Tag Archives: Sports

Smack-Talk

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?
Nahum 2:11 (NIV)

When I was a younger man, I enjoyed being part of groups of friends who would compete in on-line pools in which we tried to pick which teams would win each week. I listened to a lot of sports radio while I was on the road. But, I grew weary of the constant braggadocio, belittling of others, and never-ending “smack-talk” in which people played this kind of verbal “king of the mountain.” They would gloat over the fans of the teams they hate, until the tables turned and the gloating went the other way. It was stupid. So, I still enjoy being a fan of my favorite teams, and I find it fun to casually follow them. Otherwise, I try to avoid the world in which sports is taken seriously.

That sub-culture of smack-talk in sports came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter because Nahum’s entire prophetic poem is an ancient version of talking smack against his people’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Choose your favorite sport, Assyria was the big-market dynasty that never loses and has been dominant forever. Nahum is part of a small market team that had a few good seasons back in the day but has been nothing but a doormat ever since.

If a fan was going to talk smack against the New York Yankees, let’s say. You’d want to take well-known things about the Yankees and then turn them into negatives:

“The house that Ruth built will be reduced to rubble.”
“Black pinstripes will turn blood red when they are slaughtered.”
“Aaron will be ‘Judged’ and found wanting.”

That’s exactly what Nahum is doing with Assyria, thought it’s easily lost on modern readers.

When Nahum writes:

The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob
    like the splendor of Israel,
though destroyers have laid them waste
    and have ruined their vines.

He’s alluding to Assyria’s earlier domination over the northern tribe of Israel and Assyria’s insult-to-injury tactic of destroying all of an enemy’s vines so that they will have no wine to drown their sorrows. Nahum is proclaiming that the little underdog will rise again, while the mighty dynasty of Assyria is coming down.

When Nahum writes:

The shields of the soldiers are red;
    the warriors are clad in scarlet.

He’s referencing a common Assyrian boast of their shields and robes dripping with their enemies’ blood. Nahum is turning the tables, saying it will be Assyria’s blood coating the shields and robes of their enemy.

When Nahum writes:

The river gates are thrown open
    and the palace collapses.

He’s referencing the network of reservoirs and irrigation canals in and around Nineveh. When the dams are opened the river floods, making the Nineveh palace weak and compromised.

When Nahum writes:

Plunder the silver!
    Plunder the gold!
The supply is endless,
    the wealth from all its treasures!

He’s referencing the incredible wealth of Nineveh which they hoarded by plundering other peoples. This time, it will be a conquering army that plunders all of their treasures. By the way, in the late 20th century the tombs of Assyrian queens were discovered. Click here to view an online book that catalogs the hoard of gold and treasures they found (scroll past page 220 or so to see the images). It gives you an idea of the treasure that awaited those who conquered Nineveh.

When Nahum writes:

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?

Ashurbanipal defeating a lion.

He’s alluding to the fact that Assyrian kings were closely associated with lions. Ashurbanipal, who was likely on the throne as Nahum is writing, was often depicted with lions or hunting lions. Statues of him always show him holding a lion. Nahum is saying that “the lion’s den” of Nineveh will be desolate after their defeat.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about how hollow Nahum’s smack-talk must have sounded when he wrote it. No one could have imagined Assyria’s defeat, and Nahum would have been laughed at and mercilessly derided for suggesting such a thing.

But, he was right. He might not have been right in the moment, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. He would be proved right in time.

That’s the way it is as a follower of Jesus. Having faith in justice and believing that the Great Story will unfold as prophetically predicted rings hollow for most people. You can find plenty of people who laugh and shake their heads. And, it neither surprises me nor do I ever think that will change. Still, I believe that justice will prevail one day and that Love wins, just as Jesus claimed it would.

But hey, I’m a Cubs fan. I’ve learned that “someday” does actually arrive.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Same Song, Only Different

Same Song, Only Different (CaD Ps 53) Wayfarer

God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
    you put them to shame, for God despised them.

