? Can you think of any historical examples where governments brought a form of equality to the masses, that they didn't want to share in themselves? Does the Bible support an equality of outcomes or an equality of treatment (aka. an equality of opportunity)? See Leviticus 19:15, Ex. 23:3, 1 Timothy 5:21, and James 2:8-9. How is Hazel’s situation improved by George being handicapped? Why would she hate it if he removed his handicaps? How does Ex. 20:17 apply here? Is income inequality (2 Chronicles 1:12; Ex. 20:17) something that God calls on Christians to fight? Is poverty (Prov. 19:17)? What was Harrison Bergeron hoping to accomplish? If no one remembers his speech then did he die for anything? If we take an unsuccessful stand for what is right why could that still be worth doing? In what way is our measure of success different than that of the world's? In 2081 the government controls every aspect of people's lives. Why do governments grow? Who is it, that's asking them to do more? What are the dangers of governments that get too big? (1 Samuel 8:10-22) ...

Economics

A sad tale of a wealthy millennial’s moral confusion

A few years back my wife heard a young woman share that she had felt guilty for being able to go out to dinner with friends in Chicago. She knew her mother, still living in South Africa, wasn’t able to dine out like this. When she later told her mother about her feelings during a phone call, her mother was having none of it. She told her daughter that gratitude, not guilt was the appropriate response to God’s blessings. The young woman was told that she should thank God for how she’d been able to immigrate to America, and she could also pray and work for a time when South Africans, and others around the world, would enjoy blessings similar to those she was experiencing now in America. Is wealth immoral? I remembered that story the moment I began reading about Adam Roberts, a Millennial who in his Vox article “Is wealth immoral?” expressed his sense of guilt and injustice at having inherited over a million dollars as a child of wealthy parents. “As I got politicized around things like wealth inequality, climate change, war, and the forces connecting them, I didn’t connect it too much with my own family or history,” he wrote. But then he came to understand things differently. He confessed, as if they were sins, that his family had gained wealth through the oil industry, banking, and stock in companies that built things for the military. His parents had given him stock in ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron – another reason for guilt. As he became active as a “community organizer” in Boston, “no longer surrounded by wealthy peers,” it “felt absurd … to have access to so much when so many others didn’t.” “As a result,” he wrote, “I got real weird about money. I’d barely spend any of it.” He’d walk instead of taking Uber. Spending of $300 a month for prescription drugs for his mother-in-law was okay, but he was conflicted about putting down $30,000 on a house or spending $6.99 for a bag of popcorn at a theater. So he offset those two by contributing $30,000 to a land trust and declining to get a soda refill. But such things, he believes “are imperfect, individual actions.” The whole system that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle is “immoral.” Everyone, he thinks, should have a modest first home, but nobody should have a “$20M mansion in Newport, RI,” a second home if anyone else is homeless, or a third (or fourth or fifth). Nobody should buy a new $799 sofa when he could buy a used one, and nobody should have a yacht – at all. “Is it moral to hold any excess  private wealth under capitalism?” he asks – and later reveals that it’s not. “Does it matter how that wealth was accumulated?” He offers four examples: fossil fuels, medical doctor, useful invention, or stocks. He draws toward his conclusion by writing: “In a system that produces a handful of people with billions of dollars while hundreds of millions of people still lack access to basic human needs like health care and affordable housing … the question isn’t what billionaires should do with ‘their’ money. It’s how to enact policies that prevent any one person from concentrating that much wealth and power in the first place.” He recommends “taxing wealthy families like mine a whole lot more” because it’s “totally happened in the past,” it’s “part of the Green New Deal,” and it’s “widely supported.” At the level of individual choices, he reports that he’s donated roughly a third of what he inherited to charitable causes and intends to donate another third. “For me, it feels like part of becoming more connected and alive on this planet,” he says. Good motives; bad conclusions How should we respond to such thinking? Certainly not by condemning Roberts’s motives. It’s refreshing to see someone born rich who cares about those who weren’t. His charitable giving is to be commended, as is his self-restraint. And, frankly, as I read his article (accompanied by brilliant illustrations that drive home his points), my heart went out to him. Nonetheless, there are serious problems with his thinking. Is “wealth inequality” unjust by definition? Why, then, hasn’t he already divested himself of everything he owns except what would