Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Inklings Influence On More Than Mere Christianity

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings
By Philip and Carol Zaleski

Someone recently asked me why Philip and Carol Zaleski’s book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings would have any relevance to a theological conversation among clergy. Good question. We might want to consider that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien probably have about as much influence on the people who sit in the pews of churches today than probably any two other writers in Christian history. In 2006, Christianity Today named Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity, the third most important book among Evangelicals since 1945. Carol Zaleski says that Lewis is “arguably the best selling Christian writer since John Bunyan.” As for Tolkien, the British bookseller Waterstone’s declared Lord of the Rings book of the century in 1997. Sales for Lord of the Rings are estimated between 150 – 200 million copies. The film trilogy that was based on Tolkien’s book was collectively the highest grossing films of all times. Why add Charles Williams and Owen Barfield to the theological conversation? The Zaleskis write that, “They make the perfect rose of faith: Tolkien the Catholic, Lewis the “mere” Christian, Williams the Anglican (and magus), Barfield the esotericist. Frankly, given the theological mix of clergy and laity these days, this quaternity might reflect the theology of the Episcopal Church better than any combination of writers in the modern era.

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams were complex men, romantics, philosophers, theologians, fiction writers, and friends. These men were the heart of a male only group known as the Inklings. They gathered for most of twenty years, from the Great Depression through the 1950s, in an Oxford pub to drink, to smoke, to read their latest work, and to endure frank, sharp critique. The Inklings could exemplify the best and the worst of men only gatherings; unrestrained masculinity can lead to authentic conversations, however, without confrontation from the feminine shadow they can also lead to relationships that lack the integration of mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Carol and Philip Zaleski, authors and professors of religious studies, have tackled the complicated task of writing a biography of four unique personalities. The Zaleskis, rightfully, are unwilling to excuse the Inklings for their exclusion of women writers from their group. They are, however, not willing to go as far as to name the Inklings, what other critics have labeled as, “simply a club of Lewis’s friends.” The Zaleskis are fair in the assessment of the contribution of the four Inklings they chose to focus their time on throughout this lengthy work. Yet, to me, their book feels biased by their analysis of these men’s religious pursuits. They give the cradle born and faithful Catholic Tolkien, a pass. In their eyes, he seems to do little wrong. Lewis, on the other hand, an agnostic until his moment of “conversion” to Christianity, is subtly critiqued for not taking the step from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Williams, an Anglican, is questioned for his involvement in the secret Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, a group founded by A.E. Waite. The Fellowship has significant influence on Williams’ novels and his Theology of Romance. The Zaleskis would suffer none of Williams’ ideas of secret societies, the kabbalah, alchemy, Freemasonry, or the Tarot. Barfield faired even worse. He came under the influence of Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophical Society, which was “dedicated to expounding ‘Spiritual Sciences.’” A method of occult insight that offered, Steiner claimed, “reliable, verifiable, clairvoyant exploration of the spiritual realm.” Later they even passively dismissed Barfield’s eventual conversion to Christianity through the Anglican Church.

The Zalenski’s provide a detailed, well-researched, and interesting book. They offered unique insights about the Inklings’ relationships with each other. As well, the Zaleskis delve into the personal lives of each author, especially their relationships with women. Tolkien may have based the women in his books on the idolization of his mother, who died when he was a child. Lewis had, at the least, odd relationships with some of the women in their lives. Williams, who poetry and theology swing like a pendulum between the Song of Solomon and Dark Eros, can be troubling for those not willing to carefully analyze his work at a Jungian level. The Zaleskis advertise that their book delivers new information about Williams. Such is probably an overstatement on their part given the work of Gavin Ashesen’s Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration and Grevel Lindop’s Charles Williams: The Third Inklings. Considering Barfield, other biographers find little of substance to question Barfield’s relationship with his wife. The Zaleski’s, however, write, “The two (Barfield and his wife) maintained a peaceful veneer by avoiding all discussion of religion or metaphysics and especially Anthroposophy, but this scarcely constitutes a prescription for marital bliss. Frustrated in his art, unhappy in his career, uninspired in his marriage, Barfield longed desperately for…well, he hardly knew what.”

