Prairie View

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grandma Smiles

Here's a recent smile prompted by the "grandchildren" section (posted on Facebook by Dorcas):

From my 3-year-old son while we were waiting for some Christmas music to load:
"Is it loading from the dot com?"
Me: "Uh...yeah."
3-year-old: "I know all about the dot com."


Sounds like he's way ahead of me, and there's definitely a lot going on between his ears.


Another local grandson, who is not yet a year old, is not only toddling around upright, he's twirling and bouncing and waving his arms when he hears music.   The brain and the muscles are obviously well-connected and functioning at optimum levels--for an eleven-month old.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

That Niggling Thing

The church/community identity thing keeps niggling at my brain.  I'm increasingly aware that I'll never be able to nail it exactly--that is, write about it with any great certainty, but I know more than I did when I first put out an invitation for others to provide input.

Earlier I identified several different perspectives which might inform how we understand identity--our own, that of others, and the "real" one, the true one, God's perspective.

I realize also now that locating our point on a "change" spectrum is worth considering, as is identifying direction of movement.  What about our manner of transition?  Do we have a destination in mind?

At some point, we need to think about values in relation to identity.  Are we in a good place, moving in a good direction?  Maybe that's actually the place to start AND the place to finish.

My mind has gone often to Revelation where God identifies each of seven churches, and He says how He sees them.  That passage is sobering, revealing as it does that God has an opinion on things like this, and taking His analysis seriously is essential.

Considering this topic has uncovered some surprising emotion for me.  I thought I had a very positive view of our church and community.  I know I love being here.  Now I realize that if I am to be honest, I must also acknowledge having suffered some deep wounds in this place.  I see that this has been the experience of others as well.  While my dark times hark back to an era so long ago that thoughts of them don't often make it into conscious thought anymore, why have I maintained a high degree of optimism since then?  What if we are, at the core, less good than I think we are?  What would I do with an impression like that?  I see what others have done, and some of it scares me.

I'm pondering writings that are not precisely directed toward this topic of church/community identity, but are relevant nonetheless.  Here's one by Frank Reed that I recommend.  I've never met this man, but I've had some email correspondence with him in relation to the teaching of an Anabaptist History class.  He's been associated with either SMBI or FB, perhaps in an earlier era.  Dwight Gingerich has a few quibbles with some of the introductory remarks, and  maybe you will too, but overall it's a good read.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Comments on "Identity" Post

If the topic interests you, and if you don't have a habit of scrolling through old posts to read comments, you might enjoy going back to the Kansas Church/Community Identity post to read the comments.

If you would be inspired to add your own comments, you might hear applause from this little house on the prairie if you listen carefully.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Headbands on Babies

Several weeks ago, I heard from one of my brothers-in-law that he has never liked seeing headbands on babies.  It was worth a high-five when I heard that.  I had never before heard of anyone who agreed with me.

My brother chimed in with information about what LeRoy thinks of them.  I gathered that he makes no secret of his dislike for them, so I'm not making a secret of it either.  He believes them to be physically damaging--probably interfering with normal growth of the skull.  

My brother-in-law and I compared reasons for our viewpoint.  We're not well-informed on the physical hazards, but we agree that it detracts from, rather than enhances a baby's natural beauty.  I think I have an aversion too because it seems too ostentatious to suit my taste.

Maybe it's a revelation of my terrible distractibility, but when a baby wears a headband with a decorative focal point, that's almost all I can see.  Worse yet, from now on, I'll probably "see" misshapen skull bones too, and, in my eyes,  the baby's beauty will be hidden behind one more layer of obstruction.  What a pity.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Deciding What I Believe

To begin this morning's sermon, Arlyn asked us to talk for a few minutes with our neighbor about this question:  How do I decide what I believe?

I had just processed essentially this question with reference to community identity, and so I reiterated these conclusions:

What I believe about our community is partly based on the truth of Scripture.  In other words, when Scripture identifies something as good or bad generally, I see it as being good or bad if I see it in our community.

