Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why I Love Sports

Sports have a strange pull on a large number of people, including myself. Fundamentally, many of these sports boil boil down to hitting balls with sticks or kicking balls into nets, yet these simple summations fail to grasp what it is that makes them so intriguing. Here is my attempt to line out why I believe it is that sports have such a firm place in my heart. I have come up with 5 main reasons that are listed below.

1. Familial

The love of sports and specific sports teams is often passed down from one generation to the next and this is certainly part of my story. My parents and extended family love watching and playing sports, so it is natural that I would catch some of the sports bug. We have had season tickets to the Chiefs my whole life and have gone to a few Royals games each year. It was part of my childhood and going back to those places always reminds me of those good memories.

2. Universal Connection

Sports are played everywhere in the world. Which sport is played might be different, but the pursuit of athletic achievement and competition is ubiquitous. This means that I can go anywhere in the world and have an instant connection to the people there. Soccer is the sport that best displays this attribute. It is the world sport and no matter where I am in the world, I can start a conversation about the stars of the sport and be able to meet new people. Few, if any, other institutions are that widespread. This is an incredibly powerful idea. I love that I have an easy-to-open door for billions of people around the world. Often finding that first thing to talk about is the hardest. Sports makes it easier.

3. Emotional

This seems to be the one that befuddles non-sports fans the most. How can it be that us watching these goofy games can cause such an emotional outpouring? Why do we get so caught up in it? If you want a good example of exactly this sort of strange behavior, you can read about my growing love for Borussia Dortmund. To be honest, I think most sports fans are just as lost for a good explanation. We can offer partial explanations, but they never seem to get to the core of what is happening. Sports unfold as a real-life drama. In the same way that we get wrapped up in the emotional lives of fictional characters in our TV shows, movies, and books, sports fans get wrapped up in the emotional lives of the players on the field. But, even that seems incomplete, because (for team sports, at least) people don't just get wrapped up in the players. They get wrapped up in the teams. We are rooting for laundry! To a point, it does not matter who is wearing that gorgeous powder blue Royals jersey, but rather only that whoever has that jersey on is lifting that World Series trophy at the end of the year.

Sports offer a real-life, totally unpredictable drama that is played out in front of millions of people at once, all of whom have some sort of stake in it. That is something unique to sports and something that seems to tug at many people's heartstrings.

4. Analytic

Beyond simply tapping into an emotional part of myself, sports also allow me to tap into my analytic side. I love being able to analyze and dissect the sport. I have become really interested in sports analytics, as statistical methods are being used to better understand how best to play sports. I can also dive into the deep history of these sports and see how sports have connected to our history and the culture of our past. I can think on how changes in some sport over the last century might change how it is played. In this way, sports alight my curiosity. They spark my desire to learn.

5. Civic Pride

Sports teams come to represent more than just the team itself. Sports teams come to represent their home city or home country. Growing up in Kansas City, part of what made me feel a part of this city and proud of this city was the Chiefs, Royals, and (more recently) Sporting Kansas City. These teams represented our town to the rest of the country. Perhaps, more importantly, it allowed me to feel an instant bond to my home city. No matter where I go, I know I can wear Kansas City sports gear and still represent where I grew up. That feeling is perhaps even tighter with Kansas State University. As a smaller community, Kansas State is so tightly connected to Manhattan, Kansas that there are nearly one in the same. The sports teams I love reflect upon my love for these places that I have lived.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Daily Reading: Exodus 34

Exodus 34:26 - The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.

God does not want to be the extra thing we do when we have extra time. He is not the cherry on top of our sundae of life. God desires, demands, and deserves the first of our firstfruits. He desperately desires us to enter into a loving relationship with Him. As the moral lawgiver, He demands that we order our lives rightly, which means that God is first. Finally, as the only perfect and holy one, he deserves to be placed first in all things in our life. Understanding any one of these reasons to place God first opens our heart to seeing more of Him, but we must pursue all three reasons to get the full picture of who God is, who we are, and how God sees us.

