17 July, 2008

Idols in our Homes

I've been worried for a while about people calling too many things idols. It's all well and good to be against people watching too much TV, but is it really an idol? Or is it just an inferior amusement, sometimes used badly?

I've been reading in Isaiah, and God is clearly annoyed when His people turn to idols. There's a really great scene in which Isaiah describes a dude who's obviously pretty handy with wood tools. Our new buddy grabs a good-looking hunk of wood, and turns it into a table and chairs, then maybe a plate or two, finally takes the chips and scraps and lights a fire to cook his dinner. That last left-over piece, though, he carves into an idol to whom he can "say grace" for his meal. It's almost funny how God sees no difference between the activity of making dinner and a making convenient god.

That's an idol.

Faith, hope, and love, Paul says, are the three things that matter, and those are the three things the idolator poured into that last piece of wood.

Faith is a logical, conscious decision to live as if a god's promise will be kept based upon prior knowledge of his power.

Hope is the ability to hang on now because you know god will make enduring the present worthwhile.

Love is a commitment to think, feel and act in the best interests of your god.

I see all three of those things in the actions of Isaiah's unhappy wood-worker. He reckons that his god has given him today's food, so he exercises faith that his god will do it again. His hopes for the future are truly based on the way his god will make that future pleasant. And he has invested his time and passion into pleasing that god with his carved image and tiny offerings to it.

I don't see any of that in America's relationship with the television. We don't think the television brought us any good thing, so we don't rely on it to bring us anything in the future. We don't hope for a better future because of the television's oversight in our lives. Maybe we invest in that box, but all our offerings are to ourselves.

And therein lies the key, I believe.

Our idol cannot be seen, because we no longer believe in the invisible. We don't have to incarnate it any more. We look at history, and find we've gotten our own meals for our own selves, so that's where we put our faith. We hope for our future, because we have laid plans for it and because science keeps making it better every day. And we pour our love out to stir up more passion from within.

In other words, we've not moved a lick from Paul's day. We've made a god of our bellies, trusting our lusts to bring us every good thing and our strength to keep us against the day of trouble.

Don't rail against the television. It's just a little offering we make to our lusts. Our cars and our wide screens and our nest eggs, our jobs and our houses and our spouses, our movies and our shows and our nightlife; they are the little offerings we give to appease our god, the little sacrifices we make to ourselves. We sculpt our abs, sleep at our custom sleep number, and dine in every luxury we can afford in order to strengthen and prepare our god to conquer for us. When our body is strong and our minds are tuned and our attitudes are adjusted, we can make the best of all possible worlds for ourselves.

When the Living God sees us in front of a TV, He doesn't trip out. I'm sure He knows a better way for us to spend our time, a way to spend time together, but He's got big shoulders and He can bear for us to overdo some entertainment. Through Isaiah God tells us it's when He finds us wrapped up in the arms of another that He is angered. It's not Ba'al with whom we whore, though, it's our better selves.

We strive to have faith in ourselves. We hope to grow better and wiser. We practice loving ourselves. We've refined idolatry in much the same way we've distilled the cocoa bean into crack. Ba'al was harmless compared to our idolatry.

Do you want to send a message to America?

Trust God.

16 July, 2008

The Match

If you wonder what the match, The Match, between Federer and Nadal was all about, here's 13 minutes of bliss.


As you watch, realize that any pro from any generation at any level can hit any of the shots you'll see in this video. No pro anywhere. ever. has hit 13 minutes worth of these shots, with this much on the line, with this much fear in his heart, as both of these men did last Sunday.

It was clearly the best tennis match of all time. The drama was unparalleled by any event in any sport I've ever heard of, stretching across almost 5 hours of time on court. If you've ever wondered what desire looks like, here it is.

15 July, 2008

Touching Base

Hello all. Long time no see.