Another piece of what I believe is what I have personally observed to be true.  Admittedly, this passes through the filter of my biases--a fairly universal experience, I presume.

The third piece of what I believe about our community's identity comes from hearing what others believe (see previous blog post).  In a sense, this is very much like the previous point--about my own observations, since I have on a number of occasions never thought about our community in a certain way until I have heard others say what they thought of our community.

I am not idly curious about our community's identity.  I believe seeing ourselves is a necessary first step in moving toward being who we ought to be.

When I seek the viewpoint of others I am not just crowd-sourcing and not just taking a democratic vote, but engaging in an expanded version of what the Anabaptist Hermeneutics document I cited recently refers to as discovering truth in the context of brotherhood.  This is a concept I hold dear.

I do understand also that hearing what others think of us is fraught with potential for imbalance, especially if the amount of input is small, or if the level of acquaintance is shallow.  Nevertheless, if each of a number of people offer their piece of the picture, we have a better chance of seeing an accurate image emerging.

I don't see myself as the author of our community's identity.  "Compiler" gets a little closer.  "Evaluator/Commentator" might be the most accurate of these three labels.  Even then, I realize that whatever I offer is only one of many possible offerings.  This, again, makes of it an activity consistent with the process of discovering truth in the context of brotherhood.

 So far, the input I solicited in the previous post has arrived via email.  By that means or any other, I'm eager to hear from others.


My sermon notes are a little sketchy in places, but I'm passing on here some of the questions and comments that followed that initial activity of thinking about how I decide what I believe.  The text was taken from John 3:9-21 (or something close to that).  This passage has multiple references to belief.


Do you love what you like?

Do you love the light or do you love what you like?

Are you driven by light or what you like?


We choose our beliefs by what we love.  (This makes it particularly dangerous to reflexively love what we merely like.)

We can't choose to believe what we believe to be false, but we can choose to do what we believe to be wrong.

What we do affects what we love.  (When we choose to do wrong, we are probably reflecting what we like, and our love gradually shifts in that direction, and our belief follows.)

In a series of piercing practical-application questions Arlyn asked us "Do you love_____________, or do you love the light?"  In the context of what we had heard earlier, these questions provided  much material for sober reflection.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Family Gathering Stories

Yesterday when we were together I heard a piece from the past that I don't think I remember hearing before.  

The prelude sounded familiar however.  Joe Beachy's boys were here and oldest brother M was seeking to impress by backing up the old '62? blue-green pickup along the north side of the barn--very fast.  The clearance wasn't very wide, and the passenger side connected with the side of the barn, forever rendering the door on that side inoperable.  

Later, M and younger brother L were doing some fence or cattle work and M drove the pickup to a closed gate, which he thought L should open so the pickup could pass through.  The problem was that M had to get out first, since L's only exit was through the driver's door.  

I pause here to inject some commentary.  From this distance it certainly appears that driver M should have opened the gate himself.  As the story is told, however, he launches into some high-flying explanation of why this was not nearly as reasonable as it appears.  He explains that L was showing evidence of intransigent behavior and it needed to be nipped in the bud before it became more deeply entrenched.  

Back to the story.  L slid as far across the seat as the steering wheel and stopped, refusing to get out to open the gate as expected.  M grabbed hold of L and proceeded to haul him out, but unfortunately L was too tall to clear the door frame completely on the way out and his head smacked horrifically on the frame.  I didn't hear all the gory details yesterday, but the story was told in the context of other people's brain concussions and going limp and eyes rolling back into the head and other such alarming head-bump after-effects.

I never heard how the gate got opened.


My boys chimed in with their own recollections, in the course of marveling that anyone at all grows up whole and healthy, given all the dangerous things young men undertake when they're still clueless about the danger.    I'd like to think that, besides being evidence of God's protection, such marvels are partly attributable to the incessant and ever-present warnings emanating from the mouths of parents everywhere.  These young people need that more than they have any idea.  Fussing is part of a parent's job.

