Over the next few days the folks at the NFL Network will try to bridge the gap between football and baseball seasons by televising the NFL Scouting Combine. The top pro prospects coming out of college are put through their paces under the watchful eyes of scouts for teams that may potentially draft them. Naturally, I thought it would be helpful for the church to have a similar skills competition for graduating seminarians. This way, freshly minted clergy could show off their skills while hiring rectors and search committees could get a sense of what they were getting before extending a call. Everybody wins, right?
One of the more controversial pieces of evaluation at the NFL Combine takes place off the field. The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in twelve minutes. A score of 20 indicates average intelligence. I’m not sure if a player’s scores are supposed to be made public but they always leak out. Here’s a slideshow with some notable scores.
All of which is to say that we already have the Wonderlic (doesn’t that sound like a place Larry Bird might vacation?) equivalent in the General Ordination Exam. Equally controversial — there’s been talk of eliminating it for years — but overall a decent baseline indicator of fitness for ordained ministry. So that takes care of the academic/cognitive portion. Now on to the fun part: the skills competition.
The marquee event at the NFL Combine is the 40 yard dash. It measures speed and explosiveness, two ingredients necessary to succeed in professional football. For seminarians, the most important event is The Triangle. At a simulated coffee hour, a “parishioner” holding a styrofoam cup of Folgers decaf corners the seminarian and says, “Great sermon today! Your sermons are so much better than the rector’s snooze-fests don’t you think? If you go tell the Senior Warden to insist Father Dim have you preach more often, I’ll support you.”
What do you do? Give a knowing nod of complicity and leave it at that? Approach the warden? Or say, “We all have different gifts but I think it’s important to hear regularly from Father Dim. I appreciate his approach to preaching but understand not everyone relates to every preacher. If this is such a concern for you, why don’t you go talk to the warden? I see her right behind that plate of stale munchkins.”
100 people you’ve never seen before file past you shaking your hand and saying “Good morning” and occasionally “Nice sermon.” While they’re all wearing name tags (this is hypothetical) the first pass, they file past you again without name tags. How many can you name? How many do you even recognize? Did we mention they all change their clothes in between?
Each seminarian is asked to preach a sermon on the Trinity (they may as well get used to it). They begin with 100 points. Points are deducted for: every minute past the 12 minute mark; annoying tics like hair flipping or swaying back and forth; use of any of the following words — paradigm, missional, multivalent, or homoousious; and doctrinal heresy. 30 is considered an above average score.
In order to properly prepare future clergy for long drawn-out diocesan meetings, having to stay up late on a Saturday night to finish the sermon because they had a funeral and a wedding earlier that day, and mornings following a late vestry meeting, it is essential to test their coffee intake skills. Unlike the individual challenges, this is administered in a group setting.
A giant vat of coffee is set up in the middle of a mock parish hall. Contestants line the walls. At the command “The Lord be with you,” the seminarians dash to the vat and attempt to consume Herculean (even though he’s a pagan) amounts of black coffee. At the end of 10 minutes, the winner will have consumed the most coffee (without dying). If you’re not sure how much coffee it will take to kill you, click here.
Let the games begin!
Most of America was shocked when sideline reporter Erin Andrews interviewed Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman in the aftermath of his game-saving pass deflection in yesterday’s NFC Championship Game. You could feel the adrenaline, passion, and violence coursing off his body as he brashly and threateningly proclaimed he was the best defender in the NFL and trash-talked 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree with whom he had tangled throughout the game.
The interview was brief, intense, and led to an instantaneous backlash on Twitter. He was immediately labeled a sore winner, thug, and much worse. I jumped into the fray as I’d been tweeting a bit throughout the compelling NFC Championship Game. I tweeted the following:
Richard Sherman. Now THAT’s showing grace in victory. #yowza
Can somebody please test Sherman RIGHT now? #roidrage
Actually, who am I to judge? I act just like Sherman at coffee hour after I preach a killer sermon.
Fox sticks a microphone in Sherman’s face AGAIN? Who’s producing this fiasco?