equal the average net worth of people around the world? How can anyone buy a used sofa – or any sofa at all – if nobody buys a new one? What constitutes a modest first home – something typical of Corinth, Mississippi, where median home value is $105,900? Or of Boston, where Roberts lives and the median home value is five-and-a-half times as much, or Manhattan at eleven times as much, or San Francisco (tack on another hundred grand)? Or – let’s get real now, and care about the whole world, not just wealthy America – is $1,000 a square foot, common in Boston, “modest,” or $99 (7,000 rupees) a square foot, common in Bengaluru (Bangalore), India’s “silicon valley”? Or next to nothing for the cardboard shacks in which millions of the poor of Africa, Asia, and Latin America live? And what’s the dividing line between a moral system and an “immoral” one that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle? Is personal net worth of $10,000 okay, but not $11,000? Or $250,000 but not $300,000? What objective standard justifies where Roberts draws the line? And what is “excess” wealth? Consider millionaires and billionaires – the sort of persons Roberts thinks “the system” should disallow. What do millionaires and billionaires do with their “excess” wealth? Well, they might buy stocks or bonds – providing the capital to pay workers, equip them with expensive tools that enable them to produce the food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits still other people need. They might buy a second or third house (or a yacht, or a private jet), construction of which employed workers whose wages provided food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits to themselves and their families. Maybe they’ll just stick it in a bank account – from which the bank will make loans to companies that will employ people to make things that benefit others. About the only thing they can do with it that will be of use to nobody is hide it under the mattress. (Let me know if you run into a millionaire who does that. I’m curious to meet such an eccentric.) It’s pretty clear that Roberts thinks there’s something particularly immoral about accumulating wealth from fossil fuels. Yet using those fossil fuels has lifted billions of people out of the poverty that breaks Roberts’s heart by providing not only energy but also plastics that prevent foods from spoiling; fertilizers that allow farmers to grow more food on less land to feed the growing human population while leaving land available for wildlife; pharmaceuticals that heal diseases; and literally thousands of other products derived from them. And when he bemoans fossil fuels’ contribution (however great or small) to climate change, does he weigh that against all those other benefits from them – plus the roughly $3.2 trillion in extra crop yields the CO2 emitted from them added to global crop yields (making food more available for the poor) from 1960 to 2012, with another $9.8 trillion expected by 2050? Medical doctors, whose method of accumulating wealth it seems Roberts favors over fossil fuels, would be severely handicapped without fossil fuel-derived medications (maybe including some his mother-in-law takes), not to mention the electricity that lights their operating rooms and powers their refrigerators to preserve their medications, their MRIs, and every other high-tech invention that enables them to restore people’s health and prolong their lives. How many of the things that raised human life expectancy at birth from about 27 or 28 years before the Industrial Revolution to about 70 today worldwide (and 80 in developed countries) would have been developed if no inventors, innovators, or entrepreneurs could have received any more rewards for their efforts than those who dug ditches (an honorable task but not highly rewarded) or just sat on their haunches? For some, wealth is a problem When a rich ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to obey God’s commandments – something the man says he has done from his youth up. “One thing you still lack,” Jesus says. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man leaves sad, prompting Jesus’ remark, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” – i.e., impossible. But, He explains, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:18–27). So does that justify Roberts’s feeling guilty about his inherited wealth, and demanding that “the system” be changed to prevent anyone’s amassing “excess wealth” while others struggle? Charity is good, and so is investment No, for in the very next chapter, when Jesus encounters a rich tax collector who says that he will give half his goods to the poor and restore fourfold anyone he has defrauded, Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:1–10). So which is it? Must one give everything away, or half? Or is there a different point entirely – wealth takes the place of God for some people, and must be given away entirely, but not for others. After that encounter, Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman (who represents God) who entrusts money to each of ten servants and instructs them to engage in business until he returns. On his return, the servants report their performance. The first has multiplied the investment ten times, the second five