Onward Christian Athletes: The Salvation of Sports


In concluding his book, Tom Kattenmaker, argues that the technique and methods in which sport and religion interact must be rethought, reexamined, and reimplemented. He parallels it to Reggie White’s story, the outspoken All-Pro D-linemen for the Eagles and Packers during the 90’s. He spoke for God then and preaches for God now. He has not been light about the regrets he had during his playing days, even when he was supposed to be “playing for God”. He regrets the times he attributed words to God during his days on the field and he wishes for some comments to be removed. His retrospect has caused him to call into the question his methods of evangelism, of talking with people about Jesus, his representation of Christianity, and his way of engaging culture. This reticence was enough for Kattenmaker to pounce on the idea and call for cessation.

Even the spokesman for Athletes in Action agreed with White’s testimony. He argued that the culture of today, as compared with the culture that gave root to the 3 aforementioned ministries, is a less confrontational and more conversational in accepting the religion. The “are you going to hell?” approach that built the ministry, needed to be altered. AIA has since backed off a more hard line directive of preaching, towards a relationship building ministry. To this end I can agree. Today’s consumer of information is bombarded by shocking statements everyday. To “scare” people into heaven, or to proclaim the outrageous is ineffective based on the sheer amount of information hitting people at all times. Preaching at people is ineffective because this generation does not revel in the pomp that mind did, but in authenticity and genuiness.

But to return to Kattenmaker’s original issues: 1) Christianity’s exclusivity; 2) Christianity’s popularity; 3) Christianity’s ineffectiveness.

As for number 1, the claims of Jesus are exclusive, but it’s community is not. He claims that locker rooms are divided based on the ideas of religion. The world has been divided throughout its history by the name it calls God. However, as this ESPN piece on Arian Foster shows, the differences in religious belief doesn’t have to ostracize or divide people…especially those in a work place where all other differences are supposed to be set aside as well. Granted, there are Christians that will ruin this…I cringed throughout the book as I read some of the names he brought forth. Still, the community of Christ is one of healing and restoration, and there could be no more inclusiveness as shown in that.

Secondly, in a country that is increasingly becoming more secular and with Islam on the rise, the Judeo-Christian worldview is still more prevalent. Amongst the Black Community, church attendance is still a major fixture in the culture therefore the centrality of chapel in the NFL and NBA. Baseball as a hold out in America, is a rural sport made up of kids from mid to smaller towns where Church still plays a major role. That’s the big three. Christianity is popular because, get this…its what most of the men grew up with deal with it. Also, its not as if Christianity won the popular vote of what religion to advocate in the locker room. Should an Imam or a Rabbi offer to do a study of the Koran or Mishna respectively, I’m not sure the solidity of the ground the NFL, NBA, or MLB would stand on both politically and in societal perception.

Finally, as for Christianity not changing the culture of Black America, Sports Culture, or Chauvinism. The role of Christianity in the locker room has been “hostile” and “a tool” used to exploit the community. He references what has now become the classic work on the topic, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, written by William C. Rhoden, which came out around the same time. The concept of a few privileged, predominantly white owners/ownership groups making gobs of money at the expense of predominantly black athletes, for Rhoden and Kattenmaker equates to a 1:1 comparison. Countless NFL and NBA players have made the same connection. This is not the time nor the place to unpack that idea, however, I would point out that in his unloading upon Christianity he neglected to see how sports has elevated Black communities and given opportunities to Black, Latino, and other minorities in this country. Now I’m not saying that athletes are not exploited, nor are they compensated well enough for their sacrifice, for NCAA and pro sports have been built upon their broken backs. But like I said, this is not the time or the place. But I do wish, Mr. Kattenmaker, that you had mentioned the quiet and sincere faith that gave Mr. Jackie Robinson the strength to integrate, and thereby give athletic opportunity to others. Or Joe Louis, who’s faith earned him the moniker “the Black Moses”. Or “Deacon” Dan Towler, who led his Rams teammates in prayer in the huddle or Wilma Turner, the cherished Olympian who relied on her Baptist faith. These are just a few Chrsitian Black athletes that changed society and changed religion in America. Their methodologies should be examined and studied more by the author, but these examples were completely rejected by Kattenmaker.


Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Stadiums in Churches and Players into Preachers


Pulpits take on all forms and shapes. Jesus preached from a boat, standing in a field, sitting on a hill, and hanging from a cross. Tom Krattenmaker wasn’t around then to critique his message, method, or delivery, but would have taken exception to all three. Krattenmaker’s book, Onward Christian Athletes, is an indictment of the current role that Christianity, (and by that he means Evangelical Christianity, one-truth gospel Christianity) plays in modern day professional athletics. It is not a positive review.

The genesis of the debate, as he tells it, goes back to a fateful day in Philadelphia in the late-70’s when a touchdown scamper by Herbert Lusk was followed by him taking a knee in prayer in the endzone. Since then sports, especially professional sports where the cameras are bigger, the attention garnered, and the talk radio waves need to be filled, have taken a larger and more central role in the club house. The problem this book addresses specifically is found on page 16 where he writes:

“The Christian vanguard in sports isn’t bringing religion to clubhouses so much as a potentially divisive brand of evangelical Christianity…and often attached to it…a conservative worldview that is frequently indifferent if not outright hostile to the plights of racial, religious, and sexual minorities and committed to a high debatable vision for America.” (16, emphasis his)

His thesis and beef is essentially that Evangelical Christianity makes those around it uncomfortable because of its exclusive claims, the popularity of it (more on this later), and why it doesn’t change things.