Psalm 53:5b (NIV)

Wendy and I really enjoy being fans. For us, the fun is in being loyal to our teams, following them, knowing the players, following the drama, cheering for them, and experiencing what ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to describe each week as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

A few years ago we found ourselves feeling the emptiness in the depth of our Iowa winter. January through March always feels like a slog, but we realized that it was made worse for us because our Vikings’ season was over and it would be April before our Cubs’ would begin their annual campaign. For whatever reason, the NBA has never tripped our trigger. So, we decided it was time to join our son-in-law Clayton and give the English Premier League a shot.

We knew that for us the fun is in following a team, so we began researching the various teams in a search for the team to whom we would pledge our loyalty. It’s surprising how many resources there are on the internet for Americans trying to choose a Premier League team. In the end, we chose to become fans of Liverpool FC (Football Club). And, as silly as it sounds, the clincher for us was the song.

One of the endearing things about Premier League is the singing. During most pre-covid matches when the stands are packed you’ll hear the crowd singing. Not just a specific moment in the match, like singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the 7th Inning. Premier League fans often sing themselves hoarse through the entire match. There are typically different songs fans have for different players, and teams typically adopt a theme song.

Liverpool’s theme song is Gerry and the Pacemaker’s You’ll Never Walk Alone which also happens to be a song from the Broadway Musical Carousel. Wendy and I discovered this fact in our research and then pulled up a YouTube video of the Liverpool crowd singing it before a match. We got goosebumps, and it sealed the deal. Two Liverpool fans were born.

So, you might be wondering to yourself, “Where on earth are you going with this?” Well, if you’ve followed my blog and/or podcast for anything length of time you know that I’m fond of saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is layered with meaning. The song You’ll Never Walk Alone is a great example.

For many people like Wendy and me, the song has been forever tied to the musical Carousel. A teenager growing up in the early 1960s might never have known it was from a Broadway musical, but the version by Gerry and the Pacemakers might have tremendous emotional ties to a crush they had on a boy or girl, dancing cheek-to-cheek at a school dance, or listening with friends on a crackly AM car radio as you scooped the loop. Then Liverpool takes the same song and it becomes an anthem of solidarity, loyalty, and community for fans of their football club around the world.

For me, the most interesting thing about today’s chapter, Psalm 53, is that it is virtually identical to Psalm 14. If you put them side-by-side you’ll notice that it’s the same song, but verse 5 is different. Scholars believe that the nation took David’s original and co-opted it after a national victory over armies who had sought to destroy them as in the story found in 2 Chronicles 20 when they were unexpectedly attacked by the army of Edom. When David wrote the song to mean one thing during his life and his generation, but a subsequent generation took the same song, the same lyrics, and made it about another thing.

In the quiet this morning, it has me thinking about something I’ve frequently observed in my perpetual journey through the Great Story. Something that had little or no meaning for me thirty years ago might suddenly be powerfully important for me today at this waypoint on Life’s road. Things that meant one thing to me then might take on a whole new layer of meaning for me now. I’m so grateful to my mentors who taught me at the beginning of my spiritual journey that reading and studying the Great Story was not a one-and-done deal. “On it you shall meditate both day and night,” says Joshua 1:8, the very first verse I memorized when I was 15. And, that’s what I’ve tried to do, and it’s made an unfathomable difference in both my spiritual journey and my life journey.

The Great Story meets me where I am every morning. A verse, or chapter, or passage can help me frame my past, make sense of my present, and direct my course for the future all at the same time.

Thanks for walking with me this morning and reminding me that “I’ll never walk alone.”

Go Liverpool! 🙂

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Fight! Fight! Fight! (CaD Ps 20) Wayfarer

Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20:9 (NRSVCE)

I grew up a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and watched them every Sunday on television. It wasn’t until I was an adult with children of my own that I went to a game myself. I’ll never forget being in the nosebleed section at the top of the Metrodome when the Vikings scored. The entire crowd stood and sang the Vikings’ fight song.

What?! I had no idea they had a fight song. The television always cuts to a commercial after someone scores or else the commentators are providing their thoughts on the touchdown and showing replays in slow motion. I never realized that in the back ground a stadium full of Viking fans were singing.