It's been almost a year since all my boys have passed the 25-with-fully-matured-brain milestone.  That's a relief.  On the other hand, we're still 22 years away from the oldest grandchild passing that milestone.  Thankfully though the principal-fusser roles can be assumed by younger folks--their parents.


My cousin's daughter Laura had a bad week recently when she was involved in three vehicle accidents.  She was at the wheel the first time, with her father as a passenger, when a badger ran out in front of them.  In the resulting loss of control, her father suffered a concussion, but she wasn't hurt much.  Later, while she was a passenger in another vehicle driven by her cousin and friend, the vehicle collided with a deer.  I can't remember the details of the third accident, but, again, one of her girlfriends was driving and Laura was a passenger.  No one was seriously hurt in any of these accidents, but it's probably a safe assumption that at least three young ladies are driving pretty cautiously these days.  

Bible Study Helps

Last week, in our Wednesday evening service, Bryan S. gave us some Bible study helps, especially for preparing to teach a Sunday School class or to participate in one as a student.  This assumes that studying a passage from Scripture is at the center of the Sunday School class activity.  The information in this post will come from that evening's teaching.  I apologize in advance for not being able to credit properly all that I have in my notes--without going to more pains than I feel up to at the moment.  If anyone can supply sources, I will gladly add them.  It's possible also that my notes may not repeat exactly what was given, although I believe it reflects it fairly accurately.  Corrections are welcome, and if you submit them in comments I may simply make the corrections rather than post the comments.


First, here are some recommended how-to-study-the-Bible books:

1.  Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks.

2.  Grasping God's Word by J. Scott Duwald.

3.  Read the Bible for Life by Howard Guthrie.

Some of these recommendations may have come via Bryan's Iowa friend, Dwight Gingerich.


Here are some "their town (the Bible times context)/our town (our time and place)" imaging steps in transitioning from Bible study to personal application:

1.  Think of "their town" as being located on the bank of a river.  On the opposite bank is "our town."

2.  Look at the dividing river and notice how wide it is (i.e. how close or distant the "towns" on opposite banks are).

3.  A "principlizing bridge" over the river connects the two towns.  Identify the principles in the bridge structure.

4.  Ask "How do those principles apply in our town?"


Another way of studying is to use a checklist approach, presumably reading through the target passage multiple times, each time looking for every occurrence of one kind of thing the checklist names.  Here is the checklist as I wrote it down:

1.  Repetition of words
2.  Contrasts (differences)
3.  Comparisons (similarities)
4.  Lists
5.  Cause and effect relationships
6.  Figures of speech
7.  Conjunctions
8.  Verbs
9.  Pronouns

To use this checklist approach, I've found the following details helpful:

1.  Print the passage so that you can mark it up to your heart's content and still read the text afterward.  Here is how I do it:

a.  Type the reference for the passage into the Google search box, followed by the acronym for the version you prefer (or go straight to the Bible Gateway website and print in the reference in the search box on that site).
b.  When you've found the passage on the website, copy it into a text document.
c.  If you haven't already set up a text document with the proper formatting, do it now, before you paste.  Here's the format I love:

i.  Select "landscape" orientation.
ii. Set all  margins to 1/2 inch.
iii.  Select "columns."  You will want two, and you will specify that there be a one-inch spacing between the two columns.
iv.  Paste the Scripture text into this landscape/columns document.
v.  Format the reference at the top, in the left column, the same way you do titles--centered, 14-point bold, etc.
vi.  In this step you will use the line spacing feature to spread the entire document as widely as possible over these two columns.  As long as it all fits on one page, you want as much white space as possible.  d.  Fold the paper in half between the columns, with the print side out.  This will make the paper similar in size to a Bible or other book and is more convenient if you want to do your marking on this document while sitting in a recliner, for example, or in any place where desk space is not available.