Also of note: at the end of the chapter, Moses comes down the mountain from seeing God and HIS FACE IS GLOWING. Like, actually, full on, glowing! To the point that the Israelites were afraid of what they were seeing. That is an experience of God that I want!

I should also point out that I am reading through the 'New Testament+' plan from OWNit365 right now. For five days of the week, you read one chapter from the New Testament, and on one day of the week you read a chapter from the Old Testament that relates to the New Testament readings of that week. Then, there is one day off to help you catch up, if you fall behind. It is a really great plan and the OWNit365 website has a ton of great resources to help you study. There are great videos for each book of the Bible that give you a good intro into the themes of the book and a lot of other stuff. Check it out!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Daily Reading: 2 Corinthians 5

2 Corinthians 5:14-17 - For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

The 17th verse of chapter 5 (in bold above) is a common memory verse, and for good reason. It lays out in a very plain way what happens at the moment of salvation. At salvation, all the old things about us are put into that past and God renews us. We become a new creation. We are born again as a new person than the one we were before.

The verse gains even more power when we examine it in the context of Paul's epistle. When we see "therefore," we need to see what it is there for. In this case, Paul is pointing (again!) to the resurrection of Jesus. In the preceding verses, Paul is discussing how Christ's death made it so that we all can die to ourselves in order that we might live for Christ. The resurrection is the foundation for the idea that we become a new creation at salvation. Just as Christ died, but was then raised anew, we also can die to ourselves and be raised as a new creation.

All of this centers around the moment in history when Jesus came out from the grave.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Daily Reading: 2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3:14-16 - But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

I just finished N.T. Wright's fantastic "Scripture and the Authority of God." In it, he presents a "five-act" way of interpreting the Biblical writings. The five acts are: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, and the church. In the same way that a play follows various acts, so to does God's history and narrative. The Bible is the telling of that narrative with the Old Testament telling the first three acts, the Gospels telling the fourth, and the rest of the New Testament telling the fifth, which we are currently living in. In this way, Wright tells us that "the fifth act goes on, but its first scene is non-negotiable, and remains the standard by which the various improvisations of subsequent scenes are to be judged."

In relation specifically to what Paul is saying, Wright says that "we who call ourselves Christians must be totally committed to telling the story of Jesus both as the climax of Israel's story and as the foundation of our own." This fact is what Paul is trying to draw the Corinthians' attention to. When we fail to put the Old Testament in context as the first three acts of a five act play, we miss so much of its meaning. By seeing the Old Testament as somehow separate from the New Testament we err, but in two divergent ways.

The Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus' time saw the Old Testament is the entire story. They thought that the narrative was only the first three acts. Because of this, they missed out on the blessings of the final two acts and failed to fully understand what the first three acts meant. In contrast, far too many Christians today see the Old Testament as a separate play from the New Testament. The Old Testament in this case becomes pointless. It has some interesting history, but that has no impact upon our lives today. On this view, Jesus was not the start of a new act on the overall narrative, He was the start of a completely new narrative.

Both of these views fail to grasp the entire picture that God is painting and the story that He makes us a part of.

Finally, here is one part of Wright's book that I found especially insightful. I wanted to give the book a standing ovation when I read it. The book is chock of fantastic insights such as this. In fact, I loved it so much, here's a link to buy it on Amazon.
It is vital that we understand scripture, and our relation to it, in terms of some kind of overarching narrative which makes sense of the texts. We cannot reduce scripture to a set of "timeless truths" on the one hand, or to mere fuel for devotion on the other, without being deeply disloyal, at a structural level, to scripture itself.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Daily Reading: 2 Corinthians 1, The Practice of the Presence of God

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 - "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many."

Just as he did in 1 Corinthians, Paul points to God's ability to raise the dead to create a foundation for our faith. In Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth, he is using Jesus' resurrection as a starting point for all other insights into human life. In his second letter, resurrection is used as a comfort to help us through our trials. Even when faced with death, Paul and his fellow travelers trusted in God, because God has the power to raise the dead. Death has no power! So, why fear it? Paul was able to face any trial, not because he is incredibly courageous or fearless, but because He trusted in God.

