Monday, June 28, 2010

Weird: CLS vs. Martinez

Justin Taylor reports that SCOTUS has ruled against the Christian Legal Society (CLS) in their case against Hastings.

CLS had applied to be a student organization but was denied because Hastings claimed their requirement that officers and voters subscribe to a Christian belief was discriminatory on the basis of religion. SCOTUS agreed (5-4) with Hastings.

Here’s my question (and you legal minds feel free to chime in and correct me here): Since CLS has a religious conviction that officers and voters must subscribe to Christian beliefs to maintain the integrity of the organization, how is it that Hastings did not discriminate against CLS on the basis of their religious belief?

In other words, I think this case demonstrates that non-discrimination policies can be inherently discriminatory.

In this case, Hastings changed their rationale for denial three times, in the end invoking a policy that apparently did not even exist when the original denial took place.

I read part of the majority opinion and most of the dissent. I won’t attempt a legal analysis, but here’s the bottom line in my view: Hastings can discriminate based on religion, if the religious views prohibit certain members of the Hastings family from full participation in the organization.

It seems to conclude that a student group must be willing to give up its fundamental identity in order to gain official recognition and all that comes with it (including funding, facilities, communication) if that fundamental identity excludes people who do not share the fundamental identity.

Or to put it differently, in order to be a registered student organization (RSO), you cannot be something that everyone cannot be. You cannot require a belief that everyone cannot affirm.

Interestingly, SCOTUS itself does not even have such a requirement since clearly, the nine members, believe differently (three signed the majority opinion; two concurred; four dissented). I suppose it’s good for SCOTUS that they are not trying to gain RSO status at Hastings, and since potential members have been rejected for their beliefs (cf. the Borking of Judge Bork), and all potential members are rigorously examined concerning their beliefs about judicial and legal philosophy.

I think Justice Stevens, writing for the majority on his last day of his long career, did not do his reputation any favors. He has, in essence, argued that an institution (Hastings, in this case) can discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs, and can treat organizations differently based on their religious beliefs. He has furthermore defended the idea that an institution (Hastings, in this case) does not have to treat organizations equally (as Alito pointed out in his dissent, joined by Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia).

In the end, this won’t be a setback for Christianity. It won’t affect many of us. CLS does meet at Hastings, although simple request like setting a table for new students was ignored until it was too late, and reserving a room for a special speaker was also ignored until it was too late (both of which are acceptable even for non-RSOs).

But it is a sad day, in my mind, when SCOTUS denies freedom of association, and affirms the right of public institutions to hinder free speech by members of the institution simply because they do not like their views.

Here’s another question with respect to implications: Now that SCOTUS has ruled that organizations may not limit voting rights to certain groups of people, will this set the stage for the overturning of voting restrictions in other situations (such as age, residency, legal status, etc)?

I would think an argument could be made that if an organization such as CLS cannot restrict officers and voters based on certain criteria, that states (or the federal government) cannot restrict officers and voters. So given this ruling, since my religious belief is that I must live in my current city in order to serve God, can I be denied voting rights in Chicago because of that? Scratch that – Chicago is a bad example because apparently not even dead people are denied voting rights in Chicago.

Obviously, that’s a reach, right?

But remember, this is the Supreme Court we are talking about.

Nothing is that far out of the realm of possibility.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Proverb for Bloggers

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his own opinions

(Proverbs 18:2, NIV).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Urban Mission

I am very interested in urban mission. I think we have far too little of it, and I am very glad to see a resurgence in it in a number of different groups. I want to peck out some quick thoughts on urban ministry and urban mission, and as always, welcome the input of those who have experience or thoughts about it.

I think there are three key components in urban mission.

Presence Ministry – I think you have to live where you are trying to minister. If you are unwilling to live in the community with the people, the people will probably sniff you out pretty quickly as an outsider. I think your ministry will be hindered by that. Yes, it can be scary to live in some areas. But that’s life. To be able to walk out your front door and point to your meeting place is of inestimable benefit. To say to the people you are talking to, “Yes, I live three blocks that way,” is of inestimable benefit. Living in an upper middle class community while trying to minister in a lower middle class or poverty stricken community can be done, but I think it will be hard.