2.  Use a different kind of marking for each item on the checklist.  This can be done in a variety of ways, with the use of color, line, shape, and abbreviations being the obvious variations.

a.  For color, you can use pens, highlighters, or colored pencils.  If you're doing it all at the computer, and have a colored printer, you can use colored fonts.

I personally find a handwritten method easiest for this application.  When I went to find something to use for marking my SS lesson last week, I found an amazing writing instrument for this purpose.  The label says Multipoint Pencils by A & W.  In the clear pencil-sized barrel of this pencil are about ten different colored pencil "leads," each inserted into a small plastic sleeve, only one color of which sticks out at the writing end at any time.  When I'm ready for a new color, I tug a bit on the "sleeve" that's sticking out of the writing end and move it to the eraser end, where the barrel is also open.  When I shove it into the barrel, a new point with a different color emerges at the other end.    I use a new color every time I move to a different item on the checklist.

I think I got this pencil as a gift from one of my students.  I'm deeply embarrassed that I can't remember who gave it.  Please tell me if it was you, or you know who it was.  I have been using it gratefully, and would love to thank the giver again.  I haven't been able to locate a source for pencils like this.  Online, every option I've seen has only one "lead" color in each "barrel."  I'd give some away as gifts if I knew where to purchase them.

b.  Underlining is a no-brainer way to mark a certain kind of item on the checklist.  This works exceptionally well for conjunctions, verbs, pronouns, and figures of speech, each marked with a different color.   No further marking is needed, although FS might make figures of speech stand out from the crowd better than a simple underline.

c.  The most obvious shapes are circles and rectangles.

Circles.  Since each of the "C" items that remain on the checklist are observations with two parts, I would draw a circle around each part and link them with a labeled line or arc.  Cont. will mean contrast, comp. will mean comparisons (similarities), and C/E will mean "cause and effect."  Although each of these can also be done in a different color, the labels really help to identify them quickly afterward.

Rectangles.  Lists and Repetition of Words can go inside rectangles.  They could be labeled with "L" and "R," but it might not be necessary, because lists will always be a longer text in one string, and repetition of words will almost always be single words or very short phrases.

With the above marking methods, the checklist might most conveniently be ordered in this way:

1.  Conjunctions
2.  Verbs
3.  Pronouns
4.  Figures of speech
5.  Contrasts
6.  Comparisons (similarities)
7.  Cause and effect
8.  Lists
9.  Repetition of words


I will add here yet one homemade Bible study approach:

1.  Read the passage and write down any direct commands that are present.  Note to whom they were originally given and note also how they might apply in other contexts.

2.  List by topic any significant teaching that is not given in the form of direct commands.

3.  Note the narratives and observe any indications of cause and effect relationships.

4.  Record "initiatives," or specific things you want to apply in your own life.


I'm posting these things here so that I can locate them conveniently in the future.  I hope others might also find them useful.

Kansas Church/Community Identity

I've been giving some thought to the matter of church/community identity--ours in particular--and realized one big thing:  I can't write much about this without more information from other people.  I also realized that there are at least three distinct parts to identity:  1.  Reality or Truth (what God sees)  2.  What local people see  3.  What non-local people see.

The goal in identifying who we are is to arrive at an understanding of what God sees.  Within the limitations we all have, the other two can help us get closer to that ultimate reality in item number one.  For that reason, I'm asking for help.  Please comment here or email me ( to provide input.  Although some context would be very helpful, I'm asking for only one identifier from each person who responds:  Local or Non-local.  That simply distinguishes between those who live here and those who don't live here.

One helpful but optional add-on to these two identifiers is to add wanderer, nativeimmigrant, or emigrant, whichever of these applies.  "Wanderer" means that this has been home-base for most of your life, but you have also spent significant time living elsewhere, perhaps in studying or teaching, voluntary service, or missions endeavors.  "Native" means you were born here and presumably still live here.  "Immigrant" means that you were born elsewhere but moved to this church/community later.  "Emigrant" means you have roots here but  now live elsewhere.  I think input from these last two categories is especially valuable because of what one learns by comparison.  I hope the comparison process will benefit everyone involved, and not fall into that kind of comparison process that Scripture warns against.