The first few chapters of the book set the stage for the point that he really wants to get across in the final 2. The first part of the book is a prosecuting attorney setting the failures of the defendant before the jury. The first case is the FCA (the Fellowship of Christian Athletes) where the aforementioned Lusk was a main guest speaker. His problem with FCA stems not from a sports issue, but an issue he has with their politics. Krattenmaker has a problem with the right leaning network of Christianity of which FCA is a part. So his issue is not, “why are sports stars leaning conservative?” but instead “why is Christianity leaning conservative?” He transitions into the athletes who make up the organization. Profiling the likes of Dwight Howard, Curt Schilling, and others, he continues to build a case for the divisive nature of Christianity as it divides locker-rooms and fan bases. And chapter 3 returns to the FCA which: “…like the other athletic ministries, unabashedly aligns itself with the nation’s pro-business, pro-Republican, pro-Christian Right power establishment.”(57)

In Chapter 4 his attention turns to Athletes in Action, a daughter ministry for Campus Crusade for Christ, which kept track of their ministry “key measurements like the back of a baseball card: “evangelism” (10.468,760); “disciples” (3,111); and “recruiting challenged” (8,829). Their main method of ministry was barnstorming/globetrotting teams that challenged minor league/college teams to exhibition games and would share the gospel afterward. But as Krattenmaker pointed out, winners messages carry more weight than losing. His study of Jon Kitna and the God-blessed red-hot Detroit Lions of 2007 paired with his no-longer-blessed Detroit Lions of the second half of 2007, raise the question of the role of faith in winning, losing, and how we respond.

The next target of his cross-hairs is the Baseball Chapel, which like AIA and FCA, provide chaplains to MLB teams across the league.

“Nondenomenationl but distinctly evangelical in tone and philosophy, Baseball Chapel has a credo that succinctly captures the essence of today’s sports flavored Christianity—and that exposes the incompleteness of its claim (one similar to other pro sports ministries’) that it exists merely to provide religious service to pro players…” (91)

Krattenmaker’s issue with BC is the hard-line statement of belief that Jesus is the only way to God. When asked about Jewish teammates going to hell, a chaplain’s response found them in hot water with the media. By 2008, according to his words, 15% of America was unreligious. When Tony Dungy, on the Super bowl podium, gives God glory, Krattenmaker takes offense the same way he does with an athlete attaching his name to a religious movement.

He doesn’t limit his critiques to organizations. Chapter 6 is an essay against Faith & Family Days. He takes issue with those that speak and perform at them: “why is center stage of sports world religion never occupied by a liberal?” (110) He takes issue with those affiliated with the days: Focus on the Family and Chick-fil-a, both conservative Christian organizations. He takes issue with what’s being preached: a lack of pluralism. He’s not high on Moses’ Bobbleheads.

The next two chapters are less arguments against organizations or methodology, but complaints about results and outcomes. He observes that most professional athletes and by proxy the fans tend to be conservatives so he vehemently bemoans political endorsing, promoting life, or denouncing of homosexuality by athletes. “Why does stepping up for Jesus in the world of pro sports so often mean taking a stand for the Republican party and/or conservative politics?” (139) Chapter 8 runs along the same lines, but under the auspice of race in America. The charge he brings is that Christianity has been used to quell the African American community from speaking up and out on social justice issues. It is a plight that was not helped by Tony Dungy and his Right Wing Christian ideals.

The final two chapters were seen coming from miles away. “A match made in hell” shows how diametrically opposed the values of sport and Christianity are. Paul would probably argue otherwise based on his use of the athletics metaphor throughout his writings but I digress. Sport is violence; Christianity, peace/forgiveness. Sport is cheating; Christianity, integrity. Sport is full of beer ads and boobs; Christianity is morality. He tells the story of Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers and his 5th down victory over Mizzou. They scored after being given an extra down but refused to forfeit the win. So to recap, he is upset that Christians aren’t controlling the Ad money that comes into billion dollar businesses, the steroid epidemics, or sports gambling, or the fact that players are in prison.
I saved the third part for the final chapter review.

Onward Christian Athletes

8E163419-8759-44AC-B931-FBD2310B5429Throughout history, the line between the realms of the influence of sport and Religion are indistinguishable. Take for example the team names. There are the Anaheim Angels and the San Diego Padres; the New Orleans Saints and the New Jersey Devils. There are Crusaders and Demons, different kinds of Devils (blue, red, delta, sea, sun). Teams are named for offices and roles like: the Preachers, Ambassadors, Friars, Bishops and Parsons. There are some head scratchers like: the Meridith College Avenging Angels, the Elon Fighting Christians, or the Fighting Saints of Carroll College. Then there are some that reference individuals like the Ichabods of Washburn (whose name means “one who laughs at God”); the Johnnies of St. Johns (named after the exiled Apostle John); or the Gogebic Community College Samson’s (who was the tragic character in the book of Judges). It makes you wonder if they read the stories about these characters.