Fight songs are a part of sports, though we don’t give them much thought. When Wendy and I watch Liverpool in the Premier League play, the fans are singing almost non-stop through the entire match. They have different songs about different players. When Wendy and I were choosing which Premier League team we were going to cheer for (yes, we thoroughly weighed our options), we found out that before each game the Anfield stadium crowd sings You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Watching it on YouTube sealed the deal for us.

Music and the struggle for victory go hand-in-hand. Music brings unity and camaraderie to the masses. Music sung by a crowd stirs emotion and channels energy. It can lift spirits. It can encourage a team to dig deeper and motivate them to strive harder knowing there are tens of thousands behind them and cheering them on. They know it because they hear the singing.

Today’s psalm is basically an ancient fight song that David penned for his people to sing for him. It’s basically two verses with a one line chorus in between them. In the first verse, the people bless the king and ask that God would bless, support, and fight for David. The chorus asks God to give the king a spiritual blank check and grant all his requests. The second verse is an anthem of faith that God will assure the defeat of David’s enemies and ends praising God (not David) for the victory.

Back in Psalm 18, David wrote an epic song giving praise to God for all of his victories. It’s written in the first person, from David’s point-of-view. In contrast, today’s song is clearly intended to be sung by the people, the masses, the entire nation. In that way, it is an ancient version of a national anthem.

In the quiet, as I meditate on it this morning, I’m struck that David wanted to ensure that when his people sang about his victories, they ascribed the victory to God. King David had to have remembered when twenty-some years earlier he defeated Goliath, and the women all danced sang:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands.”

1 Samuel 18:7

It was that song that began to turn King Saul against David and wreak havoc on his life for years. Now that he’s king, Psalm 20 stands as a testament to the fact that David wanted to use his authority to ensure any fight song sung by his people for him would be a prayer for God’s blessing and would ascribe praise for the victory to God and not him.

An interesting side note. While we don’t know what the song would have sounded like, it must have been catchy. Archaeologists uncovered a papyrus fragment (Papyrus Amherst 63) that contains Psalm 20 virtually word-for-word but ascribes the prayer and praise to the Egyptian god Horus. Same song. Different team. It’s still common for high schools to steal a famous fight song tune and use it for their own.

As the wise sage of Ecclesiastes wrote: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Start of a new work week. I’m cheering you on. Hope it’s a good one.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Sticking It Out

The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”
Jeremiah 30:3 (NIV)

I know it’s the natural pessimist in me, but when my team goes down early I’ve historically been quick to bail on them. Turn off the television. Go find something else to do. There’s no sense in wasting my time watching my team get thrashed. It’s not going to get any better.

Except when they make a spectacular comeback.

Along life’s journey I’ve actually gotten better at sticking with the game. As Yogi Berra might have said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Sometimes the best of things happen in extra innings after a rain delay.

In today’s chapter there’s a continued shifting wind in the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s message.  It’s been chapter after chapter of nothing but apocalyptic judgement and doom. Now, over the past few chapters the momentum of the game has shifted. As the actual events unfold, God’s message through Jeremiah turns to hope, redemption, and restoration. But you’d never know it if you bailed out in the first few chapters.

This morning I’m thinking about life’s long game. In a world that’s rapidly changing, the discipline required to hang in there, stick with the plan, and have faith in the process is harder and harder to come by. I find myself pressured to want instant results and immediate wins. My experience is that life rarely works out that way. The joy of redemption is made possible by the long slog through wilderness and exile. Shortcuts are simply an illusion that cycle me back to where I started.

If I want to reach redemption, I’ve learned that I have to stick it out when my team is down early and the outlook is bleak.

Life, and All That Jazz

Playing Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The elders no longer sit in the city gates;
    the young men no longer dance and sing.
Joy has left our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning.
Lamentations 5:14-15 (NLT)

I had a great evening with my friend, Kevin, last night. It was guys night, and after wonderful meal out we drank cold beer in the hot evening and smoked cigars while sharing great conversation. One of the things I most appreciate about my friend is that he can not only talk about sports (last night we talked through and decided who we thought the best Chicago Cub of all time at each position on the field…more on that in a minute), but we can also talk about theatre and the stage with equal passion.