This leads to my critique of the Zaleski’s book. It feels as if they wrote their book as a Sunday school morality lesson for Carol Zaleski’s young women students at Smith College. She praises Tolkien’s Catholic morality. (She never discloses that she was a mid-life convert to Catholicism.) Then proclaims that after Lewis converted to Christianity he “brimmed with happiness; everything falling into place. Since becoming a Christian, his teaching, reading, writing, and scholarship had all acquired zest and purpose.” Of course, Lewis used his newly found Christianity to cut off any religious discussion with Barfield and Bede Griffiths, for which the Zaleskis appear to exonerate Lewis. Of course Zaleski’s students, by reading this book, would now be fully warned about men like Williams (occultist and sadist). And bored with men like Barfield (esoteric).

In the end, though, the Zaleskis offer this positive conclusion to their 512 page work on the life of the Inklings; “Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams, and their associates, by returning to the fundamentals of story and exploring its relationship to faith, virtue, self-transcendence, and hope have renewed a current that runs through the heart of Western literature.”

The Fellowship was very much worth the time invested. And I do think their book could be the seed for an extremely important discussion about the current state of theology in the Episcopal Church, especially considering the influx of those from other traditions, Roman Catholics (Tolkien), Evangelicals (Lewis), mystics (Williams), and philosophical intellectuals (Barfield).
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Water: The Spherical Cycle of Birth and Death

We’re celebrating the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism. The liturgical color for baptism is white. My sister made the stole I’m wearing as a gift for my ordination. Dinah is the oldest known person in Arizona with Prader-Willi Syndrome. She’s mentally and physically handicapped. At the time I was ordained, Dinah was a part of the Art Works project in Tucson. The director of the program was a Roman Catholic nun. She helped Dinah make this very special stole.

The stole also reminds me of the day my sister was baptized. We grew up in a Southern Baptist home. In the Southern Baptist church someone is baptized only after they have accepted Jesus as their personal savior. By the time a child is somewhere around six to eight years old they’ve reached the “age of reason.” What that means as a Southern Baptist is that you’re old enough to know that you’re a sinner. And if you die without Jesus as your personal savior you will go to hell. In the Baptist church baptism is your first act of being a follower of Jesus.

Southern Baptist’s, however, would not expect someone like Dinah to fully understand the concepts Jesus, God, sin, heaven, and hell. In a sense, she would never reach the age of reason or accountability. The idea of Dinah being baptized never came up in our church.

However, it would be a mistake to think Dinah doesn’t understand something simply because she can’t talk very well. Fifteen years ago, when Dinah was forty-five, she started telling my mom she wanted to baptized. My mom asked me what I thought and said if Dinah wants to be baptized, why not? I asked Dinah why she wanted to be baptized. She said, “Jesus my heart.” On Easter Sunday, 2001, I baptized Dinah.

The best way to describe Dinah’s connection to God is that she’s a mystic. A mystic’s experience with the divine is usually beyond description. What the mystic sees, smells, hears, tastes, and feels leaves the intellect scrambling for words that don’t exist. The mystic is left with only symbols and metaphors to describe their experience. Like Dinah saying she feels Jesus in her heart. She’s using a mystical metaphor to explain her experience.

You might be wandering about what the Episcopal Church believes about baptism. Baptism is a visible symbol of what God is doing in our interior life. God’s work in our life is eternal. God always has been, is, and will be working in our life. God knows us in the womb, in our life, in our death, and for all of eternity. God’s knowing of us is not bound by human time—God is pure timelessness, which we are a part of. For Episcopalians, what happens at baptism is a mystery, beyond human words, beyond the intellect. We baptize babies as the mystical symbol of God’s work in the child’s life—in God’s timelessness. We baptize adults not because they understand what’s happening; indeed we baptize because they admit they don’t understand and never will. They’re willing to live into the eternal mystery.
The eternal symbol of the mystery is water. The symbol of water is our connection to the timelessness of God’s creation. By the symbol of water we are mystically connected to the very beginnings of Mother Earth. In the beginning the earth was covered with the chaos of water. Out of that primordial water humanity was born. And out of the water of the womb, we are born. We are sustained in life by water. And in death we will return to God’s eternal sea. The symbol of water is the spherical cycle of birth and death. Water is our mystical connection to eternal timelessness, where the past is the present and now is the future.