times. He rewards them proportionately. The third servant says, “Lord, here is your mina , which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” The nobleman, ignoring the obvious lie that he was reaping where had not sown, responds, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” Then he instructs others to take the money from him and give it to the first servant. “Lord,” they protest, “he has ten minas!” And the master responds, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Luke 19:11–27). God condemns injustice, not wealth The Bible has much to say about the need to protect the poor from oppression and to give charitably to help those who cannot help themselves. But nowhere does it condemn wealth. Indeed, some of the most important of God’s people were wealthy – Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, and wealthy women who provided for Jesus and His disciples. The Bible condemns greed, selfishness, and injustice – but it never equates injustice with inequality. Adam Roberts’s confusion is sad, for it means he encourages not only envy and resentment toward many whom God has blessed but also false guilt on the part of many, including himself, who are blessed. By all means, whether you consider yourself rich or middle class or poor, give to the poor, and work to protect the poor from injustice. But don’t condemn all inequality as injustice, and don’t feel guilty for the gifts God has given you.  Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, is author of Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel. Questions to consider How does God's "equality" as found in James 2:1-4, and Lev. 19:15 differ with the sort of equality that Adam Roberts wants the government to bring in? How does equal treatment under the law differ from being made equal by the law? (See the comic below). Roberts feels guilty for two different reasons: 1) for being wealthy, and 2) for how that wealth was garnered. As Christians, which of those two could be a legitimate concern, and which is not? Why? Each time money is exchanged for merchandise both parties become "wealthier." When I pay $5 for a book it's because that book is worth more than $5 to me and the merchant gives me the book because the $5 is worth more than the book to him (or else neither of us would make the trade). Amazingly both of us came off the better for the trade. Thus, money gained via legitimate means (piracy and money laundering are both out) represents good that has been done and wealth that has been increased. How should that understanding color our impressions of billionaires and millionaires? How much "good already accomplished" does their wealth represent? The 10th Commandment (Ex. 20:17) says we're not to covet our neighbor's stuff. Is it still coveting if we support a political party that has plans for our uber-rich neighbor's wealth? Explain. Lord Acton's most memorable quote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is based on a biblical understanding of Man's fallen nature. Is this adage a good reason to want to diminish the wealth – and thus the power – of the very wealthy? Or does the 10th Commandment apply even to their power? In Luke 12:48 we read, "...from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Is this passage a good justification for higher taxes on the rich? Is this God speaking to government about what the wealthy need to do, or God speaking to the wealthy about what the wealthy need to do? ...

Economics

A multi-level warning about multi-level marketing

Multi-level marketing’s end is nowhere in sight. Years ago, my personal ministry was. Yours truly accepted the invitation of another minister to jump into the multi-level pool. I stayed just long enough to nearly drown. During that time (and the drying off period which followed), I’ve done much thinking about the nature of multi-level marketing (“MLM”), with particular concern as to whether it is compatible with a lifestyle of devout obedience to the Christ of the Scriptures. My conclusion? There is a way that MLM is commonly done that conflicts at many points with Biblical values. So in what follows I submit several cautions – several lessons I’ve learned – for you to consider if you are involved in or thinking about joining one of these organizations. These points could be summed up as how we don’t want to do multi-level marketing. 1. Competing with the Church The first and deepest caution concerns multi-level marketing’s competition with the Church. From this one grand problem flow many others. This competition is undeclared but it is quite real. Consider, for example, how MLM literature is often liturgical in form. It contains praises for the company and/or its leaders, thanksgiving for its products, testimonies to the greatness of both, confessions of doubts, and even songs of adoration (no kidding). “Church” can meet in small groups (devotionals?) or large auditoriums. In the latter, the atmosphere is truly reminiscent of tent revivals in both program and intensity. Of course, you are urged to bring anyone you can. Every day is “Friend Day” in MLM. Furthermore, their agenda includes fantastic goals which, if truly representative of the organizations’ objectives, are frightening. They are out to “change the world.” Having made a “covenant