Friday, April 4, 2014

Christian MMA Branding and the Latest Threat to My Faith

I had one of those surreal experiences last where you wake up the next day and still aren't sure quite what happened.

A few months ago, my head martial arts instructor announced that he'd be having another MMA fight--it's something he does from time to time, so nothing struck me as strange--that is until I saw the promo poster. I felt my eyebrow raise as I read references to Genesis and scripture from Romans. I don't believe that martial arts, not even of the mixed variety, are incompatible with Christianity. I do though, have reservations about the faith being used for business reasons.

I had a feeling I'd be the only one to notice this, so I began bringing it up to friends--partially because I knew a couple of friends I was going with were staunch atheists/agnostic and honestly, I didn't want a "surprise" confrontation. It struck pretty much everyone as strange, but we all brushed it off.

The Fights   
The fights were good, with the expected progression from less skilled to more, my instructor being the main event. It was odd going to fights at a church (no alcohol, which wasn't surprising), but thinking back, seeing that steeple was a warning of the oddness to come.

I know a merger when I see one. 
Think of a jackalope--an animal that latches on to your consciousness simply because of the unnatural combination. It seems silly, but only slightly, because it's never really been executed.

Welp...last night, somebody glued antlers on a rabbit.

Imagine your standard UFC event, but during breaks between matches, instead of commercials, testimonials (as expected, from Benson Henderson and Vitor Belfort) and invitations to a massive Easter service were played. Like the jackalope, I couldn't realize the the depth of conflict until I actually saw it.

It started with the ring girls. I was at a table (with my atheist friend...more on that later), so my back was to the cage. I heard one of the teens at the table call out "...check out the ring girls." I turned slowly, half-scared of what I'd see. It was a toned down version of what you'd find at any bikinis, but still tights that look like they'd been painted on trailing down to high heeled sneakers.

The walk-out music was indistinguishable from any other event.

The calls to "come and visit our concession stand to be serviced by one of our ladies" gave me great pause. I don't think the word-choice was accidental.

The Effect
Being seated at a table of the non-churched, atheists and anti-church-type gave me insight that's rare for many Christians.

"Ring girls? At church?"

"Did that guy just say we could be 'serviced' at the concession stand? How much does that cost?" People expect a certain separation from Christians. Not all those expectations are wrong.

I began to feel like I was part of a bait-and-switch--the event equivalent of those fake evangelical dollars left on the ground that were really reminders that the reader was, in fact, going to hell. There were Biblical references on the flyers, yes, but most people didn't expect half a sermon after the undercard.

The Power
I sat and watched last night, and was reminded why it's unfair to blame Christianity or religion for all the ills of the world. Religion is a well-suited scapegoat indeed, and it's one, I believe, that has been heavily used to mask the spread and maintenance of power-structures (those principalities and powers and whatnot that we wrestle againt) around the world, but possibly most overtly in the United States.

I didn't put it all together until a man, who I assume was an assistant pastor, got up and proclaimed "We're in war for our freedom!"

What freedom? Who is "our"? A war with whom? I don't like vague statements like that, especially made to a crowd. It tells me the speaker is used to simply being understood. Unfortunately, I felt I knew exactly what he was saying.

As the night progressed, I started seeing the makings of a business deal. The potential for the growth of a Christian-branded MMA league. Its target market would be keen on vague mentions of "Jesus" and "Freedom" and women in bottoms so tight you can see the outline of their glutes, and burgers and punching and loud music and the idea of "being serviced." It was in that moment I knew I was not in their target demographic.

My Faith
As I drove home, I prayed, asking God if I'd failed him in not speaking out at people being upset that they'd been "tricked" into taking Bibles home...if I'd somehow fallen short at living out his calling that night.

I'm still asking that question.

I am though, glad I got to talk to a friend about my faith and its practice, and her experiences with church. It was a positive, but I'm not one to dismiss all the fault I saw because I had one, encouraging experience.

This story from Ravi Zacharias seems worth reposting, as it explains why today, I feel so much fear in engaging with organizational Christianity again. Though I have more clarity in navigating those waters, it's a concern that was reinforced last night.

"I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a Hindu. He was questioning the strident claims of the followers of Christ as being something supernatural. He absolutely insisted “conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that in most cases it was not any different to those claims of other ‘ethical’ religions.” So far, his argument was not anything new. But then he said something that I have never forgotten, and often reflect upon: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” His question is a troublesome one. After all, no Buddhist claims a supernatural life but frequently lives a more consistent one. The same pertains to many of other faiths. Yet, how often the so-called Christian, even while proclaiming some of the loftiest truths one could ever express, lives a life bereft of that beauty and character."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

An odd reminder...

I woke up today with a scary, familiar feeling. It seems like the infection might be back. 

The first infection was potentially life-threatening, and life spurred me on to try my first entrepreneurial venture. I sat, profoundly worried about my soaring temperature, when I experienced a sudden stillness, and a reminder that it was happening for me. Today, 2 months after being laid off and 1 day after hearing back from my first potential consulting client, I'm sitting here, face swollen, worried about the return of the klebsiella.

I'm reminded though, that I need to trust God. I've been worried about income and career and becoming a consultant, but whatever's growing in my face has been a reminder of how important sitting back, and trusting as I ride this new wave of entrepreneurship, without a church home yet, I'm reminded of the importance of prayer...and of checking my temperature regularly. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sandwiches vs Bus Passes: One of Life's Greatest Dilemas

I didn't think it would ever happen, but I was finally laid off. It's been years...I'd devoted huge chunks of this blog to it. I'd written and reflected so much that other sites had picked up my story..but if finally happened

I heard a few condolences, which struck me as strange because personally I've been relieved. The hard part now, is being genuinely thankful and seeing being let go as the blessing it is. It's been easy to be glad I'm free, glad I got a severance and happy I'm away from some toxic people...happy I already had projects in the works, but am I thankful? A little, but honestly, if the circumstances were less tilted in my favor, I don't think I'd be feeling quite as awesome. I'd still be scared and likely having quite a few freak-out prayers a day. I got a good reminder what all that means last week.

I met a friend for lunch and after dropping her off, cut through a parking lot to avoid construction on a main road. I rode past a dumpster and saw a man in there digging. He was thin, disheveled--it wasn't too big a leap to think he was homeless. Now, here I'd like to tell you that I stopped and offered him my leftover half a sandwich. I didn't. I drove right on past and on my way home.

I didn't make it too far though...the magnitude of my selfishness hit me, so I circled back through construction and rush-hour traffic, kicking myself for not doing the right thing the first time. Well I found the guy again next to the same dumpster and asked if he were hungry. He asked if I had money I could give him. I'm personally not to big on giving money directly to people unless I'm specifically moved in the situation, so I asked him again if he wanted food. Again, he asked if I had some cash to help him get a bus pass. I could feel myself climbing on my high horse. I asked one more time if he was sure he didn't want anything to eat. He asked what I had and I gave him my Cuban sandwich.

I drove away thinking "man...that sandwich was good. I could have kept it and saved myself some gas." But then...then I saw myself. I saw how quickly I'd forgotten that the man actually appeared hungry. I saw how quick I was to forget that what people fight and push and strive for isn't always what they need. It was quite possible that man needed food more than money, even if the words didn't come out of his mouth--kind of like how I'd lived years needing peace more than a job, and had been too weak to just quit a position that was killing my health and happiness, and take what God had already blessed me with.

Many times I've been in positions where I needed a sandwich but was busy asking for a bus pass.