Then there are the mascots. Like the aforementioned schools that seemed to have missed the tragedy involved with their team nicknames, the Sacramento Kings mascot, Slamson the Lion, brings the same question up. Dont forget the Swinging Padre, who patrols the outfield of Pet Co. Stadium in San Diego Baseball games. He is portly, short, bald, and the verdict is out if he can throw, but he does have a very small strike zone. Dom the Friar is less cartoon and more creepy. The Providence Friar mascot was ranked the 5th creepiest mascot by the ForTheWin.com website蜉 narrowly beating out Sparky the Sun Devil of Arizona State.
The lines are blurred in the terminology. One of the most famous plays in the history of the game of college football is Doug Flutie’s “Hail Flutie” in the Orange Bowl. It received its name from the type of pass that it was, “a Hail Mary” pass that allegedly got its name from the implementation of it during a Notre Dame game in the 20’s which coincidentally sported the great Notre Dame backfield known as the “Four Horsemen”, Grantland Rice’s nod to Revelation. The greatest hockey game ever played was the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in the 1980 Olympics; a win over the superior Soviet team by an outmatched and outside US team. The great Steelers reception by Frank Harris was not the ‘Immaculate Conception’ but the ‘Immaculate Reception’. In 2010, Mega-church pastor, Rick Warren, literally took the mound at Angel’s stadium to preach an Easter Service to the 50,000 in attendance. He titled “the Sermon on the Mound” in an obvious reference to Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 5-7.

The lines are hazy when it comes to the buildings and stadiums. Old Texas stadium had an incomplete roof. The Cowboys would tell their visitors that the roof was left undone so that God could watch his favorite team play. Yankee Stadium, the 1923 edition that held up until 2008, was known as the “Cathedral of Baseball”. Cathedral, being latin for “seat” was where the Bishops sat at leaders of the Church, and the Old Yankee Stadium performed well up to that designation. There is the large mural, ‘Touchdown Jesus’ that graces the end zone at Notre Dame Stadium. If really pushed to the brink, the Atlanta Falcon’s opened up a new stadium in 2017 called Mercedes Benz field at the frugal price of $1.6 billion. But one of their main sponsors, Chick-fil-a, wont be open for any of their main tenants games. The Falcons play on Sunday and Chick-fil-a, due to religious reasons, are closed on Sunday. Money can buy the best and most technologically advanced stadium ever built, but not a chicken sandwich on game day.

The lines are fuzzy in what takes place at the events. At any church on Sunday morning there will be a few things that take place no matter what church is attended. Prayer has always been a pivotal part of the Sunday morning experience. As long as there are 120 lb men who decide the outcome of Sunday afternoon games by kicking a ball through goal posts, prayer will always be part of the NFL. There are fewer problems with it during the game, than there is afterward. Rick Reilly penned a piece for the back page of Sports Illustrated, which argued: “I don’t think when he fills his thermos and pays $10 to park, he’s looking to get proselytized.”蜉 He was arguing against the on field prayer circles organized by the players after games. If it’s a problem after the games, there are no shortages of issues that have been argued about starting a game with prayer. On top of the issue of prayer, there is a question of expression and the firestorm that was Tim Tebow. With scripture written in his eye black, prayer in the end zone, and his outspoken faith.

Sports in America was a $63.9 billion industry in 2015 and is expected to top $75.7 billion by 2020.

Sports aren’t going anywhere in society; but they are causing dilemmas for Christians. Growing up, I was told by a Sr. Minister: “Any sport that takes place on Sunday is sinful.” A youth minister once told me that hockey was unchristian because of the fighting involved in the game. I was chastised as a youth minister for watching the UFC with students. I was asked why, as a youth pastor, I didn’t challenge students to forgo travel teams and come to youth group instead. These are just a few of the challenges that face Sports and Faith, or for the purpose of this study, Christ and Culture. And there are so many more challenges that could be argued: public prayer, competition on Sunday, self expression and evangelization, and gamesmanship. That is just sports. What if the topic was work? What about entertainment in music, movies, TV? What about education, in public, private, or homeschool? What about politics, be it left, right, or middle? There isn’t enough pages to hold all the questions and answers about how Christ and Culture interact, but the discussion needs to take place. This study seeks to answer the question: how do I retain my faith in an ever increasingly antagonistic society. I recently read a book that dives into the question: what place should Christianity take place in the life of the modern athlete?  The review will follow here…

Ministry Battles

D9D2E489-18C1-4001-A108-39329BDCF4D3“This successful life we’re livin’ got us feuding like the Hatfield
and McCoy’s” — Waylon Jennings

Every war had a beginning. KU-MU: the boarder war, started with Quantrill’s raiders attacking (killing 200 citizens) and burning the town of Lawrence. Once the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri began lacing up the hightops, the war has taken
shape on the basketball court. As a Jayhawk fan, I want to be honest
with you readers: we hate losing, but if the choice was between KSU
and MU, I would much rather lose to KSU than Mizzou! The Hatfield and
Mccoy Rivalry of the mid to late 19th century began over the killing
of a Union soldier after he had returned from the war. In the prologue
of Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliette, we learn that this is an “ancient
grudge” between the Capulets and the Montagues. One can only assume
what started that war. Was it wealth? power? fame? a spilt wine glass
on one of the cone things they wore around their necks?

The point is this: Every war has a triggering factor.

What if you were the triggering factor? What if you were the Helen of
Troy? The reason for the fighting. Homer’s Illiad (with huge nods to
other ancient historians) recounts the battle of Troy as Paris, the
Trojan Prince, has taken (as Sappho and Homer claim, others would
argue she was taken by force) Helen, the beautiful wife of King
Menalaus. This war was massive. Men from all over the world would
fight in this war. How would you feel if you were the cause? If you
were Helen?

This is the very dilemma that John Mark (know as Mark from now on)
faced in Acts. Though his decision would not cost any lives, he did
cause a schism in the team of Paul and Barnabs (or should I say
Barnabas and Paul?).