with life” they are seeking to “infuse…lives with some measure of grace and beauty and purpose and joy.” MLMers are told that they are the “comfort and hope, promise and dream” of the world. Despite attacks or setbacks, these organizations will “survive and prevail(!)” Their enthusiasm is positively postmillennial in intensity. MLMers will often call each other “family.” They are urged to make a 100% commitment to the organization (something God alone can demand). They are encouraged to believe that the more they devote themselves to the plan, the closer they will be to tapping into “a life force of unlimited power.” People claim to have been “born-again,” either through the use of the company’s products or through participation in the multi-level program. They have been “set-free,” made “brand new,” delivered from fears, and are no longer able to hide their joy. Small wonder they can’t resist “sharing the good news”! The list could go on, but this tiny sampling of MLM rhetoric is sufficient to show the Messianic self-consciousness of many of these organizations. They are out to save the world. The problem, though, is that in their view salvation is primarily economic. People are unfulfilled or repressed or depressed because they haven’t got enough money. And this MLM organization will show you how to get it! Their method is (allegedly) guaranteed…but if you don’t get saved, it’s your fault. The impression is certainly given that the method is faultless. When I confronted one MLMer with the fact that he seemed to be saying that his organization was perfect, he quickly retorted, “Oh, no.” But in hours of talking, he yielded no ground. He could not (would not?) see any drawback or downside to his company. The Church should only fare as well when scrutinized by even her most loving critics! To review our first point, Christians need to be wary of MLM organizations that set themselves in competition with the Church by claiming the same mission (they are out to change the world – cf. Mark 16:15), by borrowing heavily from Biblical evangelical terminology (grace, born again, set free, covenant, joy, hope, comfort, sharing the good news, etc.), by pushing an economically-based soteriology (another gospel, my friends – Galatians 1:9), and by presumptuously arrogating to themselves invincibility (“we will prevail” – cf. Matthew 16:18) and possession of the keys to omnipotence (“a life force of unlimited power” – cf. Ephesians 1:18-23). It might be said that the organizations don’t really mean these things, that this is just the kind of hyperbole required to be competitive. But if they don’t mean these things, they should not say them (and they say them over and over and over again). If they do mean what they say, it necessarily makes it exceedingly difficult for Christians involved with the organizations to distinguish between things that differ. Sharing so much vocabulary necessarily cheapens the meaning of the words. When we remember that it is by means of some of these words that we are saved and sanctified, the precarious position of the Christian in such an MLM group becomes clearer. 2. Using friends and family A second concern for Christians involves how MLM can impact the way we view our social relationships. There would be little or no problem with the simple retailing of the products offered by these companies. They are usually as good, or better (though more expensive) than comparable items available in ordinary retail outlets. But, as you’re quick to find out, retail ain’t where the money is. No, the pyramid is climbed primarily through recruiting. You see, in MLM you get a cut of the sales of those recruited by you, and potentially of those recruited by them, and so on, ad pyramidium. Needless to say, you are at least as concerned to bring in the salesmen, as you are to bring in the sales. One Christian MLMer told me it was “just like making disciples” (there we go again). So the danger, then, is, that we start viewing everyone as potential timber with which we can build our little empire. Family members and close friends become the prime targets for you to “bring in under you.” Friends you have not called for 10 years, and casual acquaintances, who have to be reminded how they know you, come next. In MLM, propinquity = profit. But, by grace, the Christian MLMer will know he is in real trouble when, upon making new acquaintances, he doesn’t know which gospel he should seek to share first. If the company’s “support system” has indoctrinated him properly, he will consistently choose to first tell them about his new life in MLM. He hopes that it might lead to an opportunity to share God’s good news sometime in the future. The rationalizations one offers one’s self for this infidelity to God are myriad: “I feel led to share MLM first” / “If this person is among the elect he’ll be saved anyway” / “I’m going to use the money I make for God’s glory” (that was my favorite) / “If we share a business interest I’ll have more opportunities to witness,” etc. A prostitute can be very creative when comforting her conscience (see Proverbs 30:20). To review: MLM is bad news when: 1) it seeks to usurp the role of the Church 2) relationships become exploitation-ships. 