"Neither skill nor knowledge is needed to go to God, he added. All that is necessary is a heart dedicated entirely and solely to Him out of love for Him above all others."
"Our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does on doing them for God rather than for ourselves."

I am reading through Brother Lawrence's "The Practice of the Presence of God" for the first time. I wish I had done so sooner, as I am already finding some impactful and challenging thoughts. The two quoted above are the starkest examples.

They both encapsulate an idea that is far too common. That is, that we need to learn how to do certain things or change certain things about our life before we are able to approach God. Too often we are scared to pray, scared to read the Bible, scared to worship, because we fear that we do not have the prerequisites for engaging in those activities. Brother Lawrence is dispelling that myth. God wants to meet us where we are and help us grow. He wants a sincere heart that is dedicated solely to Him. If we offer that, the rest of the work is done by God.

The second quote hits what is the main theme of the book: doing all--and he means all!--things for God. Brother Lawrence's theology of presence is encouraging. It comes from a heart that all things can be done for God. That is what we all ought to be aiming for.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Interpersonal Utility Comparisons and Utilitarian Ethics

There has been a minor brouhaha amongst economic bloggers over the last couple weeks around the issue of interpersonal utility comparisons. I do not want to get stuck in the weeds of the whole discussion, but if you are interested I think Robert Murphy had the best summation of the important issues in the discussion. I want to touch on one part of Scott Sumner's post on EconLog from June 13, 2015. He titles it "Interpersonal utility comparisons are unavoidable."

Here is the portion of his writing that I want to address:
If one is going to argue to for or against any public policy on pragmatic utilitarian grounds, then one has to make interpersonal utility comparisons. Of course you can also make non-utilitarian arguments, as when people oppose government intervention on "natural rights" grounds. But it is not easy to convince the broader public without some sort of utilitarian argument.
Here, Sumner is using a sort of modus ponens argument. He states that if one is going to argue for or against any public policy on pragmatic utilitarian grounds, then one has to make interpersonal utility comparisons. He then goes on to show why these pragmatic utilitarian grounds are the best way to approach public policy and, thus, by affirmed the antecedent, he can assert the consequent.

The conditional statement that he is asserting seems sensible, though there are reservations that one might have about it. Let us assume it is true. Instead of using modus ponens, let us use modus tollens. By negating the consequent, we can negate the antecedent. We have plenty of reasons to believe that interpersonal utility comparisons are not possible, namely by pointing out that utility is ordinal, not cardinal. Murphy gives a fuller account of these reasons in the link above.

Given these reasons, we can deny the consequent of Sumner's conditional and, thus, have a reason to deny that one ought to use pragmatic utilitarian grounds to argue for or against any public policy.

Daily Reading: Proverbs 18

Proverbs 18:2 - "A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart."

The Proverbs have a knack for picking me out as a fool, which is not exactly the most enjoyable experience. It is an incredibly important one, though. This verse challenges me to examine how I communicate in two areas.

1) Relationships - Whether it is with my girlfriend, my brother, my parents, my friends or any other person that I come in contact with, it is important that I delight first in understanding them and their heart before expressing my own. Mutual understanding is the goal. It is important to get my thoughts and desires out into the open, but not at the cost of not being able to understand the person across from me. Not at the cost of being a fool.

2) Academics - I am about to enter into the PhD program in Philosophy at St Louis University this fall. One problem that is really easy to fall into, especially as a new entrant into the academic world, is to think that you have all the answers. This makes it incredibly easy to enter classrooms or philosophical discussions with an attitude towards expressing one's own thoughts rather than trying to gain understanding. The goal becomes not to learn more, but to impress your colleagues. The verse helps humble me to know that the best course of action is to seek understanding first and not to become a fool.

On a side note, I highly recommend reading through the Proverbs on a regular basis. There are 31 chapters, so read the chapter for that day of the month. For instance, I read Proverbs 18 today, because it is June 18th. It is super easy to keep track of. You never fall behind. Just read the chapter for that day. None of the chapters are that long, but they are packed full of practical advice for life. It is a great way to start the day.