Mark was from Jerusalem. He had seen Christian Church from its
infancy. His mother’s house was a place of prayer and worship (Acts
12.12). Once his cousin Barnabas (Colossians 4.10) had taken a bigger
role in the ministry of Jesus, Mark knew he wanted in. Barnabas was
the one who had brought Saul into the mix with the apostles (Acts
9.27) here in Jerusalem. Now years later Barnabas and Saul ask this
man, Mark, if he wants to be part of the first missionary journey!
That’s like being asked to go to the moon, or if you wanted a
Pulitzer? Its not something you scoff at or hesitate on. You jump at
the first opportunity, just as Mark did.

The honeymoon period for missionaries doesn’t last too long. Soon the
newness wore off and Mark had a problem. What that problem was we can
only speculate. Perhaps it was the reallocation of power between Paul
and Barnabas (notice the names are now reversed, with Paul taking a
leading role for the rest of the book) possibly didn’t sit too well
with the cousin. Maybe it was fear. They were headed to a place
(Pisidia Antioch) known for its bandits. It could have been sickness
or a family crisis. For whatever reason, Mark leaves (Acts 13.13) to
return to Jerusalem.

This action doesn’t sit too well with Paul. When the idea came up
about returning to all the places they visited on the first missionary
journey, Paul and Barnabas began assembling a team (Acts 15.36). The
subject of Mark came up. Barnabas wanted him, Paul didn’t (Acts
15.37). He had deserted them in Pamphylia (Acts 15.38). The greatest
team of missionaries to the date was now split up by the disagreement
over Mark. Barnabas took Mark to his home of Cyprus and Paul took
Silas (Acts 15.39-40).

That had to be rough on Mark. To be the one who is fought over. The
one causing the dispute. Chronologically this is the last we will hear
of Barnabas. He isn’t mentioned again. How would you feel if you were
Mark? The dispute had to have some kind of lasting effects. Paul was
probably just as disappointed in him as he was that Barnabas wanted to
take him. These are the kinds of wounds that linger for some a

Though Barnabas fades away, Mark resurfaces. Nearing the end of his
life; perhaps just days or hours before his execution, Paul asks for
Mark to come to Rome with Timothy, because he is helpful to his
ministry (2 Timothy 4.11). Paul mentions him from an earlier
imprisonment in Colossians 4.10, and we have to wonder if the
instructions were about his rehabilitation for Paul? It matters not,
at the end of Paul’s life, he wants Mark to come to him! Paul just
spent time telling Timothy about those that have deserted him: Demas,
Crescens, and Titus. We aren’t sure of all the circumstances here or
whether they left on good terms, but needless to say, Paul is alone
(aside from Luke). Bring Mark!

So many times our arguments are final. All to often our differences
are relationship ending. We harbor resentment and anger; hatred and
aggression. Paul, during a hectic first missionary journey, was
deserted by a guy he thought he could trust! Like the rope that is
holding a mountain climber, often the resentment and anger are the
only thing that still attaches us to relationships. I don’t know what
Mark did to get reinstated or whether it was Paul’s grace and mercy
towards an old friend, whatever it was it is an example.

longer can resentment rule the attitudes of our heart. We may not
agree on everything, but no matter how great the wound, forgiveness
and understanding can fill it. Ministry philosophies and ministry
dedication differs; family troubles are handled differently by all;
and some people are just hard to get along with. They will abandon,
infuriate, and tear down. They will act apathetic, lethargic, and
illogical. Paul felt all these from Mark, but in the same way that
Jesus felt and bore all these as well, Paul found ability to forgive.

Bring Mark, for he is helpful to my ministry (2 Tim. 4.11)! The
original title for Mark was: “helper” (Acts 13.5). Good to know he
ended the same way he started.


“grab life by the horns and hope it don’t grab you back!”


857abb01-252a-43cd-ad06-695ddc6e389d.jpegScars make anonymity impossible.

Years had passed since his mast had disappeared over the horizon following Agamemenon to Troy in battle. King Odysseus left a beautiful young wife, Penelope, and an infant son, Telemanchos. For 10 years, he fought the Trojans at Troy. Then he spent the next 10 surviving the wrath of Poesidon on the seaways back home. His travel
tribulations, his apologoi (adventures) rival those that Paul tells of in 2 Corinthians 11. Twenty years of travel will change a man.
Chris Ledoux, another classicist, paraphrased Homer best: “It ain’t
age that makes me look this way/it ain’t the years boy, it’s the

Odysseus finally makes it home and finds the place in shambles. His house is overrun with men suiting his wife, eating him out of house and home, and an absent son. Taking the form of a beggar so as not to become a target, Odysseus infiltrates the palace where all this is taking place. He gains a counsel with Queen Penelope and after giving her word of Odysseus (without relinquishing his identity) she treats him like royalty asking Eurcyleia to bath him and prepare a room for him. As she washed his feet, her hand ran across a scar just above the knee.  She knew it was him. It was from a boyhood boar hunt; an event many years past, but with great present value. It was the scar that announced a king’s return. He was home and the nostos was complete.  Identity announced by a scar.

Scars tell the story of the men who carry them. Scars juxtapose the
current and the past. In The Old Man and the Sea, the great fisherman of many years is in the midst of a 84 day slump. Hemmingway’s
description of him contrasts his present predicament with his history: “…his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.” A great fisherman who had fallen on
hard times as described by his scars. Scars tell a story.