3. The god of Mammon Greed can be a temptation in any business venture, but in MLM the amount of money you could make is mentioned again and again. That means covetousness is a real danger (see Proverbs 21:6, 16:8, Mark 4:19, Luke 12:15, 1 John 2:15). It is rather remarkable how few MLMers will be frank about this (though some are). The money can be significant, though – even astronomical, (for a few) – and it is possible to build a profitable business rather quickly. This is because MLM, when the people “under you” make money, you make money. The more they make, the more you make. Everyone is constantly “encouraging” everyone else to go for it. Of course, the difference between greed and simple financial success is not in the amount of dollars amassed, but in what one has exchanged for those dollars. One MLM convention or large rally would reveal what some poor souls have lost to gain what they now, temporarily, have. Superstars in MLM are often unabashedly ostentatious self-aggrandizers. Many of them, sorrowfully, have given up, or reprioritized (which is, after all, the same thing – Ex. 20:3) their first love for baubles, trinkets and the way of death. It is very sad. 4. Competing with the communion of saints A fourth concern is that MLM devotees are drawn into an independent subculture. For Christians, MLM involvement is, in some respects, akin to membership in a lodge. MLM is intrinsically and increasingly esoteric. The fellowship of the saints is usually seen as inadequate. A new club is formed and the password is not the blood of Jesus but the name of your MLM organization. Man is ever finding new ways to put asunder that which God has joined together. Conclusion There is a solemn warning in 1 Timothy that tore at my conscience the whole time I was involved in MLM. I actually avoided looking at this passage because it got too close, penetrating my soul, judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart. Rather than submit to this passage, I was considering leaving the ministry! Oh brothers, listen to the Word of God. Don’t give heed to the siren song, no matter how sweet, if its lyrics contain an invitation to disobey the tiniest commandment of God. The devil is seeking to devour us, but God has given us His Word for our good and for our protection. Obedience to God’s Word is life! “If we have food and clothing we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:8-11). Beware of giving heed to the voice of seducing spirits. God has called us to peace, which is found in the pursuit of Himself – not gold. By all means, work hard. By all means, bless Jehovah for the increase He grants the labor of your hands. But never make money your chief pursuit, or you’re dead. Abraham Kuyper was certainly correct when he said, “If you are truly subject to God, money will be subject to you and will not harm you.” But Kuyper demonstrated his balance and wisdom when he added, “If, on the other hand, you undertake to defend yourself against the fatal influence of…money and its seductive power, you are lost before you know it, and deeming that you are your own master, you have found your master in the money-power.” If you or someone you know is considering entering the world of MLM, wait. Before committing yourself to such a lifestyle (for that is what it is), take your time and pray. Consider the points made in this article. If they were made too strongly, modify them, but be sober and judge with right judgment. Look beyond surface claims; look for truth in the inwards parts. MLM organizations usually offer excellent products and most operate with a great degree of internal integrity. But product and corporate reliability, while important, are not the only factors which a child of the Living God should consider before biting at a ten-tiered carrot. If you’re not very careful, you may bite off more than you can chew. A version of this article first appeared in “Messiah’s Mandate: UPDATE, Volume 2, Number 2,” and is reprinted here with permission of the author. Rev. Steve M. Schlissel is the pastor of Messiah’s Covenant Community Church (MessiahNYC.org) in Brooklyn, New York. Questions to consider 1. This article presumes Christians want to talk about God with whomever we meet. But is that accurate – are we eager to talk about God? What stops us from talking about God? 2. How are the article’s four cautions applicable to other business ventures? 3. Pastor Schlissel says we should be wary of messianic, save-the-world language because it competes with the real Messiah, and the real Savior. So how should we respond when we hear it elsewhere? Like presidential debates? Or discussions about plastic straw usage? Where else do we hear this kind of language? 4. How would a Christian involved in MLM do it differently than non-Christians? What would that look like? 5. In a report posted to the US Federal Trade Commission website, Jon M. Taylor detailed how, in the 350 leading MLMs he’d looked at, 99% of sales consultants lost money. Taylor suggests that before you join any particular MLM you ask them for: “the average amount of money paid by the company in commissions and bonuses to participants at the various levels in the compensation plan.” If the organization won’t provide this information he suggests, “you should consider that a red flag.” While this isn’t a question, it is worth considering....

