Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Troubles of T.O.

The continuing saga of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has taken a weird turn this week. If you aren't familiar with all the details of what has happened recently, you can catch up here. It seems that on Tuesday night, T.O. took too many painkillers that he had been given to help with his broken hand. Whether he did so intentionally or by accident is what the debate is about.

Terrell insists that it was an accident, but the police report seems to indicate that it was a suicide attempt. I can't really say whether it was intentional or not. I don't know the man, nor all the circumstances surrounding the event. But I can say that I would not be surprised at all if Owens had, in fact, tried to take his own life.

Why would I say something like that? Even if you've only been a casual observer of the NFL in recent years, you know that Terrell Owens has been the most talked about player in the league. From his clash with teammates and coaches in San Francisco to his short and full-of-controversy run to the Super Bowl in Philadelphia, T.O. made headlines all the time. Why? Because he is a tremendous talent and arguably the best wide receiver in football. And now with his off-season signing with the Cowboys, the intensity has increased. Because he is so good, people care what is going on with him. And because people pay attention, he milks it for all its worth.

Like a five-year old that acts up to get attention from a distracted parent, Owens continues to do the out-of-the-ordinary in order to keep the attention of the media and the public. His stunts have become legendary -- self-adulation on the Dallas Cowboys star, pulling the Sharpie out of his sock on Monday Night Football, grabbing the pom poms from a cheerleader, doing shirtless sit-ups during a press conference at his home, and on and on.

When T.O. pulls one of his stunts, many football fans see a selfish, self-absorbed millionaire athlete that demonstrates the worst of professional athletics. What I see is a scared little boy that was raised by a harsh grandmother that would hardly let him out of the house and a little kid that was made fun of by classmates because of his dark skin. His antics are a cry for attention, affirmation and love. The only reason anybody cares is because he catches passes and scores touchdowns.

The great tragedy is that there are millions of little "T.O.'s" growing up in America today that are not getting the affection that a child needs. For those that aren't able to run a 4.3 40 or dunk a basketball, there is no one to help in their development. So they look to a gang or to multiple sexual partners or to working for some local hood slingin' rock (that's drug dealing, for the uneducated). If what happened with Terrell was genuinely a suicide attempt, it wasn't really that. It was a cry for help. He just wants to be loved. To put it bluntly, the man needs Jesus. I know that he has a friendship with Deion Sanders, who became a Christian several years ago himself. Hopefully, Deion (or someone else) will share the hope and love that is found in Christ.

His publicist, Kim Etheredge, had this brilliant take on why he couldn't have attempted to take his life:

"Terrell has 25 million reasons why he should be alive," Etheredge said."
She was alluding to his contract with the Cowboys. As any intelligent person knows, money does not buy happiness nor does it give us a reason to live. I hope Terrell will learn that soon.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Office

Lori and I got introduced to NBC's hilarious comedy, The Office, this past year. The show's dry and sarcastic sense of humor leaves us laughing during each episode. Here's a compilation of some funny clips from the show, mostly of a misguided "Diversity Day" training at the office...

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Survivor's Social Experiment

A favorite television show of mine, CBS's Survivor, has entered into unchartered territory in the land of reality television. For the first time in its thirteen seasons, the tribes have been divided by racial lines. There are twenty contestants overall, with five initially on each tribe. The tribes are comprised of Asian Americans, African Americans, Caucasian Americans, and Hispanic Americans. With its decision to divide the tribes based on race, CBS and the show's mastermind, Mark Burnett, have caused quite a firestorm of opinons and judgments from the general public and from mainstream media.

As a longtime watcher of Survivor (Lori and I have religiously watched every season), I have always been aware of the lack of American ethnic minorities on the show. The average season has 16 or 18 contestants with about two African Americans, one Hispanic or Asian American and the rest are white. I have never heard anyone in the mainstream media bemoan this reality. Ethnic minority participants on the show have always had to adjust to the white majority every season and this seems to be okay to many people. There have been a number of tribes that have been exclusively white on the show, but because this was done "unintentionally" it is often ignored. I think it's pretty cool that there is finally a very diverse cast on the show. There have never been more than a couple African Americans in any given season and there have hardly been any Asian or Hispanic contestants at all!

Now that a season is actually made up of 75% of people of color, the mainstream media doesn't like it. Many feel that somehow this will contribute to stereotypes regarding the various ethnic groups. I'm sorry, but Survivor has been doing this for years. The lazy black man, the argumentative black woman, the hot-tempered Hispanic woman, the close-minded Christian...these are all stereotypes that have been demonstrated on Survivor. I think that people actually being on a tribe with people of similar backgrounds will help with how other people on the show view them. They won't be misunderstood as much, will not have to be defending their perspective or values all the time and won't feel that they are "representing their people" as much to fellow tribesmates.