The symbol of water is such an important part of our life as Episcopalians. We call upon the Spirit to bless the water at baptism as the mystical symbol of our timeless experience with the Divine in our birth. At every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we pour water into the wine as a mystical symbol of the timeless experience of the Divine in our life. Every time we walk into the church we dip our fingers in blessed water and cross ourselves as a symbol that we one with the Divine. And at our death, we will be sprinkled with water as a mystical symbol that we have gone into God’s sea of timelessness.

Our tradition for the celebration of today’s feast is to bless the people with the water of baptism—a symbol of Jesus’ baptism and our baptism. I’m using a palm branch, a symbol of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—a symbol our life, death, and resurrection.

Meditate on these symbols that speak beyond words. Live into these symbols that speak beyond words. Be these symbols that speak beyond words. I know it’s weird. But these symbols will keep changing everything in your life—what you eat, what you buy, how you treat people, how you vote. More importantly, what you think about your experiences of God will change how you follow Jesus.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Timelessness

There is a sense of timelessness about Christmas. Our daughter lives in Seattle and one her goals in life appears to be, spoiling her two nephews, especially on Christmas Day. She loves them dearly. Cole, our oldest grandson will be four in February and Zane just turned one. Last week, a few days before Christmas, Cole told Cathy that he saw gifts under the tree. She told him that on Christmas Day there would be presents under the tree for him. With innocence and wonderment he said, “Gifts for me?”

For not being four-years-old, Cole knows everything about construction equipment. He knows all the about frontend loaders, backhoes, excavators, and cranes. He knows the brand name of the equipment by color. He knows the difference between a John Deere, a Caterpillar, and a Mack. So, for Christmas, our daughter bought him his own riding frontend loader with a backhoe attachment. She had it shipped to our house. When it arrived, looking at the picture on the box, I realized it had to be put together. I didn’t want our grandson to have to wait on Christmas Day for his dad and I to put it together. And for our daughter, I wanted to take a video of Cole when he saw this amazing gift she had bought him. So, I dumped out the nearly 100 pieces and four sets on instructions on the garage floor.

Honestly, I’m not very good at this kind of thing. But, being a grandpa, I started in. Truthfully, I lost track of time. After awhile, I was taken back in time to when I put gifts together for our children. And then, I began thinking about the Christmas when I was nine and my dad bought a basketball goal for our driveway. The day after Christmas being outside with him while he put it on the house. And then I found myself thinking about the Christmas’ I had spent time with my granddad, riding in his truck and listening to his stories. And that took me back to when I was Cole’s age, being with my great grandfather at Christmas. He was an enigma, a mysterious man.

While I was putting Cole’s little tractor together, I was caught up in a thin space of timelessness. I felt a connection with everything past. At that moment, everything past felt like it was present to me in that space. My great grandfather, my grandfather, my dad surrounded me while I was working on Cole’s gift. There was a deep sense of being fully present to the moment. There was no longer any past or any future. Everything was now. It was as if I was meant for that moment in time—that present moment was my purpose. Upon reflection, I realized that day in our garage was a very contemplative experience for me.

Today’s reading is from the opening of the Gospel of John; such beautiful, mystical poetry. I think John is sharing with us one of those holy present contemplative moments in his life when he was with Jesus Christ. John’s vision appears to be one those moments when he was caught up in the timelessness of his experience.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

I can imagine John’s words were inspired by his contemplation on the scripture. The words from John sound like Proverbs, the Wisdom book of the Hebrew Bible.

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep…I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Proverbs 8:22-31)

And the words from Proverbs sound a like the opening of Genesis, words I am sure he had memorized.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness Night.” (Genesis 1:1-5)

I think John was sharing his contemplation of the scripture with us. John was seeing the Wisdom of Jesus in the Word of the Hebrew Scripture. John had learned from Jesus how to be caught up in timeless moment of the now…the moment when we are connected to the Divine.

In the moments of being caught up in the timelessness of God, there is no past and there is no future. There is only the present moment. We lose track of time. What happened in the past—is now—and now is the future—because we are here—now in this moment and time. In God’s time, “in the beginning” is now.