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Boys and sports

Why moms should want their sons breaking tackles and snagging rebounds **** Yes, you read the header right. I really am writing a column about why sons should be in sports. And, yes, this is a column for wives and mothers, not for husbands and dads. I feel qualified to address this subject because I put in hundreds (I'm not exaggerating) of hours in the bleachers. Soccer, t-ball, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, track, football (did I forget anything?) – we did them all. And I may as well mention it here: invest in one of those little cushy seats to take with you to all the games. Bleachers are very uncomfortable. I am one of those moms who is a strong proponent of boys in sports. Call me a cheerleader if you will (though I never had the pom-poms). I will tell you why: it is good for them. Sports can teach boys important things that Mom cannot teach them. And moms can learn a thing or two about their sons by having them involved in sports. But some moms are jumpy about their sons being in sports. It doesn't seem very spiritual for them to be tackling someone, or stealing a ball or a base, or hitting an opponent (or being hit) with a lacrosse stick. In fact, it doesn't sound very spiritual to have an opponent! Well, let's think about these things like grownups. I'm going to give you three (or four) good reasons for boys (your sons in fact) to be involved in sports. I'm sure there are many more reasons, but this is a short column, and I will lay out my own motherly thoughts on the subject. Learning to take a hit First of all, the way I see it, boys need to learn how to take a hit. Christian men need to be fighters. After all, in Christendom there is a battle going on. For starters, they need to be tough, not whiners, moaners, wimps, or shirkers. In sports they learn to take a hit. And I learned how to take a hit from my vantage point in the bleachers when my son took a hit. (Third and thirty-five against the defending state champions. Screen pass. He met three defenders at the marker. Went on top, through the crowd cable, into and then under the bleachers.) We do not want the church populated with men who cry when they fall down. If they are pushed around on the basketball court, they will learn how to "suck it up" and "blow it out," as my son-in-law says. When they look at the gigantic size of the other team and see how completely understaffed they are, they will find courage to overcome. Men need to be protectors and fighters. Sports are a good way to introduce them to the idea. It is not a real war, but it is good training for the real ones. Pushed to their limits Secondly, competing in sports requires discipline, and discipline is good. Boys need to run and run and run until they don't think they can run any more, and then they need to run some more. This is why it is such a blessing to have a coach who thinks boys need to do this. If a coach allows them to take a little breather if their side hurts, they won't do so well in the world of real fighting. A good and godly coach is a huge blessing. Moms don't make good coaches because they want to have cookie-and milk breaks, and they want to call the boys inside when it starts to rain. (We make far better cheerleaders and far better cookies.) My son had to get up early to make it to six a.m. basketball practice every morning in the dead of winter when it was cold and very dark. He was tired when he went to bed at night. He had two-a-days in football in the heat of August, and he slept very well. He had to learn to do what his coach told him to do, no matter what he thought of it. This is a good lesson for a son to learn. Sports teach sons the discipline of obeying authority and pushing their bodies to do what they are told even when those bodies are tired. Revealing the inner man But sports do more than this. They also teach your sons how to work with a team, how to submit to authority, how to encourage the slow guy, how to hit hard. And they teach patience. Time on the bench can be sanctifying too. This can teach humility and endurance, just so long as the time on the bench is not for poor conduct. But that can be a lesson also. I love a coach who will not stand for any slackness. I love a coach who calls a player to the bench who is not doing what he is told. I love a coach who will not let a kid play who was late for practice or who was show-boating on the court. That is a great coach. Sports are also very revealing. You see how your son is doing spiritually. And you see how you are doing spiritually. Is he throwing a tantrum when he doesn't get to play? Are you? Is he a crummy loser? Are you? Is he crying when he falls down? Are you? Is he kicking the ball in anger when he misses a shot? Is he passing the ball on the court or is he trying to get all the points himself? Is he playing dirty or giving the ref a bad time? Sports can show you all too plainly where your son's weak points really are, in front of you and everybody. Finally, sports can give your son something to be proud of and something for you to be proud of as well. That's right. There can be a godly satisfaction and delight in catching the fly ball, in passing the scoring touchdown, in running a really good race. This is the way God made us. Created different And one last thing. Moms, don't treat your sons like they are daughters. I am with you when you say you don't want your girls playing football. But a son is a totally different animal. Overprotective mothers can end up destroying their sons. We want our sons to be tough and strong, able to handle heavy weather without being snapped in two. If we keep them in the temperature-regulated greenhouse of home, they will not grow up to be like "saplings grown up in their youth" (Psalm 144). This article is reprinted with permission from Credenda Agenda Volume 15/4. Credenda/Agenda is published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com). Picture credit: Aspen Photo / Shutterstock.com ______________________ Questions for discussion Would non-Christians object to this article? Why might they? Should we care? Do some of the author's points apply equally well to why our daughters should play sports? Which do and which do not? The author describes a particular sort of coach. Would this be a good type of coach for girls too? Why or why not? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do our schools use sports to encourage boys to be fighters? Lots of people fight, but what is a Christian fighter? ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Why is dystopian fiction worth reading?