This was nothing compared to some of the racism (both subtle and overt) spouted off after the interview. The image of an angry, fired-up black man with dreadlocks standing next to an upper-middle class white woman with a microphone played into many people’s darkest fears. Never mind that this played out on the eve of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Later, the Stanford-educated Sherman was much more eloquent but the damage to his reputation had been done. Of course this being sports in America, all will be forgiven and forgotten if Seattle wins the Super Bowl in two weeks.
But I admit I’m complicit in this whole scenario. Not because of my tweets (and it’s not as if I have that many followers) but because I’m an avid football fan. We expect our warrior/athletes to act like animals on the field and cheer them vociferously for it. Yet two seconds after walking off the field, we expect them to be transformed into model citizens. “Leave it all on the field” means more to us than playing their hearts out — it means leaving the adrenaline-fueled violence out there as well.
We cheer, adore, and financially reward football players who act like gladiators on the field and excoriate these same men when they display violent tendencies off it. It’s no wonder that the two teams with the most suspensions for performance enhancing drugs this year — the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will be playing in the Super Bowl. By rewarding and glorifying this behavior we are all complicit in Richard Sherman’s response.
It’s no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m an avid football fan — I even flew down to Baltimore with my two boys for last year’s Ravens victory parade. But I admit the game is slowly losing its appeal. Every time I see a jarring hit I now envision the brain whipping around the skull. The acronym CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) takes its place amid other familiar ones like TD, FG, and QB.
While the NFL continues to be the most popular and profitable sports league in the world, the game is changing. I’m not sure what the future will hold for professional football but I do know that when we revile the actions of players like Richard Sherman, it’s important to remember that we created the very monster we condemn.
As a clergyman, I am always sensitive to the pastoral needs of my flock. As a priest in New England, I realize that many in my congregation are grieving the Patriots loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Yet as a Baltimore Ravens fan, I don’t really care about their feelings when it comes to football. So I’m torn in my pastoral duties. Since next week is the Annual Meeting and it’s best to keep the peace, I’ll err on the side of pastoral concern.
In times such as these, many are left wondering why? Why did my team lose? Why did God do this to the Patriots? Is God mad at me? To ease some of the confusion, I thought I’d share some light on why the Patriots lost to the Broncos. Understanding why is an intellectual response and so Patriots fans will still need time to grieve. I’m sensitive to that and I will walk with them during this painful time.
Here are the reasons the Patriots lost:
God’s wrath for cutting Tim Tebow after the preseason. (Of course he was also cut by the Broncos when they signed Peyton Manning but whatever. God’s complicated).
God prefers Anglicans (aka Redcoats) to Patriots (aka religious dissenters).
The continuing Wrath of the Cathedral Nautilus. This doesn’t explain the World Champion Red Sox but that was a beard thing.
Punishment for the globalization of Sam Adams Beer.
Many patriots in the revolutionary age were Deists.
God’s anger at Patriots coach Bill Belichick who lives in Hingham and yet has never darkened the door of St. John’s.
The presence on the Patriots’ roster of linebacker Dont’a Hightower (of Babel).
Retribution for tossing all that tea into Boston Harbor.
Actually, I do know that when your team loses deep in the playoffs it feels like you’ve been slugged in the gut. I feel your pain — truly.
As everyone knows, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning uses the word “Omaha” while calling audibles from the line of scrimmage. This has gotten a lot of press in the hype leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Broncos and Patriots. The word has been trending on Twitter the Nebraska city’s tourism department has been milking it for all it’s worth (they have lots of cows in Omaha, right?), and Omaha Steaks has been using Manning’s favorite word for marketing purposes.
I was in Omaha once. For five hours. In 1992 when I was still working on political campaigns for a living, I was hired to work on a congressional race in California. Naturally, I had to be there immediately so I drove from Baltimore to California in three days in my old 1985 Ford Bronco II. It was a crazy trip, though the only real blip came when I broke down just outside of Omaha. With all the miles I covered I was thrilled to break down only one mile from a gas station, where I sat for five hours waiting for a part to arrive. So, I’m grateful to Peyton for dredging up this wonderful memory.