Social Ministry – I think you have to some sort of social presence that is, for the most part, disconnected from the gospel. What I mean by that is that social presence (whether with a food pantry, a second hand clothing store, house renovation, medical services, etc) is not to be a means of buying a hearing for the gospel. We help people with these things because they are people in the image of God who are suffering the effects of brokenness in a way that immediately impacts their physical lives. Failing to minister to that will hamper people’s willingness to believe that you care about them. I think 1 John 3:17-18 and James 2:14-16 makes this explicitly clear, and neither connects them with evangelism, but with true Christianity. We do not necessarily have to keep them completely separate from gospel proclamation. They may in fact open the doors to gospel proclamation. But we need to be careful about mixing the two in a way that dehumanizes needy people because they do not share our faith.

Proclamation Ministry – I think you actually have to minister the word to people. Being there and being nice is not sufficient. Disciple-making is the goal. You can’t do that without the word. There are a variety of contexts in which this can be done. I have a few views of it, which primarily involve not transporting your paradigm for ministry wholesale into a community. Start organically by evangelizing and teaching the Word and then build as necessary. Don’t build the church structure and then try to fill it. Build it as you need it. Be intentional about what you are doing.

The Trellis and The Vine – Marshall and Payne

This book has been highly recommended by others. Mark Dever said it was the best book he had ever read on the nature of church ministry (and he has read a few books on church ministry). And written a couple (which are good in themselves).

I finally got around to reading this one. And I like it.

The basic idea is based on a trellis and a vine. (I say that for those who might not figure it out on their own). A trellis is a structure; a vine is a plant. The vine grows on the trellis; the trellis exists for the vine to grow on. The trellis is not the point; the vine is.

In the same way, gospel growth (used throughout the book in contrast to church growth) is the vine; the church structure is the trellis. The point of the book is that ministry is to be about growing the vine, not the trellis. The trellis/church structure exists to support the vine/church/people.

I think a lot of churches are under the impression that if they grow the trellis, they can grow the vine. So we brainstorm and allocate resources (people and money) and space (rooms and calendar) to build a bigger, more elaborate trellis. But the vine doesn’t grow. In fact, the existing vine just gets spread out more thinly.

And in fact, very often the trellis becomes an albatross (to mix metaphors). Indeed, a very large albatross which is full of sacred cows (to mix metaphors once again). And you know what happens when you try to sacrifice a sacred cow.

Too many churches have a trellis that is virtually useless for growing a vine. But they have had the trellis for fifty years. It was useful for thirty of those years. Now it is rusty, bent up in a few places, falling down in some others. Only sparsely covered with a few twigs of the vine.

But it is “ours.” It’s what we do because … it’s what we have always done. And every successful church does this. Or at least they used to. So the trellis is exposed because the vine isn’t growing. And there’s no reason to stop doing something that we have done for so long.

The book is a clarion call to reconsider your trellis for the sake of the vine. It is not a book that discounts the usefulness of a trellis, or recommends having no trellis. It simply calls us to reconsider what we are doing.

Here’s my simple summation: Stop building structure and spend time with key people (PWWs) to make disciples of them so that they can go and make disciples of others. Build the trellis only as necessary to support the vine.

The truth is that for us as pastors, “trellis work is easier and less personally threatening. Vine work is personal and requires much prayer. It requires us to depend on God, and to open our mouths and speak God’s word in some way to another person” (p. 9). But “structures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises grow vines … most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ” (p. 17).

I think this book is beneficial for people who take seriously the church that the Great Commission is to make disciples, not well-oiled church machines.

I have no problem with well-oiled church machines and large and elaborate trellises. But they should be the by-products of gospel-growth, that are supported and maintained by disciple-making disciples. They can be tools in which disciples are made. We simply need to remember that the Great Commission is about the vine, not the trellis.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Okay, I Saw It

Last night on CBC, I finally saw the play near the end of the US-Slovenia game in which the goal was disallowed.

