Saturday, December 17, 2011

American Idol

This post's title does not refer to the television show in particular, but to the general idea that we (North) Americans are idol worshipers. We may not want to admit it, but we are.

Let me ask you a question: What is your passion? What do you get really excited about? Whom do you talk to the most? Whose advice are you quick to take? What words do you have memorized, flowing from your mouth more often than not?

I have a passion for sports. I get really excited about the Jets, my fantasy baseball team, and new Switchfoot albums. I talk to my fiancee the most (in my estimation -- I have never measured my talking time). I am quick to take the advice of people that I respect. And I would say I have the lyrics to my favorite songs memorized, and I can quote them or sing them to anyone at almost any given time.

I have a passion for God, but sometimes I think sports get more of my love.
I get excited when I hear about people receiving eternal life, but I probably shout out for joy more when I beat my rivals at fantasy sports.
I talk to the Lord, whenever I think of it, but I probably still speak more to my lifelong partner.
I know the Bible fairly well, in my own estimation, but I probably still have more music data stored in my head than I do Bible data.

So what?

Exodus 20:3 - You shall have no other gods before Me.

Back in the day, those "gods" were wooden or metal statues that people bowed down to. People would get all worked up, sent into a frenzy. They would belt out words in loud voices, they would dance, they would cry, they would release all sorts of passion towards these statues.

CRAZY, isn't it? Who could even THINK of doing such a thing? It's absurd!

I do not have statues of the Winnipeg Jets. But I do have a t-shirt, and I used to have posters and jerseys, among other memorabilia.

I do have a sort of statue for my fantasy baseball team... well, it's a trophy that I need to send away to this year's champion.

I do not have a shrine to Switchfoot or any other band, but I do have all their music, and it's in pretty heavy rotation.

I have never bowed down before my fiancee in worship, but I do think about her a whole lot.

Do any of these things make me an idolater? Good question, in my estimation.

Every Winnipeg Jets game at the MTS Centre features 15,001 fans screaming at the top of their lungs, getting into a frenzy. Especially when their beloved team scores a goal or wins a game. The passion in those arenas is unparalleled in the world of NHL hockey, according to many. There is such adoration for the players, it borders on idolatry.

I have only seen Switchfoot in concert once (at a festival, and I was a good hundred yards from the stage), but I know from seeing live footage that fans get pretty intense. Lots of sweat is poured out, lots of people scream and cry, and many even fantasize about spending time with the band members. Just shaking hands with them is a big deal, one that has a lot of people losing track of who they are.

(Just as an aside, I can recall experiencing this twice. Once, when I was 16, I met members of the band Slaughter, and shook their hands, and did not know what to say to them. I was completely star-struck. Also, around 5 years ago, I saw legendary pastor Chuck Smith in person, and I was so flabbergasted that I could not say a word.)

So at music concerts, too, people are practically idolizing the bands they are watching. It's crazy.

I am not saying any of this to condemn others. If anything, I have to point the finger at myself first. I am an idolater. I put others before God. It is something I hope to change about myself, though. I believe God can, and will, change me.

It all begins with an admission that I am an idolater. If I make any kind of excuse, or belittle my behavior, saying "everyone does it" or "but they're a Christian band" or "but I still read my Bible a few minutes each day and I pray every night, too" then I am not in a repentant state of mind anymore.

So I some out clean, and admit it to you all. I am an idolater. I have broken God's first commandment. Lord, have mercy on me.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Problem With Posting

Many of you know that I am a bit of a sports fanatic. Have been for as long as I can remember. I used to lay on the kitchen floor with the newspaper spread open to the sports section when I was like 5-6 years old. I would read the latest statistics about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Winnipeg Jets, and even a little bit about other sports stars like Magic Johnson and some new guy named Jordan or something. I could even count by sevens before I got too deep into elementary school, because as you all know, that's how many points a touchdown is in football.