Other context can be added informally in whatever form is convenient.  Here are some things you might consider:

1.  How well do you know our community?  (Have you ever visited here?  Have you spent time in people's homes?  How many people do you know?  How much time have you spent with people from here?  Did your contact occur in a formal or informal venue?  Over what time span have you been accumulating your information?)

2.  Who or what figures big in whatever you're comparing our community to?  (I guess this probably will depend on what other church/community identities you've been exposed to.)

3.  What features appeal to you or disenchant you about our church/community?  (This will no doubt involve focusing on distinctives of this church/community.)

In scrolling through my own thoughts about our church/community, I realized that the comments I've heard so far from others have been mostly positive.  This is perfectly understandable because people are usually too kind--or maybe too afraid--to share their less generous thoughts.  I do wish to welcome here all honest impressions--positive or negative. I wish also to welcome responses of any length or complexity.  If one sentence is all you wish to write, that's OK.  On the flip side, don't  hesitate to write long answers if you wish to do so.  Feel free to email this post to anyone you think might be interested.  An icon at the bottom of the post makes this very easy if you know the email address of the other person.

For now I'll refrain from revealing my own impressions from a local/wanderer/native perspective.  I will also wait to pass on words I've heard from non-locals.  Several years ago, for a class project, a group of Kansas Faith Builders students carried out a survey of Center Church people's views on a variety of issues.  I'm not referencing that at the moment, although doing so at some point might be instructive.

At the risk of sounding pathetic, I'm issuing the equivalent of whatever version of begging, pleading, or crying that might motivate you to respond to my question on our church/community identity.  I eagerly await your response.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vacation Ramblings

I'm thrilled to have had the whole day off today--a benefit of having had the teacher's convention this week, when going back to school only for the middle day of the week did not make sense.  I started it off luxuriously, by sleeping in till 8:30.  I can hardly ever do that.  Even if I don't have to get up, I usually wake up and want to get up.

Hiromi did  not fare so well last night.  He informed me that my snoring kept him awake.  I'm afraid I was insufficiently sympathetic, given the fact that when I came to bed last night he was already trumpeting along at a fairly high-decibel level.  Actually neither of us usually snores enough for it to be a problem for the other at all.  It's when there is just a touch of congestion or sleeping in certain positions that the breathing noise erupts.  I've been known to wake myself up when I snore.  Not this time.


Twice in the last few days my Mom ended up on the floor, and help had to be called in to get her up.  Once it was during the night, and she fell out of bed while trying to get up.  Linda could not get her up alone, and Dad can't help, since his broken leg won't allow him to stand without support.  She called Shane, and that good man got up around 3:00 and drove to Partridge to help his grandmother back into bed.

Today I did the helping honors.  Mom was sitting down to lunch, and didn't sit back quite far enough in the chair, sinking gently to the floor in front of the chair instead.  Linda and I got her up, with her feet braced against the "leg board" of the kitchen peninsula to provide leverage.

The good news is that she seems none-the-worse for these mishaps.


Here is a status update I put on Facebook today:

I can now count myself among the fortunate Partridge-area residents who have had a visit from a companionable Roadrunner. He was in the front yard when I pulled into the parking spot near the house early this afternoon. He ran along several sides of the house, and I sneaked inside when he rounded a corner that took him out of my sight. From inside the house, I saw him very close-up several times. What a treat!

Only once before have I seen one--I think.  That was decades ago, and I saw it running ahead of me on Clark Road, just west of Partridge Road.  Others saw a Roadrunner or two around Partridge last summer, but I had never seen those.  They're such funny birds--just right for a comic strip character.