Last night I made the comment that I personally don’t enjoy musical theatre as well as non-musical theatre because, well, in everyday real life we don’t break out in song. Kevin pounced on my snooty declaration as if I had just suggested that Carlos Marmol was the best Cubs pitcher of all time. “I think we DO break out in song all the time,” Kevin argued (and I paraphrase). “We think about music, situations bring songs to our heads, and we regularly break out in  song in the shower, in the car, and when I’m talking with my wife!” I hesitated and conceded the point, thinking to myself that I should have clarified: we don’t break out in large scale production numbers.

I get to the end of the prophet Jeremiah’s poem of Lamentation this morning and stumbled on the verse I pasted at the top of this post. How fascinating that after describing scenes of societal breakdown, starvation, cannibalism, torture, and rape the prophet sums it up by saying: our young men no longer break out in singing and dancing, the joy has left our hearts.

For the record, Kevin was right and I stand corrected by the ancient prophet. God forbid that this life should ever become an endless and tragic Long Days Journey Into Night without All That Jazz to keep us breaking out in joyful song.

 

Chapter-a-Day 1 Peter 3

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. 1 Peter 3:18a (NLT)

Wendy and I are sports fans. We follow our teams and enjoy watching them through the seasons. This means it’s been busy the past few weeks as baseball season is winding down, but football season is in full swing. The result is that we’re watching a lot of sports on television and the DVR is working overtime recording shows and movies that we likely won’t get to until after the fall classic.

Though we love watching many different sports, my love of baseball has grown over the years while my love of other sports has waned. There are a number of reasons for this. Baseball, more than any other sport, is a metaphor for life. It is a day-by-day journey that starts with the promise of life each spring and ends (especially for Cubs fans) with the harsh realities of death and disappointment each fall leaving hope of resurrection “next year.” Within the long journey there are highs and lows. Even the worst of teams pull together a few winning streaks and the best of teams are going to experience a host of disappointing losses. The best of the best hitters fail seven out of ten times at the plate. The greatest of pitchers give up a home run now and then.

While I love all these things about baseball, the one thing that I’ve come to appreciate most is the simple object of the game: making it home safely. It is the same objective that this wayfaring stranger has as I day-by-day walk my journey through this world of woe. You’ll even find it in the banner of my blog. It is the same way Peter summarizes the message of Jesus in today’s chapter: Jesus died on a cross and suffered as a sacrifice for ours sins once for all and did so in order to bring we sinners safely home.

Those who’ve walked with me for a long time have watched me hit a few home runs but have more often seen me strike out swinging. I’ve been hit by pitches and have stolen a few bases. I’ve also dropped some easy pop flies. Nevertheless, I get up early each morning with the promise that it’s a new day. I can’t do anything about yesterday’s bitter loss. I can only do my best in today’s game as I make my way toward the inevitable winter that slowly approaches.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 148

In praise of our team. Let them praise the name of God— it's the only Name worth praising. Psalm 148:13 (MSG)

Yesterday I mentioned my favorite football team in my post and received some grief from my friend, Kathy, who happens to be a fan of a rival team. She ribbed me because a certain famous former player just signed to play with my team for a year. That's alright. I should have expected it and it gave me a great chuckle for the day. Sport rivalries are one of the many little things in life that help make it enjoyable.

It did, however, get me to thinking this morning as I read Psalm 148. It's human nature to glorify our heroes. Whether they are historical figures, soldiers, celebrities or athletes, we're good at praising their names. We list them in Top 10 and Top 100 lists. We dedicate magazines, raise statues, write books, dedicate concerts and albums to them. We will pay top dollar to see them in person and be in their presence. We do a good job of lifting our heroes up in praise.

Funny isn't it, how that constrasts with our praise of God? The One who deserves our loudest, most exclusive praise is more likely to receive an earful of complaints, petitions and laments.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and hefftech

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