I think it's been more than a year since they instituted the blog-block at work, and it continues to make life tough for me. I used to be able to count on 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, to put things out here that interested me. I think it's been 2 months since I've blogged anything regularly, and I don't see any breaks coming soon. I continue to be quite busy at home, and just seem to be getting busier.

One of my preoccupations these days has been tennis. This year I've played a very full tournament schedule, and I have learned SO MUCH about this game!

I cannot believe I ever thought I knew anything about tennis.

I don't know when I've ever been so profoundly humbled.

It's been very good for me.

Here's what's humbling about it. I used to think I knew as much about tennis as I did about being a Christian. Now that I know how badly I've sucked all these years at tennis, I'm pretty sure I'm right about being just that good a Christian, too. If people with true devotion can be so much better than me at a silly game, I am awed at how deep the waters of true wisdom might truly be.

I think about how far I thought I was in tennis, versus how far I now know I still have to go, all most every day. And almost every day I'm reminded how far I thought I was on the road to being a decent Christian. Well, praise the Lord, it just means I have that much more excitement and hope ahead of me.

The rest of life is really going well. I'm quite happy these days, and really feel the blessing of the Lord in every area of my life. I just figured I'd check in and let those of you keeping score know that things are good.

I do have several half-baked posts mocked up in my inbox. Maybe some day I'll actually write a couple of them. :-)


For those of you with too much time on your hands, let me tell you about my year of tennis-ing dangerously.

Here's the score. I've put all sorts of time and effort into learning how to play tennis right, and then teaching my body to do what my brain has absorbed, and what I've learned is that people who have been doing exactly that same thing for years are much better than me. I'm exactly 11 months into my master plan for local tennis domination, and so far I have yet to make it past the quarter finals of a single tournament. My record is something like 4-9, with at least 2 of those losses being 0-6, 0-6 drubbings.

I'm a putzer. :-)

I'm proud of this part of it all, though. I've stepped onto the court and measured myself. 3 years ago, I thought I was pretty good at this game, but I was playing at the 3.5 level when the tourney's are all 5.0+ events. I had no idea what the gap is from 3.5 to 5.0. Now I know. It's the gap between 7th grade algebra (which is way tougher than arithmetic) and college level calculus (which is still way below graduate level experimental math.) Not surprisingly, I've made it up to first or second year high school level algebra, and keep failing at the college-level tests.

I've had to learn to take my game out of the ivory tower, and learn how to make it happen on the hard courts. I now know, not just what an attacking game looks like, but what it felt like both times I did it right. I know what it feels like to decide to flatten out a forehand against someone who's eaten flat forehands for lunch for 2 decades. I've measured myself against the #1 seed in 4 different tournaments now, and come up wanting every time.

My expectations were completely unrealistic (or I probably would not have had the courage to try.) The thing with expectations, though, is that we really expect them to work. Having those expectations dashed really hurt ... every single time ... repeatedly ... publicly. But after a mere 11 months, I think I am beginning to see what I can really expect, and it's rewriting my experience of the game. I look back and see some pretty quick learning, and now I really feel good about what I see.

Here's my grades, as best I can assess them:
Dimension of Tennis
The way I thought I was playing in 2007.
The way I was actually probably playing in 2007.
The way I think I'm playing now.]

Grade card:
Forehand: B - D - C
Backhand: C - F - B
Serve: B - D - C
Approach: C - F - C
Volley: D - F - C
Put-away: C - F - D
Mental toughness: D - C - B

I think my best chance to become a winning tennis player at this level is to turn my volley into an A. You need an A to win, and you need to force other people to play into your A strength. Right now, my best hope is to lull people into playing against my backhand and surprise them, but it's not an A and it never will be. But I think I have the nerve to make my volley an A, and I think it's a rare enough game to upset some otherwise much better players than I am.

We'll see.

With my newly adjusted expectations, I'm actually starting to enjoy tennis. It's been a great ride, and maybe I've got a little glory tucked away somewhere in these tired old bones. I'll tell the story of my latest win some day, if I can get to it while it's still fresh. :-)

Thanks for listening.