Our cat is a mighty hunter.  Twice she/he has showed up with a dead rabbit.  One was fairly small and the second one was full-sized.  I didn't know cats could kill full-grown rabbits.


I'm making dressing balls for our family Thanksgiving dinner instead of the usual dressing in a pan.  I've never done this before, but the trial run turned out nicely.  Each ball uses 1/2 cup of dressing, and is placed on a cookie sheet for baking.


I really enjoyed the teacher's convention in Wichita on Monday and Tuesday.  Today I finished writing the summary/notes the school board asked for.  I have a feeling they might be sorry they asked for mine.  Too long.  Writing it benefited me greatly, however, so all is not lost.

One encounter at the meeting still puzzles me.  A lady I did not recognize happily greeted me by name and said she had already talked to Wesley, our principal, and she had seen the others from Pilgrim, although she couldn't remember the names of some of the younger ones.  I still have no idea who she was.   I'm not the greatest at remembering faces, but I'm really feeling the need for some explanatory context here, or the mystery will bug me for a long time, I'm afraid.


Our bird feeders have attracted a plethora of house sparrows and not enough other interesting birds, so far.  Today I saw several goldfinches again, and I've seen a cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, house finches, and juncos nearby.

The birds seem not at all afraid to feed with the cat safely inside her "house" very close by.  I think they can't see her.  The good news is that she couldn't possibly pounce on a bird without making a huge commotion getting out of the house first, so she doesn't pose any danger.


Dad went to church for the first time on Sunday, three weeks and two days after the car accident.  He used a walker.

They also acquired a car last week, just like the wrecked one, except that it has fewer miles and is white instead of champagne (?).


Lowell, David, and Larry have returned from India, and the Ellis Miller family and John Yoder family have returned from their far-flung residences.  Misael and Regina and their family plan to arrive after Thanksgiving.


 Wendell Nisly is leading the singing/scripture reading at our Thanksgiving service tomorrow.  A lot of former Pilgrim students and some Oasis singers will find this a familiar experience.


A shout out to former composition class students--my own and others--What parts of the class seem the most valuable to you now?  Or what would you have liked to do that you were unable to do?


After we returned from the teacher's convention, I dutifully took it upon myself to water the plants at school since I knew that no student would be there to do the watering job as usual.  To my surprise, the watering had been done.  If the person who did it is reading this--a big thank you to you.  If you know who did it, I'd be glad to know it and thank them personally.


Shane now has a live Rock Rentals website.  If you decide to look up the site, be sure to look at the "meet the team" section under the "about us" tab.


Grant has done some pretty impressive work in fabricating 1/64th-scale John Deere equipment as add-ons to Ertl scale models.  His employer owns equipment like this, and Grant uses it a lot and apparently memorized many of the details sufficiently to copy them painstakingly.  The toys belong to Wyatt of course.  Cough cough.


Vernon and Grace Miller had a new baby last week--a girl named Eden, according to her uncle Wesley, who is a sophomore at our school.  I forget the middle name.  Sorry.


Brandon and Holli are getting married this Saturday.  They are both former students, and both have siblings still at our school.

Brandon's mother is our neighbor and a wonderful household helper for me several hours a week.  Because the lady who lived here as our tenant taught piano lessons, Brandon often came here for lessons before we moved back here.  Later, when he was in my food production class, he planted his garden here.  Also, the Nislys often did mowing here in exchange for piano lessons.  For never having actually lived here, they know this place inside and out.


We have a gyoza-making date with the Jonathan Wenger family and some friends on a Saturday soon.  That should be fun.  We had a delightful feast of Japanese food there last summer, along with kinilaw, a Philippine food prepared by Tonya Martin-Nisly.  The Martin-Nisly family was present that time.  They were our neighbors at the time.  We've both moved since then.

My Take on an American Obsession--Part 3

Is football a violent sport?  If so, is that a problem?  What constitutes ethical/moral behavior in relation to football?  What is right for me personally?  Questions like these can get pretty uncomfortable.