Anyhow, lately in the news of MLB (Major League Baseball, for those of you who are not into sports), Japanese phenom pitcher Yu Darvish has agreed to let his Japanese team (the Nippon Ham Fighters, who play in Sapporo) accept bids from major league teams for his services. See, he is still under contract with the Fighters, but wants to play in the best league in the world. So any MLB team that wants to sign him to a contract, must first pay the Fighters organization in order to gain the right to negotiate a contract with the pitcher. This money is referred to as "posting."

The problem is this: if he were a free agent, he could leave Japan and the Nippon Professional Baseball league without the Fighters receiving a yen of compensation from the major leagues. Not a problem yet, but... if a major league team wants to sign him, they are looking at paying upwards of $30 million just to get exclusive rights to sign him to a contract. So what happens? The major league team then has $30 million less to pay Darvish himself. The result is that his contract is significantly less than it would be if he were a free agent. Make sense? Let's say the Toronto Blue Jays win the bidding war. (They are one of a few teams that are said to have a serious shot at him.) And let's say they have $80 million to play with, over a period of, say, 5 years. Well, average that out, and it's $16 million per year. But wait... $30 million goes to the Fighters, leaving $50 million for Darvish. Now, $10 million per year is a pretty hefty salary, but when you consider it's 37.5% less than he would get were he a free agent, well, that's a pretty significant cut.

Why am I wasting so many words to explain what's happening to a baseball player that has nothing to do with my life? (Well actually, my friend's daughter used to see him jogging around their neighborhood up in Sapporo, so he is *sort of* connected to me!)

Because I experienced something similar in my own life lately. Let me explain. It's Christmas time, and I have family back in Canada. To be honest, none of my family, other than my nephews, is getting presents from me. It's just the way our family does things. We have all the material possessions we could possibly want, so instead of spending time and energy and money on getting each other gifts we really don't need, we just skip the commercialism of the season.

Back to my point. My nephews are getting gifts from me. And I have X-amount of money to spend on their gifts. But because of the distance between us, I cannot just spend 100% of my allotted capital on their presents. I also have to consider "posting" costs. So even though they deserve expensive presents, roughly 37.5% (haha, just using the same number as above) of my money goes to the post office, for the service of delivering my gift to Canada safely. Perhaps one of these years, I will find a way around this, and my nephews will get a closer approximation to what they deserve, instead of gifts that have a "posting" cost factored in.

Either way, Merry Christmas to my wonderful nephews, my brothers, my "in-laws" and my parents in Canada. And my friends and family all around the world. It's still a little early for those words, but I figured I'd better send you season's greetings while I think of it!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Technology - Blessing or Society's Downfall?

These days, I have been seeing a lot of people walking to and from work with headphones in their ears. And I am one of those people.

Then I get on the train and see tons of people sending texts, playing games, among other things, all on their smart phones. And I am one of those people.

Then I get on the bus and see more of the same. And I am one of those people.

It surprises me when I see people in their sixties with headphones in their ears. Why? At least my excuse is, "I grew up with this kind of thing -- granted, my first one was a cassette player, but I have been listening to music on my hand-held player since I was like 10 years old!" It seems like mp3 players, iPods, etc. are not just common among the younger generation. (Dare I still group myself in with the younger generation?)

I wonder... are we ever going to miss the sounds of nature? The sound of a stiff breeze blowing through a wind tunnel or a city street? The sound of leaves gently flapping against each other? The sound of the cicadas' shrill in the summer? (We won't EVER miss that one!) Even the sound of a child crying out excitedly when he sees a bug or finds 100 yen on the sidewalk?

We get so absorbed in our own worlds sometimes, that we fail to see beauty around us. I think it bugs me most when I see people texting while walking. I am going to make an effort to not do this anymore. I want to look around, let my eyes take in nature, take in people, take in the world around me, instead of the 2.4-inch screen that seems to get too much of my attention.

The song "Headphones" by Jars of Clay comes to mind as I ponder this subject. These words so often make me feel a little melancholy, and I really hope this kind of thing does not become too common in the world, although I am afraid it has already become so. At least in Japan.