I am not a big fan of complaining about officiating. (I do it, of course; I am just not a big fan of it.)

But folks, that was atrocious. There was assault and battery going on in there. There was probable cause for no less than four arrests, if only the security had been effective.* It was a like a scrum. At the very least it looked the world had finally adopted American football.

This was far worse than Galaragga’s almost perfect game debacle of a few weeks ago because that did not affect the outcome of the game.

This did affect the outcome. What should have been a 3-2 victory was turned into a 2-2 draw.

So the US played a horrible first half, and the second half was not much better. But they did what they had to do, which is the pretty uncommon feat of scoring three goals in one half in a World Cup game.

There still has been no confirmation of what the call was. No one knows, probably not even the official who called it. One of the commentators used the word “bizarre” for it. It was appropriate.

If there was ever a place for a call to be overturned, this is it.

Of course, this will all be moot if the US beats Algeria in the final game of the first stage. And let’s be honest—tying Slovenia and not beating Algeria means you do not deserve to move on.


*“There were also more questions about security at the World Cup after a disgruntled fan managed to barge his way into the England dressing room.

According to reports, the fan confronted David Beckham before being led away, prompting the England team to make an official complaint to FIFA about the security around the squad.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Real Presence

No, this is not a post about Communion. It’s about being wherever you are. Tim Aynes at Missions Mandate recently linked to an interview by Paul Borthwick on short-term missions.

Paul comments on social media, saying,

It’s getting increasingly difficult for Westerners to be emotionally present where they’re serving. Rather than becoming culturally immersed, they go out during the day and do ministry, but come back at night to check their Facebook pages and update their blogs. They don’t become part of the local culture because technology is keeping them connected to home.

I recently listened to Os Guinness speaking on “Survival of the Fastest.” (I downloaded it some time ago so I have no link for it. If you google it you can find several links.)

Guinness commented on being at an Anglican conference (GAFCON), during a communion service, sitting beside ten African bishops. He says that six of them were on their cellphones at the high point of communion. “They were not present.”

He speaks of being at some political gatherings with major speeches being given, and looking around and seeing all the congressmen on their Blackberries.

He continues with this assertion about technology: “The good news is you can do business everywhere. The bad news is you can do business elsewhere. … So often we are with people and we are simply not with people.”

The impact is not just on foreign missions. It is on home life (being constantly “plugged in”), personal relationships (when was the last time you were at lunch with someone who was checking their cellphone for texts or email). Technology invades our life in some dangerous ways.

So here’s my advice (which I am working hard to take): Wherever you are, be all there.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Church Planting Is For Wimps – Mike McKinley

This is a new book (as in 2010) I received last week (because I bought and paid for it … no freebies here).

And I loved it. I read it this morning. (In other words, this is not John Owen or John Edwards. It’s not even John Piper. It’s Mike McKinley. So it’s a short book [126 pages including the appendices]. And it is easy to read.) But it’s good.

It’s a book about McKinley’s experiences in revitalizing/replanting Guilford Baptist Church.

Now, some of you will be uncomfortable because McKinley likes punk rock and has tattoos.

Get over it. It’s still profitable.

Others will be uncomfortable because he added “Baptist” back into the name because he thought it was borderline dishonest not to have it in there.

Get over that too. You should probably do it. If you’re not a Baptist, repent now and become one instead of waiting for heaven and having to get in the back of a long line to do it. (It’s a joke, people. See comments on humor below.)

Here’s the bottom line: McKinley has no secrets to church revitalization or church planting. Trust me, I was looking for them.

His formula is pretty simple: Preach the Word, and love people.

Now there’s a few other things thrown in, like church leadership, clear membership, live in the community you are trying to reach, protect your marriage, train leaders, get Capitol Hill Baptist Church behind you (okay, that wasn’t really a point … but it probably didn’t hurt the effort there).

Appendix 1 has the plan that Dever and McKinley put together to take to CHBC, which is interesting in and of itself to see their thoughts about how to do this.

It also has some pretty funny stuff in it. It’s my kind of humor, which means a some people might not get it and a lot won’t think it’s funny. But I did.