In dystopian fiction we get a glimpse at some sort of looming, foreboding future: maybe it's humans devolving into separate castes (H.G. Wells' Time Machine), mass infertility threatening the end of mankind (P.D. James's The Children of Men), a domineering government repressing all but the elite (Glenn Beck's Agenda 21), or maybe killer robots overrunning the planet (Terminator). The word dystopia is coined from Ancient Greek and means simply "bad place." What makes this a genre worth considering is because the best dystopian fiction is prophetic in nature, warning us of the dangers of a particular ideology (or practice) by showing us the "bad place" we will end up at if we adopt it. Thus there are as many sorts of dystopian novels as there are ideologies. But not all of the warnings given are…credible. Far from prophetic The Canadian "classic" novel and current Netflix hit The Handmaid's Tale warns of a world in which the government uses the trappings of the Christian religion to sexually enslave women. That is so far from where we are, or could conceivably head, that the book isn’t useful – the author is completely wrong and there are no insights to gain from her. (That hasn't stopped the Left from embracing the novel, pretending that Trump's presidency is its very fulfillment.) That lack of credible threat is a problem with many of the teen fiction dystopian series (The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Hunger Games) that have appeared over the last decade. They might be entertaining, but they aren't prophetic. If we look hard enough we might be able to find something, like The Hunger Games' warning against folks killing and getting killed for the entertainment of the masses. That does have relevance in a culture in which brutal MMA fights are now watched by millions (including ones in which women pummel women) and the NFL remains must-see TV even though it leaves most participants crippled in one way or another. But does that make The Hunger Games worth reading? No. Most teens aren’t likely to make that connection. More importantly, the series presents a dilemma that's likely to confuse its teen audience – the "hero" seems like she will have to either murder others or be murdered herself. Mature Christian will understand that it is better to suffer evil than to commit it, but will younger readers? Two that are each half right So what books do warn of credible threats? The top two would have to be: 1984 - Author George Orwell warns of the State using authoritarian power to so totally subjugate us that, if they insist, we'll say that 2+2 is 5...and believe it! If the idea of the State reconditioning people to spout obvious lies sounds too extreme to be credible, just consider what's happening to people today who say there are only two genders, there's no switching from one to the other, and you need one of each for marriage. Obvious truths, one and all, but if you say them – and we must – Big Brother will want to have words! Imagine what it might look like in ten years' time. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley warns of the State enslaving us not by force but by pleasure. Pain is taken away via the drug soma leaving the population in a generally happy stupor. Some clear parallels can be made to our meek, sheep-like society. Our cradle-to-grave State care leaves us dependent on the government to run more and more of our lives and that's how we like it. And our smartphones, Netflix accounts, opioids, and Twitter feeds leave many citizens in a soma-like stupor – celebrity-aware but politically-illiterate. These two books cover both sides of how we’re being hit today – the carrot and the stick. As Neil Postman put it: What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that our fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us. The credible threat here isn't from one approach or the other, but from both together. A caution: both books have sexual content. While both books have sexual content, in 1984 it is shorter and boring – there isn’t much pleasure taken in it. (And that’s the point; the government doesn’t want sexual ties creating divided loyalties, so they’ve done what they can to make it boring). A great G-rated 1954 film-version does away with the sexual content, so it could be shared with older teens with little worry, while the book might require more maturity. But Brave New World, with its focus on the enticements of pleasure, has more sexual content, and while it's still not explicit, it might be something that a hormone-riddled teen boy could