This means we can let go of the expectations and anxiety we have about tomorrow. This is the season of Christmas, the twelve days of Christmas. We are suspended in God’s season of timelessness. The season of “now.” We are not waiting any longer. We don’t have to fret about tomorrow. Twelve days of Divine completeness. “Twelve” is used 187 times in the Bible as a symbol of completeness; the 12 tribes Israel, the 12 disciples, the first recorded words of Jesus was when he was 12, the 12 gates of New Jerusalem are guarded by 12 angels—the Trinitarian number times the number of completeness. We are in the season of God’s complete act—we are in a season of timelessness—where there is no past and there is no tomorrow—there is only now. Jesus came to teach us to live in the authentic, raw, naked now of every moment of life.

The season of Christmas lasts until January 6. Until then, just for these few days, focus on the now, the very presence of being present to every moment. Live for this moment of time of being One with the Holy Living God

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Adventures in Soulmaking, a book review

Adventures in Soulmaking, a book by Troy Caldwell
Review by Gil Stafford

Troy Caldwell has presented an excellent entre into the world of spiritual direction from a Jungian perspective for his intended audience. He makes it very clear on the first page that he is writing his book for orthodox evangelicals who are mental health care providers, spiritual directors, and pastors.

Caldwell is a psychiatrist and spiritual director. His book contains countless interesting anecdotes about his life and those of his clients. Chapter 5 “From Fragmentation to Higher Things,” is the story of Caldwell’s psychiatric treatment of Andrea, a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I found the story fascinating. But, the story would be out of place for anyone who is not a mental health care provider. Caldwell does not make this point clear in his book. Instead, Caldwell uses the story to “illustrate the fragmentation that can occur as we grow up in a fallen world.”

What drew me to Caldwell’s book was my curiosity as to whether someone could bring together Jungian depth psychology with orthodox evangelical theology. For example, his view of a fallen world and original sin are clearly orthodox. Then, Caldwell quotes liberally from Carl Jung, Evelyn Underhill, and Charles Williams. He includes information about archetypes, dreams, and the Tarot. I found his presentation intriguing. Caldwell says, “I am convinced from scripture, convinced from empirical observation of patients, and convinced from personal experience that the opening to the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of (Jesus Christ)’ involves activating the symbolic mind.”

I applaud Caldwell’s valiant attempt to convince orthodox evangelicals that Jung, Underhill, Williams, and the many others he quotes have something valuable to offer them. However, as someone who reads those authors and is not an orthodox evangelical, I take issue with some of Caldwell’s interpretation of Jung as a way of supporting the author’s orthodox theology. For example, Caldwell equates the “shadow” with “sin.” On this issue, Mary Ann Matton in her book Jungian Psychology in Perspective writes that Jung’s view is that, “although ‘sin’ and ‘shadow’ are identical to some people, the designation of ‘shadow’ implies the possibility of embracing the dark side for the sake of wholeness while ‘sin’ suggest rejection of the dark side in pursuit of perfection.” In this regard, Caldwell falls short of Jung’s goal of the non-duality of individuation, in other words, the union of opposites. Instead, he chooses to maintain the orthodox view of Christian dualism. At this point, and some others, in my opinion, I think Caldwell misinterprets Jung and maybe Jesus as well.

One last point, in reviewing books I have chosen to read several self-published authors. I think self-publishing has an important place in our world of independent authors. My humble opinion is that self-published books fall into two categories: authors who invest in an excellent editor and those who don’t. Unfortunately, Caldwell must have done the later. Caldwell’s writing is, at times folksy, clumsy, and rambling. A good editor could have challenged him to move beyond those possible stopping points for his reader.

I would, though, still recommend Caldwell’s book for his intended audience. Adventures in Soulmaking has much to offer. For those outside the realm of Christian evangelical orthodoxy, just know Caldwell has not written this book with you in mind.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Longest Night

Winter Solstice 2015

“Hello, from the other side.” Adele’s haunting lyrics are dripping with possibility. She grants me permission to include my story in the next line; like pure alchemical poetry.

On the longest night of darkness,
I wait in the charcoal hues
for the full moon of Mother’s morning.
Hello, from the other side not yet light;
for there is no bright Morning Star
without the dark of the Brother’s Night.
No bridegroom Sol without bride Luna.

There is pleasure
still in the pit of the cold
of starlit shadow.
Oddly, I can find rest in night’s bosom of love.
Plenty of light shines out
from Sister Moon’s near full crescent.
The leafless tree casts her shadow
across my pilgrim soul’s journal.
Writing in the dark is no metaphor. And
neither is the owl
that flies like my shadow across weary brow.