However, the reality is that people do talk and act differently among their own people than how they act around others of different ethnicities. White people tend to think that how we act in any setting is normal and that other cultures are somehow weird or different. So when you have a handful of Asians or blacks being televised with their guard down, the general public may hear things that they typically wouldn't. Without proper context this can lead to wrong assumptions or stereotypes and this does concern me. "White America" may unfairly judge some of the people on the show because they've never interacted with ethnic minorities when they aren't in the minority. Trust me... all of us act differently when we are with those of the same culture than when we are around those of a different cultural background.

Any time segregation exists nowadays, people rise up in anger. But there is a major difference between forced segregation and that of choice. For instance, back in the day of Jim Crow, African Americans were not allowed by law to go to certain schools, churches or certain public places. Some restaurants had signs that said "No dogs or Mexicans." This is obviously bad. But when, for example, a Korean American wants to go to a Korean-speaking church, an African American wants to attend a historically black college, or a Cuban American wants to live in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, then I don't see a problem with this. The reason is because people of other ethnicities can still go to that church, attend that college or live in that neighborhood if they so choose. Some complain about historically black colleges, for example. But if a white person wants to attend one of these institutions, they can. No one will stop them.

Whether people want to admit it or not, we still live in a very segregated society. Eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour of the week. Every day is. Most Americans still live in neighborhoods with people that look like them, attend churches of people that talk like them and go to schools where they are the majority. This season of Survivor is merely reflecting the reality that people of color don't have to operate in white dominated settings. I, for one, I'm looking forward to seeing how the white contestants on the show do once the tribes merge and they have to adjust to being in the minority. It should be fun to watch.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Why God Created Culture

As part of the hermeneutics and homiletics seminary classes I took this summer, I had the privilege of spending four weeks pouring over a single passage of Scripture - Genesis 11:1-9. The account of the Tower of Babel is told in this passage and I studied it thoroughly. As part of my class assignments, I wrote a paper dealing with the textual, literary and historical contexts of this portion of Scripture and I also prepared a Bible study on it and gave a message. We had the option of selecting from four different passages and I had a couple of primary reasons why I selected this one. First, we were required to find the Fallen Condition Focus in our passage (that is, the common fallen trait that we as contemporary readers share with those in the original audience) and how Jesus answers this condition. I thought it would be a challenge to choose an Old Testament passage where Christ isn't explicitly mentioned. Second, the Tower of Babel deals with culture, primarily language, and different people groups. Since this area impacts my ministry directly, I thought it would be good to learn more about Babel.

One of the biggest things that I learned from the passage is that those that argue that culture is bad and resulted from God's judgment at Babel are misguided. Actually, God had given clear instructions to Noah and his sons after the flood that they were to "multiply and fill the earth." God did not command them to stay in one place, but instructed them to fill the earth. They disobeyed at Babel. They gathered together, sought to make a name for themselves and make themselves bigger than God. He confused their languages and scattered them over the face of the earth.

God's plan from the very beginning has always been to make his name known throughout the whole earth. While it might appear that culture and language differences may ultimately make this too difficult, this is not true. Not only has God blessed each of our own cultures with uniqueness that can bless others, but he uses our differences for his glory. You see, he scattered the people and confused their language at Babel, but he used the differences in languages and culture for his own glory later on in Scripture (e.g. look at Acts 2:1-12) and will use these differences for his glory in our future (Revelation 7:9-10). God uses our cultures to speed up his plans and depend on him more frequently.

I came across this great article the other day that talks about some of these very things. The article is written by Orlando Crespo, the director of LeFe, the Hispanic ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Not only does his commentary on the Tower of Babel coincide with what I have learned about it, but his perspective of culture in the Body of Christ is quite valuable.

I sat in a discussion not too long ago with some church leaders and they talked about their desire to be a more diverse church. One of the men in the room mentioned how he wanted to be welcoming enough so that ethnic minorities could see themselves becoming "one of us." I believe that his heart was in the right place in that what he really wanted to say was that those that weren't white could make this church their church home. But I hope that this church never tries to turn their members of color into "one of us" -- middle-class, white suburbanites.

Any church or ministry that truly desires to be diverse needs to acknowledge, recognize and value our cultural differences. It means that people can be themselves, their values can be respected and embraced, and that they aren't expected to become like someone else in order to hear the gospel or participate as a member of the Body of Christ. How God intends us to function is to bring our whole selves to the table -- the good and the bad -- and learn to work together for his glory. It's what I Corinthians 12 is all about. When we get to the point that we can appreciate the gifts of others, have a proper perspective on our own gifts and learn how it all meshes together, then I think we're getting closer to the heart of God.

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