If you are interested in church planting or church revitalization, you will probably benefit from this book. I know I did. It encourages me to do what I am already convinced is the right thing (preach the word, love people, and live with the people you are trying to reach). It just reminds me that I have a long ways to grow in two of those areas.

I am encouraged to be reminded that it’s not a numbers games. Successful pastoring doesn’t mean blowing the doors off numbers wise.

I am reminded to make preaching the priority for church leadership and revitalization. If you make something else the priority, it’s because you don’t really believe that the Word is the way in which God builds his church.

And if I repeat everything that I thought was helpful, I would break copyright laws.

So get the book and read it. Enjoy it and learn from it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

As I Always Say …

Good things happen when you get the ball on net.

Shoot early; shoot often.

With Him or Without Him

Mark 5:1-20 records for us the story of the Maniac of Gadara (or Garasa, which is probably modern day Khersis). It provides for us an interesting contrast worthy of consideration.

In the story we see a man freed from possibly years of demonic possession that had led to him being ostracized from his community, mutilating himself, and living in caves in a graveyard. The result is that he wants to go and live with Jesus (v. 18).

In the same story we see a community of people who had ostracized the man, either out of fear or contempt, who having seen the great power and authority of Jesus over a mob (legion) of demons would apparently rather have the demoniac back than have Jesus stay.

The people who had not experienced the work of Jesus wanted nothing to do with him.

The man who had experienced the work of Jesus want to do nothing without him.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Izzo Should Not Go to the NBA

The Cleveland Cavaliers are courting Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

He should not go. Here’s why:

First, he owns Michigan basketball. Not just University of Michigan basketball, but the state of Michigan. He is the man here.

Second, he has a chance to be a Dean Smith or a Coach K, two classy coaches who spent their lives at one school building dynasties, who are deeply loved and highly respected by college basketball. That does not come very often.

Third, college coaches typically do not do well in the NBA. Count ‘em up. After Larry Brown, the list is almost non-existent. Izzo is a great coach, but the NBA is a different game.

Fourth, it’s Cleveland. … ‘Nuff said.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Soccer

Here’s a list of places you can watch the World Cup online. Should be helpful for those who live in the backwoods kind of places where the World Cup will only be shown on some third tier cable network.

On FIFA’s website, you can find times and locations for all the matches.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Carson on Drifting

Justin Taylor reposts this today from D. A. Carson:

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;

we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;

we drift toward superstition and call it faith.

We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;

we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;

we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

I think that freedom, legalism, and grace have at times become code words for good old-fashioned disobedience. Liberty in Christ has become an excuse to swim in the waters of the world’s cultural expressions of their fallen values.

Such a tactic is just as insidious and soul-destroying as the legalism they profess to hate.

People have, in many cases I believe, allowed their freedom to become a covering for evil (2 Peter 2:16; Galatians 5:13), whether overt evil of action or the more respectable evil of attitude (“well, at least I didn’t actually do it”) and response (“they did it first”).

Furthermore, somewhere, some have gotten the idea that grace in Christ (our only hope) means that we do not have to confess our sins, that it is wrong to put up walls to help us be holy. I have actually seen a call to confession of sin named legalism. It is indeed a strange world we live in.

Listen, the fact that we are completely and eternally made acceptable to God in Christ alone does not mean that it is impossible to displease our Father. Sin, even in the life of the believer, is met by the gospel and repentance.

So let us guard our souls with great diligence. The flood of influence rises strong and swift against the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Confession, repentance, and self-denial are the evidence of freedom.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Fresh Expressions of Church

Andrew Jones links to an article about “fresh expressions of church.”

These “fresh expressions of church” are targeted mainly towards the unchurched, described in the article as the “third of the adult population who have never had any significant contact with any church beyond weddings or funerals,” although “dechurched” people are also in their minds.