“I got this one in Paris, in a war ‘fore you were born/ and this one when I was half your age, workin’ on my Daddy’s farm./ You know the way I see it, you’ve been round but you’re still green/ ‘cause tattoo’s and scars are different things.” – Montgomery Gentry
“Tattoo’s and Scars”

The presence of scars is on thing, but not all scars are made equal.
My scars tell different stories. The one on my foot will tell of
stupidity. There is not on ounce of redemption to be found in the
scar that will be on my foot. There was nothing at stake and nothing
on the line. The scar on my chest, however, came from the day that my grandfather had died. I was working above my head, taking down 2×4 braces on a garage door. It had popped loose just as we got word that grandpa was Code Blue and the exposed nail tore into my chest. That scar runs diagonally across my pectoral muscle. When I look down and see it, I see how quickly life can blindside us.

The 8” “C” shaped scar that adorns my right shin is from a bull spur.
While working a hang up at Burlington, Kansas when the bull came around to the right, sending the rider, with legs and spurs flying, in my direction and when the muddy water cleared, the crimson was running down my leg.

Everybody’s got scars and everyone has stories; but not all scars had purpose. When all three come together, scar, story, purpose, the results are life-saving. Take a fire-fighter with third-degree burn scars, the story of the collapsing building, and the lives that are still living. Think of the soldier, with the bullet wound, the ambush that was set, and his brother being pulled to safety. Think of John 20 and Revelation 5.

John 20 is a conversation between Thomas and the disciples. The
disciples had seen the resurrected Jesus, but Thomas was strangely
absent (20.24). When he does show up, the disciples let him know that
they had seen Jesus (20.25). Thomas wasn’t having it though. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand to his side, I will not believe.”(20.25b) Translation: “Let me see the scars”.

In Revelation 5, John is observing worship around the heavenly throne.  When a scroll is brought forth, an Angel asks: “Who is able to open this thing?” Nobody in heaven was able to open the scroll and this was a problem. If this scroll doesn’t open, everything that has been, is, or will be, will not. So John begins to weep at the proceedings.  But Jesus is found to be capable. John describes the one who approaches the throne this way: “…I saw a Lamb, looking as if it has been slain…” (Rev. 5.6)

Here the dilemma lies: the resurrection is supposed to make things right. Heaven is supposed to make things better. But Jesus bears the marks of the crucifixion; the Lamb bears the marks of sacrifice. In heaven, I wont get to look like Tom Brady or George Clooney. And I wont be given a Jimmy-Buffett-relax mentality. Reading through
Revelation, it appears that the pain of suffering will still be remembered, the scars of life will still be present, and the torment
of Earth still a reality. Though they wont be felt or experienced,
they are no less real. Why is this?

Heaven is where the perfection of the Garden of Eden was meant to be realized. Notice it was the perfection of the Garden, not the
“idleness” of the Garden. There is the prevailing mindset that we
will spend eternity floating on clouds, playing harps, and doing very little. This idea of Heaven would necessitate very little
preparation. However, should we get to Heaven where work is involved, worship is enacted, and both community and culture were cultivated; that will take us some training here. Scars are the resume of that training. Scars are the results of our learning what it means to worship, to sacrifice, to live for others. Jesus has his scars
because it was his identity, his story, and his purpose. That is why
he carries them throughout eternity.


Screen Epidemic

9B330D9C-3D4A-497A-9596-6886D8A88714TIME magazine sounded the alarm a little late this year.  With the latest iPhone release and the new Moto coming out, the smart phone has now turned 10 years old.  Still to young to measure the ultimate effects that it will have on society, but old enough to begin watching the trends play out.  TIME magazize about once a year runs a apocalyptic/praise piece on the smart phone and youth culture.

Schools don’t know what to do.  Part of the reason I didn’t return to full time at school was because of the policy on phones. Give a kid a $300 laptop and they still have to wander around with a phone?  Teachers don’t want to be on phone duty, but if they did without administration backing, the kids were on their phone suring lessons, in the hallway, and at lunch: non-stop.

There have been numerous articles and pieces written now about inattentive walking.  I about hit a kid in the parking lot at Taco Bell because he had his earphones in (as he had all throughout his dinner with his family) and was texting as he stepped out into the parking lot.  PSA:  if you hit the age of 16 and have to have an ear bud in at all times, some where in 16 years you failed to learn a very important lesson about respect.

These two stories are my most recent interactions with smartphones.  I am not the biggest fan of them.  I have watched (grown people: 28, 29, 30 years old) people get a smart phone and suddenly fall into the internet abyss.  I myself have been convicted by my own use age.  TIME definitely sounds the alarm with this piece.

The article begins as many others do:  a seemingly happy student attempts suicide.  The shocked parents realize the amount of depression after the attempt and stumble onto the social media accounts.  Bullying, peer-pressure, and drama are the underlying causes, but smartphone usage is the symptom that was a) missed and b) blamed.

This students depression did not come because of the piece of aluminum, plastic, and glass that she held in her hands.  It was all the things the phone stood for.

Smart phones are this generations and this worlds answer to our deepest desires.  1) Connectivity.  We want to be connected.  We want to be able to reach people immediately.  When Facebook began, you could send a message to a friend and they might not check it that day.  Now they have Messenger which alerts you to a message immmediately.  This is an app that you have to use now on your smart phone, which by the way has a feature on it nearly as old as the cell phone itself called text messaging”

2) Opprotunity.  FOMO is an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out”.  Without a phone 24/7 and the ability to talk to everyone all the time, there is a chance that something will be missed.  It could be as trivial as a trip to Sonic or Publishers Clearing House holding a million dollar check at your door.  The predominant way thinking today is that there is always something better out there than what I’m doing now…I don’t wanna miss the opprotunity to upgrade.