A voice…
from the other side of my reality;
Ancient bards and
Poets Romantic past,
still present in eternal timelessness.
Words with souls tumbling
through the Solstice
Winter night.
Listening to the rhythm,
the rhymelessness,
the pace,
the gravel in the heart.
Adieu. Tears to—night.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Only Forgiveness Will Heal the Fear of Terror

John the Baptist would never get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I mean, just imagine John the Baptist as your pastor. He had a gnarly untrimmed beard and he hadn’t had a haircut in years. He would refuse to wear vestments. His clothes were dirty and torn. He didn’t wear shoes. He looked more like a homeless person than he did a priest. I’m very confident that by today’s standards, John the Baptist couldn’t get a job as pastor at any church, Episcopal of otherwise. He wasn’t interested in church growth. It’s pretty obvious he didn’t care if people gave money to the church or not. And he was critical of most everyone around him, the government, religious leaders, and even those who wanted to be his followers.

When people showed up at the Jordan River, did he put out his hand and say, “Welcome to the Jordan River Episcopal Church?” No. He yelled at them. “You snakes! Why did you come out here?”

When John the Baptist preached, his message was often hard to understand. “The ax is at the root of the tree.” What could that mean? He was saying that we need to change our way of thinking. The tree John is talking about is the Tree of Life referred to in Genesis. In biblical mythology, the Tree of Life had two components; the first, the tree you could see above ground, which was mirrored by the second, the tree you couldn’t see because it was below ground. John was saying this Tree of Life you now see, our current way of thinking, is going to be cut down. What will then grow in its place is the tree below ground, which will be the new Tree of Life. And this new Tree of Life will be a cross.
On this cross will be a man, a unique man, a new Adam. This new Adam will be the Messiah. He will tell us that we will see him when he is raised up on this new Tree of Life, the cross, just like when Moses raised up the serpent on his staff. This Messiah will be the image of both innocence and evil. This new Adam will look like the old Adam. But, the new Adam will tell us that we need to take up our own cross. And that no matter how innocent we think are—we must crucify the serpent that lives within each of us on our own cross. How do we do that? Pray like the Messiah prayed. Like Jesus, the Messiah, the new Adam, taught us to pray. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This type of prayer brings God graced humility into our life.

When I heard about the shooting in San Bernardino, I was stunned. Then when I heard that it happened at a center for people with development disabilities, I got angry. All I could think of was what if that happened at the center that supports my sister. What if her beloved caregivers had been shot? Now, when I look at the faces of the fourteen people who were killed, all I can see is the faces of the two women who take care of my sister on a daily basis. My anger came right to the surface. At that moment, I realized I could kill.

What do I do with this anger? I own it. I say—that’s me. I could kill. By owning the fact that I could be just as violent as the two people who killed fourteen people in San Bernardino, I see myself for who I am. I put my sin of anger on the cross and I crucify it. And then I can pray, “Father forgive the terrorists for they know not what they do. Father, forgive me of my willingness to kill, as I forgive those who sin against me.

When any kind of injustice, any act that does not show love to another human being, is done—I must search in myself to find that sin in my own life. Then place that sin in my life on the cross and crucify it.

John the Baptist was teaching the people that came out to the Jordan River to be baptized into a new way of thinking. That way of thinking would be to think like the man Jesus, who was raised up on the new Tree of Life.

We must think like Jesus. As Saint Paul said, we must put on the mind of Christ, humble ourselves, empty ourselves, and be willing to crucify the things in our life that prevent us from being the love of Christ into this world.

What stops us from crucifying our own sins? We’re afraid. We’re afraid of terror—the terror created within us when we recognize we are no different than the two people that killed fourteen other people in San Bernardino. Fear and terror bring death—physical death a death of the soul. Only forgiveness will heal the fear of death and terror.

The ax is at the root of the Tree of Life. Are we ready for a new way of thinking? Can we pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Can we pray “Father, forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.” Only forgive can bring healing.

