Headlines from First Thoughts

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bread, Circuses, and Haiti in Big Orange Country

"Bread and circuses," distracted the Romans and their leaders in the 1st century. In Tennessee over the past couple of weeks, the athletic arena has been a circus of distraction. Fans (short for "fanatics") confuse the historical with the hysterical and prefer to spend the public's money firing coaches rather than recruiting them. It's no wonder that when Lane Kiffin takes his dream job, and someone ponies up the $800,000 to make that happen, that this event overshadows the real issue in the world that day.

Thousands die in Haiti. An earthquake destroys lives. Pain and suffering are all around. This is not the first time for suffering to collide with sports. But when they occur on the same day, we have a chance to think about priorities, distractions, and the real cost of human life.

The gift of sports to our community is a means to an end. It's the great ends of beauty, love, friendship, and sacrifice that call to all of us. It's not the best or the only way to follow those pursuits. Sports just happen to be a popular one that I and so many others enjoy with my family.

As people in Knoxville, we view sports as the end rather than the means to that. This is our god, and we love, pay, sacrifice, and give to it so. In this most recent iteration, the means became the NFL, winning at all insults, and competition over a brand or a rival at the expense of decency. If this is how we live our lives, then we need to get a new life. The reason bread and circuses work so easily is because they are not nearly as challenging and complex as what calls out to us from our souls: the deepest longings for relationship and life after death. The immediate gratification of a scoreboard, a contract, a salary, and a career inoculate us to a deeper pain.

The Haitian experience, however, invites us into the real world. This is not a place of where lives are so easily replaced with someone else to entertain us. We cannot point fingers at one another in the rubble. This is the place of suffering and anger, hurt and despair, worry and grief, questions and loss. This is a world that is classified as "natural" disaster, but requires supernatural answers. This kind of thing happens around the world all the time. We rarely get to see something like this so close to home. It's also the place where the kingdom of God breaks in with thousands of relief workers, volunteers, missionaries, and people rushing into demonstrate what people do best. In moments of crisis, people at their core naturally help, serve, and love each other. The real story of disaster from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina of 2005 to the Haitian experience to start this decade, is that we solve the greatest sufferings of the world with the greatest service. People go and live like Jesus right there; and if they can't go, they give. They give with public, private, charitable, and religious dollars. And we all work together for the common cause of taking what life has left behind and helping people put the pieces back together. We help people make sense of it all not by answering questions but by living out the questions beside one another, by crying and weeping, and praying when the only words we have are groans.

We will welcome a new coach into our arena. And more importantly, we will weep with those who weep and rebuild lives on the journey toward the greatest of these, which is love.

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