News That Illustrates: May 7, 2012
The Last Days of Osama bin Laden
A year ago this week the Navy SEALs attacked Osama bin Laden's compound, killing bin Laden and four other people. Time magazine ran a fascinating article detailing the events behind the surprise attack. Here's one interesting preachable quote: "[Before the attack], up in his top-floor bedroom, bin Laden had become a victim of his own security arrangements. The few windows ensured that no one could look in to see him, but now it was impossible for him to see what was going on outside." As a result, as the SEALs started their surprise attack, "the leader of al-Qaeda waited in the dark silence for about 15 minutes, seemingly paralyzed as the Americans stormed his last refuge." In other words, his own self-made, self-imposed attempts to save and protect himself eventually became his undoing.
PREACHING ANGLES: Pride; Salvation; Security
Are Professional Sports too Violent?
In the past month, the professional sports world has been abuzz with incidents of violence: the New Orleans Saint's bounty system (giving players a bonus for injuring opponents), Metta World Peace (the pro basketball player formally known as Ron Artest) giving a vicious elbow to the head, the typical assortment of NHL playoff fights and cheap-shots. Charles P. Pierce over at Grantland contends, "Over the past couple of weeks, we've had a serious and ongoing reminder that this country needs to rethink the relationship it has with its sports-entertainment complex …. The sports-entertainment complex now is coming dangerously close to demanding for itself the right to set itself up as a sanction-free zone for legitimized violence. They appear to want an exemption from even the loosest codes that we have regarding the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. And a great chunk of society seems prepared to grant them precisely that." I love pro sports, but Pierce has a point. How much violence is enough?
PREACHING ANGLES: Entertainment; Sports; Violence
Wendell Berry Lecture Part 1: Boomers and Stickers
A few weeks ago, Wendell Berry, the prophetic farmer-poet-essayist from Kentucky, delivered a brilliant lecture titled "It All Turns on Affection." He referred to one of his teachers who divided contemporary Americans into two kinds of people: "boomers" and "stickers." Boomers, he said, are "those who pillage and run," who want "to make a killing and end up on Easy Street," whereas stickers are "those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in." Boomers like to take as much as they can and then run. "Stickers on the contrary," Berry said, "are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it." Those are powerful images that apply not just to the land, but also to family life and church communities.
Wendell Berry Lecture Part 2: Human Limits
Berry also emphasized another one of his favorite themes: the disappearance of human limits. In other words, in our pride and arrogance, we continually push beyond our God-given and very good boundaries. In the lecture, Berry said, "For a long time we knew that we were not, and could never be, 'as gods.' We knew, or retained the capacity to learn, that our intelligence could get us into trouble that it could not get us out of. We were intelligent enough to know that our intelligence, like our world, is limited. We seem to have known and feared the possibility of irreparable damage. But beginning in science and engineering, and continuing, by imitation, into other disciplines, we have progressed to the belief that humans are intelligent enough, or soon will be, to transcend all limits and to forestall or correct all bad results of the misuse of intelligence."
Lottery Spending for the Poorest U.S. Households
Over the past month there's been a lot of buzz about the Mega Millions winners, but there's a disturbing truth about the lottery. "Households earning less than $13,000 a year spend a shocking 9 percent of their money on lottery tickets." Are these people clueless? Actually, for the desperately poor "lotteries perform a role not unlike the obverse of insurance. Rather than pay a small sum of money in exchange for the guarantee of protection that they'll need in the future, you pay a small sum of money in exchange for the small probability that you'll win money to help your lot right away. It is, for lack of a better term, a kind of aspirational insurance." So it's not just a shocking statistic; it's also a lesson in empathy. In one sense, the poorest members of our society are trying to survive and protect their future—just like the rest of us.
PREACNING ANGLES: Empathy; Gambling; Poverty
An Obituary for Facts
In the wake of all sorts of outrageous political charges and counter-charges (and the presidential campaign is just starting!), the Chicago Tribune ran a tongue-in-cheek obituary column for Facts. It was titled: "Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012. In memoriam: After years of health problems, Facts has finally died." The article continued: "To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet." It's a creative, provocative, and funny article. Of course the Christian faith is founded on some very important facts about Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
PREACHING ANGLES: Apologetics; Truth; Witnessing
Is Our Real Problem Sin or Society?
Finally, if you like good satire, here's a hilarious story from The Onion that could set up a sermon about human nature, original sin, or our need for redemption. It focuses on the fictitious Justin Krypel who is supposedly a "good guy at heart." His problem is that "civilization has a tendency to bring out the worst in him." His friends all say that he's basically laid back and nice; it's just that some things push his buttons—like work, having to deal with other people, listening, schedules, or "just being a member of a functioning society." Again, if you appreciate good satire, this is hilarious—and it makes a solid theological point too.
PREACHING ANGLES: Human Nature; Original Sin; Sin