One church described revamped with an indoor skate park. One of the leaders describes it this way:

Mainly it’s a hang-out with stunning views and funky vibe to it, with good tunes and surf movies playing, and the coffee’s all fair trade and top notch. We call it a surf lounge. We have a skate club, a computer club, laptops for hire, an art gallery, a prayer facility, conference facilities, weddings, a hot shower, gaming facilities like a Wii, Pilates classes. When it’s busy it has a buzzing festival feel with artists and musos doing their thing and people from all walks of life just hanging out together.

The result is an environment which is comfortable for people because they are not being force-fed a religious agenda, but it’s presented in creative ways that regularly provoke interest and conversation. We’re also considering setting up a second Tubestation down the coast at St Merryn.

Another “not a church … [but which] has the potential to become one” is a “family drop-in with hospitality and storytelling” where “we rarely sign a song.” Here people “share breakfast, sit and talk together and share a story, normally biblical in character.”

I am not sure what that means entirely, though thoughts of breakfast remind me I have not eaten yet. And thoughts of sitting and talking together reminds me that time with people is the main way to build disciples.

But more importantly, what this reminds me of is that the fact that these events or places or meetings are called “church” means that people trying to reach other people for Jesus (a good thing) have failed to interact much with the biblical data about what constitutes a church (a bad thing).

Can you imagine a NT church where they “rarely sing a song”? Or where they have a skate park and a computer club and the like? I am not saying these are bad things to do. I am saying that I do not see the NT church characterized by these things.

Sharing stories that are “normally biblical in character” sounds like an attempt to avoid opening up the Bible and sharing a story that is actually biblical in content.

But here’s what I like. The above quoted leader, Henry, says, “It is all about meeting people where they are rather than expecting them to come to us.”

So he has a Sunday night meeting in a city-centre pub where he hangs out and talks to people about “faith and spirituality over a pint.” He says, “It isn’t a church in a pub — there’s no worship or preaching involved. It’s just a chance for people who would feel uncomfortable in church to talk and thing a bit more deeply about what they do believe.”

Now, don’t get distracted by the word “pint” or the fact that it’s in a pub.

Think about the model here: Go, meet people where they are, and talk to them about questions of spirituality and faith.

That, to my way of thinking, is a great way to do evangelism. It is what I want to do. Go, find people, and just talk to them about things that matter, and see if I can weave their questions in the matrix of the biblical metanarrative.

But let’s not abandon church in the process.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

D-Day 6 June 1944

On the sixth of June, 1944, in the early morning hours the allied forces launched what was considered by some as the last great hope—the Normandy Invasion. Failure would likely consign the whole world to Nazi domination for the foreseeable future. Success would only give a chance to continue to fight.

Ronald Reagan paid tribute to the Army Rangers on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day in 1984. In his own inimitable way, he reminds us of that day.
Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.

And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."
Reagan spoke of the "the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt."

These steeps walls are now eroding—some 33 feet since D-Day. And with it, one wonders if the memory is eroding.

World War II veterans are being buried daily, and with it go many of their stories. We are giving birth to a generation who will never know a veteran of World War II. And it is a generation who will be tempted to forget the cost of apathy or isolation.

It is easy to think that we can negotiate with dictators. Neville Chamberlain would have made a great modern day politician when he claimed triumphantly, "Peace in our time." Over sixty million people were the price to pay for that peace. That's 60,000,000. 3-4% of the world's 1939 population.

It is easy to think we can let someone else solve problems. But future generations would do well to remember what happens when you sit idly by and let a madman gain control because they live halfway around the world.

Let us not forget the men who, sixty-six years ago, saw their last sunrise, who climbed over the side of their ships and loaded into the landing craft for the sake of a land they did not live, for the sake of a people whose language they did not speak, for the sake of a future they would not own. 

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Carson on Worship Leaders

The notion of a "worship leader" who leads the "worship" part of the service before the sermon (which, then, is no part of worship!) is so bizarre, from a New Testament perspective, as to be embarrassing. ... I know that "worship leader" is merely a matter of semantics, a currently popular tag, but it is a popular tag that unwittingly skews people's expectations as to what worship is. At very least, it is misleadingly restrictive.