Anyway, as I watched the Brady/Manning Bowl I started reflecting on ways the word “Omaha” could be used in liturgy.
At the end of the service the Verger could yell “Omaha” to change up the retiring procession. Perhaps indicating leaving one verse earlier in the hymn than originally discussed.
The Celebrant could yell “Omaha” if he/she decides to call an audible at the altar and switch from Eucharistic Prayer B to Prayer D.
The Congregation could yell “Omaha” if the sermon runs over 20 minutes.
The Rector could yell “Omaha” if he/she hears heresy in the Seminarian’s sermon.
The Choir could sing “Omaha” to Anglican Chant just to show off.
The Ushers could point and yell “Omaha” if a visitor doesn’t place anything in the collection plate as it passes by.
And if none of these work, maybe I can get the town fathers to approach Hinghamite Bill Belichick to persuade Tom Brady to start screaming “Hingham” before the snap.
As football season winds down (what am I supposed to do after church now?!), there will be a dearth of motivational quotes spouted by head coaches. While the only “motivational quote” I keep in my office is the parish mission statement, I think these are great.
But why should motivational quotes be the exclusive domain of football locker rooms? The church equivalent of the locker room is, of course, the sacristy. The liturgical players all gather here before kickoff cum procession. The priest offers a prayer/motivational speech with the acolytes and choir and off they charge down the aisle (at a decorous, stately pace of course).
I thought it would be helpful to offer a few motivational quotes to post in your sacristy. This will keep all the servers motivated and focused for the task at hand. I suggest putting up a new quote every time the church season changes so they don’t get stale and the acolytes start phoning it in. Let me know if you think of others. The church needs fired up altar parties!
There’s no “I” in Acolyte.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how the procession flows.
Win one for the Messiah.
Leave it all on the altar.
It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings the dismissal.
Let’s all give this liturgy 110% (which is the same fuzzy math as three in one and one in three)
It’s not the size of a crucifer but the size of the processional cross that matters.
Show me a bad liturgist and I’ll show you bad liturgy.
There is no substitute for preaching preparation.
It’s not whether the thurifer gets knocked down, it’s whether he gets up.
Communion isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
A year after winning the Super Bowl and a run of five straight years making the playoffs, my beloved Baltimore Ravens are done. An ugly loss to the Bengals has sealed their fate and sent them packing. I’ve already pulled out my Orioles hat and sweatshirt (and socks, mugs, etc) and have figured out how many days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training (43).
It’s amazing how much some of us care about our sports teams — we’re passionate, loyal, and (healthy or not) find in them a piece of our individual identities. The highs are higher and the lows are lower when you care deeply. Thus, I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m rather depressed. Oh, I’ll get over it soon enough. I know intellectually at least that it’s only a game. But it still stings.
While no one has ever accused me of being a raging optimist, I have found the silver lining to the Ravens being shut out of the playoffs. Not having to endure emotionally draining games leading up to the Super Bowl means that…
9. I no longer need to work on my Sunday afternoon ulcer the way southern Californians work on their tans.
8. My post-liturgical Sunday afternoon nap will regain its place of primacy among afternoon naps.
7. I’ll once again be able to eat during games without fear of throwing up nachos when the offensive line gives up another sack.
6. The only people acting like sullen teenagers in my house will once again only be the sullen teenagers.
5. I can get back to wearing wear purple only during Lent and Advent.
4. I won’t need to go on blood pressure medicine as a direct result of yelling at the refs about the chintzy pass interference calls that are ruining the NFL.
3. When the lights go out at the Super Bowl I won’t entertain a JFK-like conspiracy theory.
2. Fewer football references and analogies in my sermons will make the pacifists and non-sports fans in my congregation happier.1. Less cursing on the Lord’s Day.