3) Image.  If I were to stop eating decently healthy, and quit trying to be active, my health and appearance would suffer.  If I decided to stop checking the fluids in my truck and quit doing maintenance on it, the truck would  eventually have some issues.  In the same manner, should an image be constantly maintained, it will have a health issue.  Social media is the place where an image is cultivated and displayed.  It must be regularly kept up and it must be  constantly added too.  When the phone is off, when the tablets are down, when away from the internet, an identity is being starved.

So how is the situation curt tailed? How is the screen epidemic to be remedied?

  1.  In education.  I understand that technology is the career of the future and it is a tool in the classroom; however, educators should  spend half of their classes without technology.  I’m not saying that it needs to be only teaching time w/o technology.  It could be a brain break or Kagan activity.  It could be an ice breaker game or communal learning.  A lecture or even homework time with, God forbid, paper and pencil.  Education’s purpose is to cultivate viable citizens.  The educational buzz word now is “soft skills” that employers are looking for.  Non-screen time aids in both.
  2. At Home.  Disallow screen time at the table.  I get more frustrated watch kids at a table with other people while on the phone.  The same can be said about adults.  Make it a point to put the phone away and spend 45 minutes talking with the people in the same room.  It may be awkward do a time but it will be ok.  Make it a point to have a black out time.  9:00 pm the phones go away on week nights.  There are emergencies that take an adult call but I trust an adult to be able to screen calls.  Trust me, there is no such emergency that would warrant a teen answering a call at midnight who is at their own residence.
  3. In public.  Less phone and more interaction.  I get bothered watching a kid in a shopping cart watching a video on their parents phone.  A 6 year old kid can learn to walk along side their parent I the store.  Heck, if I’m there tell them I will buy them a candy bar and I will do it.

Our screen epidemic was created by us…it’s time for us to start working to solve it.


DDFC98DD-975D-428F-AA77-8EC4A2E00DE9Dear Mars.com,

Since you began your right Twix vs left Twix campaign, this philosophical distinction has brought forth a serious question: what constitutes a Twix bar? Is it one candy bar made of two parts or two parts packaged together? If packaged for Halloween candy it is a single bar named Twix, but if it’s got two bars it is still Twix. This is a question with philosophical implications, so I come to the source! What is the real name of your candy bar and how should we refer to a single Twix candy bar? I humbly wait for your reply and will wait to rely on your expertise.


Travis Long

Skittles are plural.  M and M’s are as well.  Twix carries with it an immense amount of ambiguity.  Is it one or two? (Or 4 in the case of King Size)?  If each side of Twix is going to obtain an individual personality, where does that leave us?  To sentient individuals or one scidzophrenic?

Where Resees seems to be uniting us (see the previous two posts); Twix seems content to drive a wedge in.  Let’s just say that in some instances Jesus brought the duct tape, but in others he brought a pry bar.

One key concept in the book of John is division.  John understands that sometimes discipleship is moved forward by people being added to the number, and other times it happens by others leaving.

John uses division as a iteray device.  The whole purpose of Johns book is found in chapter 20:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (30-31)

Johns gospel brings the reader to the crossroad where a decision needs to be made about “who Jesus is?”  But throughout the book, people have been brought to the line of decision.

  • John 6, Jesus teaches on the life that he alone can give and the people divide (6.60,66)
  • The crowds and even his family don’t know what to do with his abscence at the festival. (7.12)
  • Jesus teaches from God’s authority and above Moses’ in the Temple and the people are divided. (7.30-31)
  • The Pharisees are up in arms and division I’ve how Jesus can heal blindness.  The real issue is Jesus place of origin. (9.16ff.)
  • Then the apex of the book, the antithesis of the thesis statement in chapter 12, “after Jesus has done all these  miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe…”(John 12.37-42)

Like Col. Travis or Jean Luc Picard drawing a line in the sand, Jesus has clearly declared the two sides. But there is an interesting dynamic at work here.

When a line is drawn, battle, political, or ideological, the image at the forefront of your mind is often of two sides, yelling at each other while encroaching upon the line.  They are two opposing forces bent over the line with bulging veins in their forheads and necks, screaming obscenities at one another.  That is not the case here.

Certainly, the battle over the identity of Jesus is as real and vital as it had ever been.  John’s excessive use of metaphor shows this.  Life and death; light and dark; the city of God and the World.  But it is not two sides attacking one another.

Instead, it is two lines that are not attacking each other but ignoring one another.  It’s like everyone is standing with their backs to the line.  The groups never really enter debate about Jesus’ identity, but instead ask searching questions.  With each inquiry, individuals on either side of the line step backward over it, switching positions, or stepping forward strengthening their position and allegiance.

This “cross-the-line” mentality is paramount for Johns gospel because of his stance on culture.  Of the New Testament authors, John’s position on how a follower of Christ should interact with the world around him is firmest and recessive.  Jokingly it’s hard to figure out whether John turned his back on the world, “Do not love the world or anything in it…”(1 John 2.15), or the world turned its back on him, he was “…on the island of Patmos beacause of the word of God.” (Rev. 1.9)  Johns attitude is withdrawal.

Paul takes a much softer position.  “I have become all things…” (1 Cor. 9.22); using his political position (Acts 22.22-30; 25.11-12); and quoting the philosophers of the day (Acts 17.28) and referencing their gods (Acts 17.23).  Paul utilizes culture in order to transform culture (Romans 12.1-2).  But this study is for another time and place (and one that I hope warrants time and discussion here).

Johns division is between the followers of Christ and the world that surrounds them.  John is certain that believers are to be seperate from the world in far not ways than where they spend 2 hours on Sunday morning.