When I watched our students wrestle with such questions, I was heartened at times--when they considered them seriously, examined the evidence, and reached logical, if difficult, conclusions.

At other times, I felt disbelief and chagrin as they resolutely headed down the business-as-usual path, although it didn't work out so well for them, since it usually ended in a very confused speech or paper.  Confusion followed one of two patterns:  1.  Craft a reasonable thesis and supporting points, and then forsake the thesis and the evidence by making a new and different assertion at the end of the paper or speech.  (If it's a speech, hurry through the conclusion as fast as possible, duck your head sheepishly, and grin guiltily at the grader as you head back to your seat.)  2.  State a flawed thesis, and then, in the absence of data to support the thesis, support its opposite instead and never again refer to the flawed thesis.   Data can be such an inconvenience . . .

I tended not to take such confused responses too seriously, (these students are still young and have time to grow up and acquire wisdom) but I heard a more serious view of them later.  I heard something like this:  "Let's pray that they would become willing to follow through on what they know, because it's dangerous to develop a habit of resisting the truth."  I agree.

The crux of the problem with football is that it is, by dictionary definitions, a violent sport.  It is behavior involving force with the intention of hurting, damaging, or killing someone or something.  I can already hear the protests:  football players aren't trying to hurt anyone, much less damage or kill them.  There is some truth to this, but significant evidence is present on the side of intentional hurting, damaging, or killing in the course of playing football.  For fans to argue the contrary view is disingenuous.  Stan Savran, a Pennsylvania sportscaster,  says this (I'm quoting from memory, since the League of Denial book is already back at the library):  "In football, the biggest cheers are for the touchdowns.  But the second biggest cheers are always for the really nasty hits."  Leigh Steinberg, an agent who represented dozens of NFL players, noted that for years the logo that opened the Monday night football broadcasts had two helmets crashing against each other.  The documentary I saw showed a clip of an NFL player, all suited up and ready to play, who said fiercely, "I'm ready to kill someone."

The fact is that, while most football players are not wanna-be maimers and murderers with suicidal tendencies, playing the game well necessitates the temporary suppression of almost all gentle, respectful impulses toward other people, and replaces them with a grim (vicious?) determination to exert tremendous amounts of force against other human beings.  While some of what is involved is undoubtedly the "standing your ground" kind of force, much of it is unmistakably active and offensive.  Tackling another player is not a defensive action.  It is, in fact, a violent act.

Violence against other human beings is always a problem according to New Testament ethics.  Intentional self-harm is also a problem.

While some argue that all of life involves some risk, and football is no different, and, because the game wouldn't be any fun to play or watch without this element of risk, we should all just be OK with it.  Excuse me?  Although some sports are notably more violent than others, in almost no other sport is one-on-one physical assault an integral part of the game, as it is in football.

While ice skating, it's possible for a person to slip and fall and bang their head hard enough on the ice to suffer a concussion.  That's a risk of ice skating.  But banging one's head on the ice is not an intended part of ice skating.  It's possible to break a leg while playing basketball.  That's a risk of playing basketball, but bone-breaking blows to the legs or jolts from landing wrong are not an intended part of the game.  In contrast, the risks of playing football are formidably stacked in favor of damage to bodies because forceful body-to-body contact is an integral part of the game.  Even protective helmets can turn into battering rams.

Probably, for me, the most distressing revelations from investigating the game of football came, not in reading or watching League of Denial material, but in seeing similarities between the culture of violence in first-century Rome and the culture of violence in our country currently. Violence occurs, of course, in many areas other than in sports, but they are not the focus of this post.