I don't have to hear it, if I don't want to
I can drown this out, pull the curtains down on you
it's a heavy world, it's too much for me to care
If I close my eyes, it's not there

With my headphones on, with my headphones on
With my headphones on, with my headphones on

We watch television...but the sound is something else
Just a song played against the drama,
so the hurt is never felt
I take in the war-fires, and I'm
chilled by the current events
it's so hopeless, but there's a pop song in my

Headphones on, in my headphones on
With my headphones on, with my headphones on

At the Tube Stop, you sit down across from me
(I can see you looking back at me)
I think I know you
By the sad eyes that I see
I want to tell you (It's a heavy world)
Everything will be okay
You wouldn't hear it (I don't want to have to hear it)
So we go our separate ways...

With our headphones on, with our headphones on
With our headphones on, with our headphones on
I don't wanna be the one who tries to figure it out
I don't need another reason I should care about you
You don't want to know my story
You don't want to own my pain
Living in a heavy, heavy world
And there's a pop song in my head
I don't want to have to hear it

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Power of Words

I have to say, recently I have really been enjoying reading again. One particular book has gotten a lot of love from me. (No, not the Bible, though I do love it and have been giving it love, too.) The book Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears is so real... so theologically sound, but so presently relevant, and funny, and thought provoking, and everything I like about non-fiction theological books. A few snippets:

"I have never had a suicidal thought, but in the darkest seasons of life I do find myself daydreaming about Jesus' return, some people getting loaded into a wood chipper, the curse being lifted, and the never-ending sunshine promised in Revelation so I won't have to put the top back on my Jeep. In the meantime, the feces and the fan are certain to continue interfacing until the day Jesus gets back and cleans up the mess we've made."

"In the depths of my soul is a deep and profound love for righteous judgment and justice. I do not labor under the silly myth that deep down we are all good people and that our sins are simply occasional aberrations. No, we are rebels, lawbreakers, Satan's minions, fools, and evildoers without exception, beginning with the guy I see brushing his teeth in my mirror every morning. That fact is blinded by our own hypocrisy. We are prone to clearly see the sin that others commit against us and the corresponding pain that it causes. Subsequently, when we are sinned against, we tend to complain, yell, or honk our horn because we refuse to sit idly by without demanding justice. Conversely, when we sin, we cry with equal volume, not for justice, but rather for mercy, which is only a further indication of how corrupt and hypocritical we are."

These are just two paragraphs of a book that is packed with powerful words... some encouraging, some convicting, some eye-opening, some laughter-inducing, some painfully hard to read because they're sad truths about humanity's depravity. But through it all, Driscoll points our eyes to Jesus, and how His existence, death and resurrection (all facts, by the way) cover the multitudes of our sins, and gives us hope and reason to keep living. My favourite chapter was probably the second-to-last, entitled What Difference Has Jesus Made in History? Amazing to read in plain English just what an impact Jesus has had on the world as a whole, let alone the lives of millions upon millions of individuals. Read this book if you get the chance!

Monday, December 5, 2011

God Still Does Miracles

This morning, I woke up feeling warmer than I should have. The temperature outside was quite cool, after all, and I set the timer on my heater to turn on at 5:30am -- about 40 minutes before my wakeup time. But this morning, I felt a lot warmer than usual. I checked my cell phone to see if my alarm was about to go off. Uh-oh... the battery's dead!

I jumped out of bed and checked my clock. The time: 7:22am. I have to catch the 7:46am train to Ashiya if I want to get to work on time. I also stink and need to shave. And the train station is nearly a kilometer from my house. A 10-minute walk, if I take my usual long strides.

Somehow, despite having only 24 minutes to get from bed to presentable for work and to the station, I made it... with a few more seconds to spare than I do on some days! So ironically, I get to work on time, but sit at my desk, browsing e-mails or something, and end up late for class anyways. But fortunately, the students were also all late for class because of scheduling changes.

So the morning has been interesting and kind of weird, but I have come to the conclusion that this morning was nothing short of a miracle of God. Oops -- gotta go -- class is about to start!