It’s in the way we tallk;  the content of of our conversations.  Listened to two high school boys use the f-word 18 different times in 6 sentences and in four different parts of speech in 6 sentences, the other day.  I didn’t know whether to get me a dictionary so I really knew what the word meant, or to get them a thesaurus so the could learn a new word.

It’s the way we parent and serve in schools.  It bothers me that PTO is such poorly attended and how hard schools have too look when the numbers suggest how many Christian parents are connected to the school.  It is disconcerting as to how many single parents lack support from the church in raising their kids.  I struggle with how many parents feel like the are on an island in raising their kids.  Christians are called to be different.

It is in the books that are kept.  It’s the amazon accounts, credit card debt, Craigslist addiction, and Cabelas points.  “Stuff” is a currency all by itself now a days.  Followers of Christ, and their stuff, the amount, how it’s used, and how it is obtained, is one way that they are divided from the world.

Twix has it right, the followers need to be distinct from the world. We may be in the same package as the world, breathing the same oxygen, living in the same space, struggling with the same sins, but John knows we are not the same!

Ps.  Still no reply from Mars or Hershey!

Resees (part 2)

C35C32A3-95D9-4425-94E5-8BD84D0D4970The theology of today is the downstream result of the philosophy of 10 years ago.

I’m behind the times a little and I will admit that I originally didn’t see the danger of the movement.  I know that I have a book from about 10 years ago with the title: More Jesus, Less Religion. The more common statement was:  “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I got into a disagreement with a cowboy pastor a few years back over his gratuitous use of this bumper-sticker Christianity.  He told me that apologetics, doctrine, and religion were of little use today.  I asked him to tell me about Jesus.  He began by saying that Jesus was the son of God.  I then asked him who God was?  Every time he began a statement I reminded him that he was making a doctrinal statement.

Relationship is defined by doctrine.  Who’s in the relationship?  The identity of the two parties?  How do they interact, communicate?

Whether it is a spouse, parent, child, friend, stranger, or alien, whatever method of contact, relationships are based upon timeless truths and rules.

When we think correctly about God, our lives will align correctly in Him.

This thinking is what motivated Jesus to pray: “I am the true vine…remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15.1,4). Jesus knew that a key to unity is a common source.  It’s the same principle that unites our country every 4 years during the olympics, the same principle that unites college alumni all over the country, and the same principle that makes Texans so annoying!

A common bond, found in a common source, is what Jesus is identifying here.  He is the common source and he knows that when unity will be challenged, their connection to him will be in call.

I have seen it in Youth Groups.  When a youth group starts focusing on the youth band or what the next fellowship gathering is going to be instead of Jesus, their  unifying source has been eradicated.

I have seen it in churches.  When the discussions begin to focus on worship styles, or what the Pastor’s wearing (tie vs. no tie), or even the addition of a Sunday school class, the source has been severed from the people.

I have seen it in small groups when meetings turn into bbq’s and fishing excursions instead of opening God’s Word and looking for Jesus, the source, the vine has been weed whacked.

So Jesus prays: “Remain…”

The formula from verse 5 is pretty simple.  Jesus is the vine; we are the branches.  Apart from him, we can do nothing.  (15.5) As long as we stay connected to the source, unity will prevail.  Three legged races, under ware races, or blob tag is a living picture of what a common source can result in.  It may not always be pretty, nor will it be easy, but a common source will direct unity.

That is why doctrine is paramount.  And not just any doctrine, but sound doctrine.  Paul makes it a priority for Timothy and Jon makes it central to his book.  The question of “who is Jesus?” is every bit as much a doctrine question as it is a relationship question!  So before the touchy-feely people take over theology, let’s explore first how sound doctrine can provide unity, prior to radical inclusivity.


C35C32A3-95D9-4425-94E5-8BD84D0D4970.pngDear Hersey’s Inc.,

I commend you on your transparency.  On your packaging, you clearly state your name “Resees” followed by the number of cups contained in the package.  For this I commend you.  But that begs the question of what a resees really is?  Is it one cup?  Is it a package of 2 cups?  When I buy the package of two at the front of the store, am I buying one Resees or two?  An informed word of authority on your part would bring swift end to my dilemma and my own personal hell over this matter.


Travis Long

This was the email that I sent to multiple levels of the Hersey organization last week in order to get the ultimate answer to a question that has plagued me for years.  The king size (4 cups), the regular size (2 cups), and the individual (1 cup), all bear the same moniker “Resees”.  Beneath the name they each state how many cups are included.  Do you see the ambiguity and dilemma?  How can one be many and many one?  How can unity and diversity co-exist?

It is most certainly a problem our country is facing on multiple fronts: racially, politically, and economically.  It is a problem facing the church as well: worship style, technologically, preaching style, etc.

What is fascinating about Jesus is how he embraced both unity and diversity.  I first want to focus on the unity.

In his discourse/small group lesson/prayer found in John 14-17, Jesus is addressing his disciples in what is known as the Upper Room discourse.  He is short one disciple as Judas has already left to betray Jesus and lead the mob. (John 14.27-31)

Jesus addresses the remaining 11 with the information they would need soon, when he would be no longer with them.  A major theme of this talk is unity.

One Way

“I am the way and the truth and the life” says Jesus (John 14.6).  One of the best ways to stay unified is to have the same goal and the same plan to get there.  Marines are a brotherhood because every Marine from their inception in 1775, has sweated and bled just like those who have gone before them and those that will follow.  Regardless of time period, their path remains the same because their end goal remains the same: to be the toughest fighting unit in the world!