He then follows this up with a footnote:

Perhaps this is the place to reflect on the fact that many contemporary "worship leaders" have training in music but none in Bible, theology, history, or the like. When pressed as to the criteria by which they choose their music, many of these leaders finally admit that their criteria oscillate between personal preference and keeping the congregation reasonably happy--scarcely the most profound criteria in the world. They give little or no thought to covering the great themes of Scripture, or the great events of Scripture, or the range of personal response to God found in the Psalms (as opposed to covering the narrow themes of being upbeat and in the midst of "worship"), or the nature of biblical locutions (in one chorus the congregation manages to sing "holy" thirty-six times, while three are enough for Isaiah and John of the Apocalypse), or the central historical traditions of the church, or anything else of weight. If such leaders operate on their own with little guidance or training or input from senior pastors, the situation commonly degenerates from the painful to the pitiful (From Worship by the Book, p. 47).

I wonder if the seemingly typical service where all the "preliminaries" are led by the "music guy" and the pastor sits stoically in his throne-like seat on the platform until it is his time to preach contributes to the notion that the he is disconnected from and disinterested in the musical worship, or maybe that singing is simply preliminary and the pastor is saving himself for the important stuff. Perhaps there is a better way.

I think there are some good reasons to have the pastor involved in the musical part of the worship, if nothing else through the introduction of songs to explain the theological basis or the role of a particular song at a particular point in the sequence, or the leading of the congregation in reading related passages of Scripture, etc.

Perhaps some variety is in order. There are times when I love to sit back and sing and worship without the burden of leading others. But I do not think I would want to be totally uninvolved.

Over the past few years, I have given this increasing attention, and have formulated some of my own ideas and practices to teach people singing is not just preliminary, and preaching is not something that happens after we worship.

We must better communicate that the music is more than a way to pass time until the important stuff. And we must communicate that the preaching is just as much worship as the singing is.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Thinking about a PhD?

A PhD graduate without a teaching position, without even a job interview in three years has some interesting comments here. Among other things, he says,

Read books. Start a blog and write articles. You don’t need to get a PhD to know about your subject. Actually you would only go after a PhD if you already knew your subject well enough to say something lengthy about it.

Or as someone once told me, “Study yourself into expertise on something and then write about it.”

I am a big fan of education, and if I were doing it over, I would do it all differently.

But I’m not. And I can’t.

But here’s what I have heard: there’s a glut of PhD’s out there who do not have jobs in the area of their studies, particularly in academia. And I, for my part, don’t see that getting better.

Formal education is great. And, in my opinion, it is necessary to a certain level. But the reality is that almost everything you get in a doctoral program is something you can get on your own if you have the will and the discipline to search it out and study it.

The exception to this is the peer interaction, both with fellow students and professors. There’s simply no substitute for face to face contact with people, passing conversations in the library, or long debates over coffee. Try pulling up a chair in a professor’s office on the internet. You can’t do it, and therefore will miss out on what should be one of the greatest components of education. I know you can email him or her. It’s just not the same. And we all know that, or at least our spouses do.

So get a PhD if you love study and want a PhD. A lot of people should get them. I loved the PhD classes I took.

But get a real one. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it will get you much. You may end up knowing an awful  lot about something no one cares about, and you may be highly qualified for a job for which no one is hiring.

It makes me wonder if the final question on the PhD oral defense ought to be, “Can you be clearly understood on the intercom when you say, ‘Would you like to super-size that?’”

Cold, isn’t it?

P.S – As I was finishing this up, my four year old son just called. He told me he dialed the phone by himself, and said he wanted to talk about cars … “about axles and stuff.”

A PhD can’t prepare you for that, and it can’t give you more joy.

So I am off to tell my son everything I know about cars.

I’ll be back in five minutes.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Righting the Wrongs?

Many teams complain about officiating. And most of them are losers.

Rarely does a winning team do it. But last night, the Tigers did and with good reason. Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game on what should have been the last out. Instant replay says it was. The umpire said it wasn’t. The umpire wins that one.

The umpire later admitted he missed it, which itself was an extraordinary step from a class of type A personalities who just can’t bring themselves to admit mistakes. And why should they? They would be in the back of a very long line of people willing to admit the umpire blew it. Nope, that’s why you have make-up calls.