struggle with. The rating site Common Sense Media (family-friendly, but not specifically Christian) suggests that 1984 is for 16 and up, and Brave New World would be for 14 and up, but I would reverse those and maybe even hold off Brave New World for Grade 12 and up. (Interestingly, the kid's reviews on Common Sense Media also rates Brave New World as more problematic than 1984). Other warnings worth hearing In the other books, and films, that fill out this genre, the most common threat is probably killer robots (2001: A Space Odyssey; Prey; Terminator; The Matrix; etc.). Technological advances mean there’s a legitimate reason for concern here, but it shouldn’t be our principal concern. We differ from the world in that we understand that we should not fear “them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). Our true battle is: not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). What Paul means here by “flesh and blood” is Man and all his deadly weapons...including killer robots. But if that's not where the real battle is at, then where should we focus our attention? Our concern is the Devil and all the means he uses – including false ideologies and philosophies – to confuse our understanding of God, or pressure us to reject Him, or try to keep us from learning about Him. With that in mind, some credible threats worth considering include: Lord of the Flies - William Golding warns us not to be naive about our sinful nature; Man, left to his own devices is no angel. The Giver - Lois Lowry warns again enforcing sameness in the name of equality (it is aimed at young readers, but adults can enjoy and be challenged by it too). Time Will Run Back - Henry Hazlitt warns against Communism specifically, but socialism in general. This would be for older teens, not because of problematic content (this is far "safer" than Brave New World or 1984) but simply because of the depth and breadth of the ideas therein. This is my own favorite dystopian novel because I found it by far the most educational. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury warns of censorship, though I wonder if the type of censorship he warns about is far less likely than the creeping political correctness we actually face. There is content here too problematic for younger readers to handle. Winterflight - Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands (the Christian confusion in this book is almost too spot-on to take). Fatherless, Childless, Godless - James Dobson’s 3-book series warns against abortion’s results - a shrinking population. (One thing that bothers me about this series is how it occasionally takes God's name in vain. That happens in other books listed here too, but they aren't by Christian authors, and I expect more from Dr. Dobson.) This is a genre well worth exploring, though with care and caution. It's a big blank canvas that insightful writers can use to paint pictures of grim futures, all in the hopes that they, and we, will ensure such futures never come to be. Discussion questions With thanks to my brother Jeff, here are some discussion questions that can be used in groups or on your own to dig deeper into any dystopian novel. What is the threat the novel suggests will lead to the situation in the novel? How credible is this threat? If the threat is not credible, what might be a more likely or relevant threat in our own society? If the threat is credible, how do we see that threat in our society today? How does the novel suggest or imply we should prevent or deal with the threat? What might be a better way to prevent or deal with the threat? What does the novel suggests is the good aspect of our world being threatened? Is the novel right about that being a good aspect? Using the CREATION-FALL-REDEMPTION structure how does the novel's worldview compare and contrast to our Biblical understanding? What is the story's take on our purpose (Creation), on what is wrong with the world (Fall), and how we are to be saved (Redemption)? CREATION: Who does the author or narrator/protagonist think set up this ideal world that was somehow lost? Do they acknowledge God as the creator? Or do they idealize (or idolize) one of God’s gifts as more important than God Himself? FALL: Who or what caused the loss of the ideal world? Greed? The government? A particular ideology? Man's nature?  REDEMPTION: What does, or could, bring the ideal world back? Is God in Christ seen as necessary, or is some other solution offered completely outside of God’s help. This article first appeared in the November/December 2019 issue....