In the Roman Colosseum, the gathered crowds were there to see blood sports, either animals killing each other, animals and humans engaged in mortal combat, or humans fighting each other to the death.  Some of our students were quick to dismiss any connection between Roman Colosseum violence and football because the performers in Rome were there through no choice of their own, and football players have a choice whether they play or not.  That those in Rome were coerced and that American football players are not is mostly true.  Players are paid outrageously for playing football, and, for some, the gain seems worth the pain, and they play willingly--although I suspect this is destined to change as more players become aware of the eventual and likely insufferable cost.  Players often really love the game, or is it the glory they really love?  The cheers and adulation and fame?  Maybe it's the aura of uber-macho-ness that trumps all other considerations.

Beyond the varied circumstances for those who participated then or now in violent sports, an even more troubling aspect involves the players/performers/providers-of-entertainment only peripherally. It is the similarity in the appetites and behaviors of the spectators that is most deeply troubling.

Some of my information comes from this book:  Violence and Aggression in Sporting Contests, edited by R. Todd Jewell.  In a novel approach, this book focuses on how more or less violence in sports affects the economics of the activity.  In my own simplified terms, the question the book seeks to answer is this:  What is the exact level of sports violence that makes the activity the most appealing to spectators, and therefore the most profitable?  In most cases, ramping up the violence increases the sports' appeal to fans commensurately, although presumably an invisible threshold exists beyond which a further increase in violence would prompt fans to turn away.

Chapter 2 of the above book is titled A Brief History of Violence and Aggression in Spectator Sports.  The whole chapter is really worth reading and you can do so by inserting that title in a search engine.  It is available as a pdf download.  The chapter opens with this quote by George Orwell, written in 1945:

"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play.  It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard for all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.  In other words, it is war minus the shooting . . .  Most of the games we now play are of ancient origin, but sport does not seem to have been taken very seriously between Roman times and the nineteenth century . . .  Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country.  It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest."

The "sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence" is the part of the football picture that is strikingly similar to Roman Colosseum entertainment, and it is the most damning aspect of both.  It is no more honorable to delight in watching violence than to delight in engaging in it.  Why do nonresistant Christians not understand this?

The football "industry" grew exponentially when viewing games on TV first become common in the 1970s.  By now sports is a $400 billion gross-revenue-per-year industry.  The movie industry trails very far behind at $10 billion.

In another document,  Jesse Hicks writes in the Penn State News, "American football has many similarities with gladiator games."  "Large-scale sporting events create intense bonds among fans, provoking feelings of belonging, validation and camaraderie.  Individuals feel part of a greater whole, and they feel empowered."

Hicks also quotes Dr. Garret Fagan, who is a professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State University Park, who has written a book with this title:  The Lure of the Arena:  Social Psychology and the Spectators at the Roman Games.  Fagan says regarding football and the gladiator games, "The psychological lure remains much the same."  "This is a very powerful emotional experience."

Fagan again:  "The distance between the Roman gladiator arena and the modern American football stadium is not as far as we might think or wish."  He suspects also that "if we staged a gladiator spectacle and we picked the right constituency to staff it--people who are commonly regarded by society as expendable, such as death row inmates--I think we could fill Beaver Stadium."

One of the questions I asked our students to consider is what single action would dethrone football as an American icon.  One obvious answer is Everyone stops playing the game.  Equally effective, however, and far more plausible as an action we ourselves might participate in is this:  Everyone stops watching or following the game.

For me, this is easy, since I've never really started.  Especially, knowing what I know now about the likelihood of unseen and unseeable injuries occurring in the brains of every player who gets hit or receives a hit, I couldn't enjoy it.  I see too much misery ahead for these players.  For others, however, to stop watching or following football would be akin to watching a golden calf burned and ground to powder and then seeing the powder mixed with water and having to drink it.  Distasteful, to be sure.

My friend was right, you know.  We put ourselves in a dangerous place when we understand truth and turn away from acting on it.  Regularly on Monday nights, and certainly on Super Bowl Sunday next February, many of us will have a chance to act on what we know, or to turn away from acting on it.  I'm not planning to keep track of who does what in relation to these matters, but I think I know Someone Who will.