Now, rumor has it that Bud Selig is considering reversing the call and reinstating the perfect game.

You see, what happened last night was wrong. And Bud Selig is the only one who can right it.

Here’s my advice: Don’t do it, Bud.

Not because it wouldn’t be just. It would be just. In fact, it’s the only just thing to do.

But baseball is not a game of justice … not on the field.

It’s a game of weather that, oddly enough, doesn’t seem to care what inning it is. It is not just when the top half of the inning is played in torrential downpour and the bottom half is played in sunshine. It’s not just that the Marlins play their early season games in 70 degree sunshine, and the Tigers play theirs in 50 degree rain.

It is a game of humans who, oddly enough, do very human things including making mistakes. And like life, we have to live with them.

In baseball you don’t get do-overs. Not when the firstbaseman lets that ball between his legs, and not when the umpire gets it wrong.

As it stands, Galarraga will not (and should not) have a perfect game on his record. At least, not yet. But he will be more famous than anyone who ever pitched a perfect game.

Remember the last perfect game pitcher? Quick, without using google, name a perfect game from last year, or the year before. (Oddly enough, there’s been two this year already, which is the exact same number as there has been in the previous ten years.)

See my point? If you knew that answer, you are a baseball geek. But if you knew that answer, you already know you are a baseball geek. And you probably agree with me.

No one in baseball will ever forget Galarraga.

And Bud Selig will never have to answer the question, “You overruled that call. Why don’t you overrule this one?”

On the Use of Analogy

Someone recently said, “I have been trying to think of an analogy for you. Try this one.”

So I tried it.

It failed for at least one main reason: It did not have clear relevance. 

You see, an analogy is “a comparison between one thing and another made for the purpose of explanation or clarification” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed.). It is a word picture designed to bring things into sharper focus for the hearer or reader.

In order for an analogy to work, it must be clear to the hearer what the point(s) of the comparison is/are, so that the situation is explained and clarified.

This particular case was a case where the analogy made absolutely no sense because the point of comparison was unclear. There was no indication in the conversation of what the components of the comparison stood for. 

Here’s an analogy: “You are like a tree growing by the rivers of water.”

Does it work? It can, but only when people understand two things: What a tree growing by the rivers of water is like, and who “You” is (Yes, that’s correct.) If the hearer does not know either, he or she cannot make sense of the analogy. It will not explain or clarify. It will confuse.

Furthermore, if you do not know what in the life of “You” is being referred to, it also will not clarify.

Here’s another analogy: “You are like a Hebrew shewa in a hollow verb.”

Does it work? It can, but in more limited situations. First, you have to know a little about the Hebrew language to know what a shewa is and what a hollow verb is. And you have to know who “You” is. (Yes, it’s still right.)

For many Hebrew students this means, “I am failing this class.”

The point is that unless the hearer of the analogy can identify the parts and meaning of the analogy, the analogy is useless.

Back to the original point: The analogy was useless precisely because the components of the word picture could not clearly be identified with anything.

In communication, the burden falls on the communicator to clarify an explain. Analogies can be very helpful for that purpose, but only if they actually clarify and explain, rather than confuse.

So to you teachers, preachers, speakers, or anyone trying to communicate, use analogies freely because they are tremendous tools for clarification and explanation. But use them carefully because they require a shared knowledge or experience in order to work.

If your analogy fails, it’s probably your fault. The fact that you know what you are referring to means you know what you are referring to. It does not mean that your hearer knows what you are referring to.

So give the analogy, and then explain the analogy.

It’s what good communicators do.

And by the way, a Hebrew shewa is a diacritical marking in Hebrew, usually used to mark the absence of a vowel at the end of a syllable. It can be silent or vocal. It comes and goes throughout the verbal paradigm of the word. It is often confusing and difficult to know when to use it and what caused it to appear.

Now that I think of it, it’s a great analogy for so much in life, but it works for so few people, so it’s not good for much.

Ironic, isn’t it?