Bill Belichick press conferences have quickly become my favorite thing about football in New England. His gruff, non-answer Q & A sessions with the media are comically absurd. “It is what it is” covers everything from next week’s opponent to Tim Tebow to defensive coverages to Aaron Hernandez. In other words, Belichick (a Hingham resident I might add) has perfected the art of saying nothing by saying something. Not that clergy could every be accused of that…
Anyway, it made me wonder what would happen if clergy took a Belichickian approach to coffee hour. Here’s what I came up with using (more or less) actual Bill Belichick press conference answers:
Q: What happened with the acolytes at the gospel procession? Are you actively recruiting new ones?
A: I’m only talking about the personnel we have. Anything else is speculation
Q: The readings appointed for today seemed to give you some trouble. Are you looking forward to next week’s lessons?
A: I don’t decide what the readings are. I’m not going to comment on something I don’t have control over.
Q: Are you disappointed by the lack of munchkins at coffee hour?
A: Are munchkins mentioned in the Bible?
Q: Is the vestry excited about the new adult education program?
A: You’d have to ask them about that.
Q: The new Sunday School curriculum looks really engaging. Are you excited about it?
A: We’ll see how it goes.
Q: Did you know there are weeds growing in the church yard?
A: I’m responsible for every aspect of church life.
Q: Do you really think adding another service on Sunday morning is going to work?
A: We just try to do what’s in the best interest of the parish.
Q: Did you notice attendance is down this year?
A: It is what it is.
Okay, back to post-church football watching. Love this time of year!
The Theology of Ray Lewis
Whenever anyone asks me whether God has a hand in the outcome of sporting events, I have a ready answer. I point to the three little league baseball seasons I coached with a fellow Episcopal priest: we never had a winning season. Granted we weren’t exactly down on our knees in the dugout or teaching our players the proper way to cross themselves in the batter’s box. But you’d think God would have at least sent one power hitter our way or blessed us with an outfielder who could actually track fly balls.
There’s been a lot of talk about God’s role in sports the past few weeks. Sports Illustrated even ran a cover story with the headline “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” featuring a picture of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis emerging from a body of water with his hands clasped in prayer.
Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you I’m originally from Baltimore. I am a passionate, life-long Orioles fan and a huge Ravens fan. As I write this the morning after the Super Bowl, I’m reveling in last night’s events while drinking coffee at Redeye Roasters wearing my Ray Lewis jersey.
It’s no secret Lewis is a polarizing figure — as a young man he was put on trial in connection with a double murder following Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. He was cleared but charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice. For some, that connection, regardless of the fuzzy circumstances and outcome of the trial, has forever vilified Lewis. Like most Baltimoreans I believe he’s done an admirable job of turning his life around and have seen first-hand the impact he’s had in that city through charity work and inspiring a generation of underprivileged young boys and girls. I also love his passion for the game of football, admire his leadership skills, and feel privileged to have seen the best linebacker of his era play both live and on television.
I must, however, take exception to Lewis’ brand of public theology. There’s no doubt he has a larger pulpit than any member of the clergy. He can “preach” to millions while most of us are stuck preaching to hundreds. His platform makes the pulpit at the Washington National Cathedral look like a battery-operated megaphone. The problem with this is that Lewis can preach the Gospel According to Ray without consequence or accountability. He claims to answer to God alone but sometimes there’s a fine line between God and Ray and that not only makes people uncomfortable, it can be dangerous.
In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, a reporter asked Lewis, “How does it feel to be a Super Bowl Champion?” He responded “When God is for you, who can be against you?” The implication being that God was “for” Lewis and the Ravens more than God was “for” the 49ers. That’s a slippery theological slope. Does it mean that God preferred one Harbaugh brother over the other? Does it mean that if you pray enough, God will reward you with success and riches beyond your wildest imagination? If you don’t win the big game or get that promotion or get an A on your calculus test, are you a lousy Christian?
This not only turns faith into competitive blood sport, it sets up a dangerous dualistic approach where you’re either on God’s side or not. Everything becomes black and white with no shades of gray. Unfortunately, the human relationship with God is much more nuanced than this — our faith ebbs and flows, there are moments of inspiration followed by periods of doubt. Like the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, faith is a living, breathing life-long journey of falling away and returning to God.