I know this all sounds weird. But if we seriously pray for forgiveness, for others and for our selves, it will change everything. It will change what we eat, what we buy, how we think, how we treat people, and how we vote.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The National Football League Reflects the Addictions of Our Culture

Some of us have struggled with addictions in our life. Typically we think of addictions related to some substance abuse. The drug, though, isn’t the problem; it’s the symptom. The problem lies behind what we are using the drug to mask.

As much as substance abuse is a troubling issue in our society—I think the most troublesome addictions in our society are greed, violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

What’s strange about addictions is that the drug of choice is usually starts out innocent enough. Then it creeps up on us. It starts out as something recreational and then before we know it, what was so innocent now consumes us.

Let me give you an example. The National Football League was born in 1920 as a fledging entity that struggled to exist until games started appearing on national television. It wasn’t until the first Super Bowl in 1967 did the NFL really exploded as a reflection of our national psyche. Today, it seems that the NFL reflects the addictions our American culture.

First, the NFL reflects the greed that permeates American culture. The NFL reported last week that 106 million people, one third of the U.S. population, watch the NFL each week. The average NFL game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes, of which the ball is in play only 11 minutes. During those three hours you are exposed to 100 commercials.

Of course, the NFL is a big business. In 2014, the NFL had revenues of $10 billion. Their stated goal is $25 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money to be spread between 32 teams.

Ah, you say, what about all the money the players make? There are 1,696 players in the NFL. The average salary is $1.9 million a year per player. The total payroll burden for the NFL players is $3.2 billion. That leaves about $7 billion for the owners to operate their businesses. All sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Except for one thing, 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years after their career is over. Surely with all that money, there must be a safety net? An NFL player can collect retirement at age 55. For each season they played the player collects $470/month. The average career of an NFL player is 3 years. That nets the player $1,400 a month in retirement.

Second, the NFL reflects the aggrandizement of violence in America. In last week’s NFL games, 2 players suffered neck injuries from legal hits that required surgery. In addition to the legal contact, 3 players were fined $20,000 for illegal hits to the head and 3 other players were fined nearly $10,000 for other types of illegal hits. The players continue to get bigger, stronger, and faster each year. No amount of rules or fines will control violent nature of an NFL game. The NFL is a violent game.

In the NFL, 30% of the players will suffer from long-term cognitive ailments and are 4 times at greater risk for Alzheimer’s than the average American. The average life span of an NFL player is 55 years. Oddly enough, the players can start taking retirement at age 55. So the average player never lives long enough to collect the meager retirement.
Third, the NFL reflects the ugly nature of racism that permeates our culture. 70% of NFL players are African-American. Yet, of the 32 teams, only 5 of the head coaches and 7 of the general managers are black. No owner of an NFL team is a person of color. In fact, of the 122 teams between the NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NHL there is only one majority owner of color. There is something really wrong with the color of that picture because it looks like racism.

Sexism? That’s easy. Here’s what an NFL game looks like: the men are in the middle of the field engaged in highly technical, very physical, and financially lucrative maneuvers; while the women are on the sidelines happily cheering them on dressed in very skimpy costumes. Ever wonder why there aren’t any women announcers in the booth?

Is there homophobia in the NFL? That’s even easier to point out than sexism. How many players in the NFL are openly gay? Zero. Does that mean there aren’t any gay men playing NFL football? No. Given that 4% of the male population is gay, there are probably sixty plus closeted men playing in the NFL. Yes, last year the NFL drafted the first openly gay man. But he was cut early in training camp. Yes, the NFL is homophobic.

The problem is not the game of football. The real problem is that the NFL reflects the addictions of our American society.

I’ve have wondered, though, how the league would look differently if Oprah owned a team and Condoleezza Rice was the commissioner. I’d start watching the NFL again if that happened.

I guess I could say that the good news is this: the NFL, like every other institution, including the church, will come to an end one day. That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples in the Gospel of Mark (13:1-8). As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Every institution has a life cycle—the institution is born, matures, gets old, and then dies. History has proved that over and over again. Jesus was just pointing out the obvious.

What Jesus and our new PB Michael Curry are calling us to do is give up our addictions and get on board with the Jesus Movement. To follow Jesus’s teaching: Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Jesus said to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus came to show us that real power is in powerlessness. Jesus came to show us that love heals fear.

I know it might be really weird not to watch the NFL this weekend. But being a follower of Jesus will affect what you eat, what you buy, how you treat other people, what you watch, and how you vote. Amen.