When the path is the same and exclusive, unity is the result.

That is why empathy is so important.  Two books pointed this out to me.  The first was a book “Season of Life” by Jeffery Marx.  Marx was a towel boy for the old Baltimore Colts.  He grew up around the team but as he grew fell out of touch with the players, even his favorite, Joe Ehrmann, now a minister and high school football coach.  He coaches his teams to be tough, disciplined, and loving.  That’s right, he teaches them to love one another.  Marx follows Ehrmann and his team throughout the season, soaking in lesson after lesson.  Towards the end of the season Ehrmann shares this insight: “To me, the number-one criterion for humanity has to be empathy…when you have empathy, when you can understand the amount of suffering in this world, the pain that so many people are living in, and the causes of all that pain, then you can have a cause beyond yourself.” (128)

Empathy is the ability to travel the path of another, to walk in their shoes and to feel what they feel.  Which brings me to the second book:  Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville.  Rod Allbright is dealing with a problem every 6th grader deals with: a bully.  His bullies name is Billy Becker who counts the number of different types of bugs he can smash into the back of Rods head.  One day Rod is visited by 5 members of the Galactic Patrol sent to Earth to capture the universes most notorious criminal and suddenly hid bully issue seems insignificant.  They use his volcano project to fix their ship and they eat his math homework making his job of keeping them secret harder.  Finally it is realized that his bully and their suspect are one in the same.  When Billy realizes that Rod is helping the patrol, he kidnaps Rod’s twin siblings.  When talking to a worried Madame Pon and crew they reveal that he is wanted for the most heinous crime in the universe.  Rod begins to run through all the crimes he knows and doesn’t even come close.  The crew tells him it is cruelty. Rod wonders if he heard right.

”In the civilized galaxy, cruelty is the greatest of all crimes,’ said Madame Pong…’an intelligent being who takes pleasure in causing pain to others—well, such a being is considered dangerously bent.’

’You must understand,’ msaid Tar Gibbons, ‘that empathy is the heart of civilization…the ability to understand what another feels.’”

Our ability to walk the path of another until our paths meet in Jesus is part of the unity that Jesus applauds.

Think of the group he has assembled around him.  Zealots and tax collectors don’t belong together.  Day workers and the elite.  The poor and the kit cast.  These men are a picture of diversity, yet they came together because of the message, the person, and work of Jesus.  Their unity came from the identical path that they were walking.

by the way I’m still waiting on a new email…tbc.

Three Musketeers (part 3)

41855E78-5DFE-4CCF-A287-4C868050C67C“A tragedy is when the hero comes face to face with his true identity.”  — Aristotle as explained by Mike Rowe

Jesus is the antithesis of Aristotle’s hero.  He didn’t have a fatal flaw that would lead to his downfall (in most Greek tragedies it is hubris).  He walked this earth humbly, acting as a servant to all.  He was without pride.  He lived a flawless life.

Neither did he have a fall from greatness.  He didn’t go from living in a palace with riches to a poor homeless state.  But in a way he did, however, it was a choice to “empty” himself by coming to Earth (Philippians 2.7).  He left the heavenly realm, seated at the right hand of the Father, and put on human flesh as a baby.  Satan fell from heaven; Jesus stepped down.  So he misses that category as well.

But the third characteristic, “face to face with his true identity”, describes perfectly the final situation where the Three Musketeers are together.  The story takes place textually in Mark 14 and geographically in the Garden of Gethsemene.  The disciples are with Jesus as they enter the garden.  Then he gives the twelve an order to remain there while he goes to pray. (32). He takes Peter, James, and John deeper into the garden with him. (33). They could tell that Jesus was under stress.  As a side note, Mark was a traveling companion of Peter in the book of Acts.  Most would argue that Mark’s book is really a collection of Peter’s sermons.  That would make some sense as to how Mark knew some of these things.  As it is pertinent here, Peter recounts the duress that Jesus is under on their little hike.

Going on a little farther, he turns to the Three and says: “stay here and keep watch?” Jesus knew that soon a mob would be coming to arrest him.  The word translated “keep watch” is the same way a guy watches over his household.  So it has physicality to it, however, later on Jesus would explain the reason he wanted them awake: to pray for strength against temptation. (38)  Three times Jesus goes away to pray and all three times he returns to find them sleeping.

“Simon…”, he walks them up by saying Peters name.  Two times in Mark is a proper noun spoken by Jesus and both of them are used of Peter.  The first is just after Peter confesses Christ.  Jesus says he must suffer and die.  Peter rebukes him and Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan…”.  The second is here.  This too is not a good situation.  Peter is being called out.

Jesus knew that this wasn’t the end for these three.  They would combine to write 8 books of the New Testament, preach on two continents, and die as either martyrs or in exile.  This was prep time for the future.  Jesus knew the more you bleed in training the less you bleed in battle.

Secondly, Jesus knew what lay beforehand him.   He prayed the cup would be passed from him.  For the rest of the book, his death was always down the road aways.  Now it was imminent.  It lay directly a head of him.

This study shows that the three saw the Power of God in Jesus in Mark 5.  It also showed the Presence of God in Jeusu in Mark 9.  This final grouping of the three shows the perseverance of Jesus in the plan of God.  The three get an in depth look at the petitioning Jesus for God to find another way, but also the willingness of Jesus to trust and follow.

Jesus had always known that he was sent to save the world.  On this night that reality was driven home harder because of the nearness of the event.  The Three Musketeers, much like D’Artagnan in the Dumas’ novel, saw and got more than they bargained for that night.