In other words, if God is for us, that doesn’t mean there’s an equal and opposite person that God is against. It just doesn’t work that way since God is “for” everyone who seeks God out and takes even the most tentative step toward relationship.
I’m still going to enjoy this Super Bowl victory and wear my purple with pride. I just don’t think I’ll be inviting Ray Lewis to guest preach any time soon.
This morning I give thanks — as I have for the last three Monday mornings — that I’m not an NFL replacement ref. Talk about receiving the scorn of the nation. Ouch! ESPN highlights your most recent gaffes and follies, players bash you on Twitter, and, while head coaches try to refrain from heaping verbal abuse on you during their post-game press conferences for fear of heavy fines from the Commissioner, their body language and facial expressions hardly belie their true feelings.
You have to pity these folks who are doing the best they can amid an untenable and highly visible situation. Plus those of us who “only work on Sunday mornings” have to stick together. Just kidding — I certainly hope the NFL and the “real” refs can iron out their (monetary) differences so these replacement refs can go back to their real jobs of selling shoes at Foot Locker.
Of course this got me wondering about what would happen if replacement clergy were used on a Sunday morning. Sure, people like to complain about their parish priests but I think there’d be a new appreciation for them if we brought in replacement clergy one week. Here are some possible conseqences:
1. The liturgy would start 15 minutes late because the “priest” couldn’t figure out how to tie the cincture (the fancy church word for rope that gets tied around an alb, which in turn is a fancy church word for white garment).
2. No one could hear the opening collect (fancy church word for prayer — pronounced COLL-ect) because the “priest” couldn’t operate the wireless microphone. On the other hand, everyone could hear the “priest’s” pre-service trip to the bathroom because he/she got the on-off button confused.
3. Liturgical bedlam would ensue as the “priest” would have no idea when to stand, sit, or kneel. This would likely cause somebody at the 8 o’clock service to break a hip.
4. Not being used to public speaking, the sermon would be an unmitigated disaster. Remembering the words of the third grade teacher who told the “priest” to picture the audience in their underwear, he/she would become flustered and strip down to his/her underwear instead. While this might attract the two new families that Sunday, the parish veterans would be horrified and Tweet pictures to the bishop.
5. There’s a fine line between a moment of silence and an awkward pause.
6. The “priest” would completely lose control at the Peace and it would devolve into a coffee hour-like free-for-all. Though, in some parishes, that’s the norm so no harm done.
7. Upon receipt of the collection the “priest” would assume this was a tip and pocket all the cash.
8. Prepaing the altar for communion looks easy to those who have seen it done hundreds and hundreds of times in their lives. In practice there’s an order to things that doesn’t include dumping a chalice-full of wine on the fair linen (fancy church word for table cloth).
9. Rushing out the door and forgetting to eat breakfast, the “priest” would engage in the old ‘One for me, one for you’ practice at the communion rail.
10. Rather than greeting people at the door following the liturgy, the “priest” would see an opportunity to be the first one to coffee hour. You’d find him/her tossing back munchkins in the parish hall like the Wicked Witch of the East.
So be careful what you wish for the next time you consider locking out the clergy. But remember, if things go away you can always throw one of those liturgical penalty flags.
Have you ever fantasized about throwing a bright yellow penalty flag into the aisle when the priest wears the wrong liturgical color or the organist plays the opening hymn at the speed of a sick tortoise? Probably not. But with the convergence of the start of football season, the church “program year,” and the labor dispute between the NFL and their referees, I saw an opportunity to bring this all together in a blog post. (Bear with me — it’s how my mind works).
To assist you in exercising your God-given (literally) right to good liturgy, I’m offering my guide to liturgical fouls. I urge you to use this empowerment of the laity (and cranky visiting clergy) wisely and with discretion. I’ll soon make the penalty flags available on my website for a mere $49.99.