Beartown Thoughts: “Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion”

What follows is one of the most powerful quotes from Frederick Backman’s Beartown.

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.

 

Beartown Thoughts_ _Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion_

 

It’s important to note the context, though, before digging in. This comes at a part in the book where a junior hockey player has sexually assaulted the team manager’s daughter, and as the fallout from this horrific act begins to spiral. I’m therefore going to share some old thoughts on hockey fandom that tie into it, as well as on hockey culture in general.

First, let’s talk about why things are the way they are in regards to hockey fandom, and discussions around the sport in general.

Jeff Marek made an interesting point on the MvsW podcast back in the day that speaks to a divisive nature that is all too prevalent. His basic premise was that sports marketing and culture is set up to create and “us vs them” mentality, and that this is expressed most clearly in the use of “(Blank) Nation” or “(Blank) Army” or “(Blank)Fam” *barf* to describe a fan base.

What this does is establish a mobilization of the fans wherein we feel as though we are actually part of the battle, so to speak. We follow and support the cause of our favourite teams, and feel intimately linked to the outcomes that befall them. If they win, we take to the streets to celebrate; if they lose, we feel like our home and native land has been invaded and pillaged, leaving us wander aimlessly until the battle picks up again.

The fallacy here, of course, is that what will be will be, regardless of how we personally feel about the team in question. Our attachments to our teams and the players are mostly peripheral, in the sense that we likely have no personal knowledge of or attachment to the actual people who are playing the game.

We pay money for tickets, jerseys and cable packages, investing in war bonds if you will, but we don’t affect the outcomes of the games, Bartman notwithstanding.

Again, regardless of what happens, it’s not a reflection of who we are personally; if they win, we cheer but the accolades are not ours, and if we lose, it stinks but the failure is also not really ours.

Another thing that this mobilization does is create a black and white way of looking at the world. We get so drawn in to the cause that the lines between right and wrong or good and bad are blurred.

For example, if Player X on Team Y commits an egregious act either on or off the ice, we rightfully demand that he be held accountable. BUT, sometimes if Player Z on our favourite teams commits a similar act, well then we spin it any which way to make it out to be not so bad, that the world is just out to get him/us.

In short, mobilized fan bases creates “us vs them” and “black and white” thinking, often allowing emotion to trump logic and decency.

So how do we get around this?

I can only speak about my own situation, but here are two ways in which I’ve been able to balance being a fan, enjoying the game and reconciling my place within its often toxic culture.

First, over the past several years, I’ve dipped my toes into the hockey writer pool. While whether or not I’m any good at it is very much up for debate, what I’ve learned through the process is the importance of trying to maintain a level head, to look at situations from all sorts of angles, and to remain as reasonable and logical as possible when watching games and analyzing news.

Obviously that’s easier said than done, especially for a hetero white dude who’s been conditioned to wear a loyal fan hat in all circumstances, reason be damned.

But the reality is that approaching the game from a position of responsibility and with a view to building credibility lends itself to being more honest, more realistic, less attached, less emotionally engaged in the success or failure of the team, way more reluctant to Stan players no matter what trouble they get into.

An old boss of mine used to say to me “it’s not whether or you not you disagree, but how.” There’s no question that I will, at times, see things through the lenses I’ve been conditioned to use, as any fan of any team will. It’s OK to disagree about what happens on and off the ice, the merits of roster composition and fancy stats or which team won a trade, but if one is not prepared to step aside and admit that their biases and preconceived notions might be off, then it’s game over and there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

The second big part of it for me is my current stage of life. I’m 38, married, and have 3 boys age 9 and under, all of whom are playing the game at some level.

I want my boys to appreciate and love the game the way I do, and I also want them to be good people, to respect others, to think and care about the things in life that really matter.

What kind of example would I be setting if they saw me getting worked up about a hockey game to the point where I can’t speak to friends and family, or started cursing out guys on TV or Twitter, or losing sleep over the outcome of a game or playoff series?

Additionally, how could I tell them “hockey is for everyone” if I sit back and accept the ongoing ostracism and outright rejections of women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community?

But what I’m trying to learn and subsequently demonstrate to my boys is that you can be a loyal fan and a good person, enjoying the game for what all games are supposed to be – FUN and INCLUSIVE!

Even more than that, your team can lose and you can be happy for the fans of the OTHER team because you know they care as much as you do.

I want to be known as someone who enjoys being a fan of this team, who enjoys watching the game I love, and who’s able to allow all others to do so in relation to their team of choice in any way they see fit. Not only that, but we also need to empathize with those that hockey continues to shun or disregard, standing up for what is good and right in the face of a way-too-slow-to-change culture.

All this to say, I love hockey, but it’s only hockey.

And hockey should never take precedence over being a decent and loving human being.

Introducing Beartown

It’s no secret that two of my great loves in life are hockey and books.

So when I first heard about Beartown, I was all in.

For those who don’t know, it’s the story of a middling Swedish junior team in an industrial town, both of which are slowly but surely dying out in favour of bigger and brighter markets.

This year’s Beartown team, however, is on the verge of contending for a national championship, thanks to a star talent, a tight supporting cast, a young and unexpected contributor, and a former NHLer who returned home to manage hometown club.

As we all know, hockey is a beautiful game that’s all too often sullied by the boys club culture that’s built up around it, and Beartown doesn’t escape the ugly effects. As a result, this book becomes less about the game and more about the people and their failures and successes, rights and wrongs, virtues and victimization both on and off the ice.

Author Frederick Backman weaves it all together with masterful storytelling and careful exposition, and I’m excited to read this book again and share some thoughts about it here as my part of my Beartown Book Club.

I grabbed my copy today and invite you to read along (both the book and my posts) and share your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter.

I’ve got one book to finish, and will start later this week, so no rush picking up. Once you do, you won’t be able to put it down.

Beartown book club

Beartown (Beartown, #1)With Disney announcing so much new content for their streaming service, it got me wishing for a Mighty Ducks reboot but with a Friday Night Lights meets hockey vibe.

That reminded me that HBO Europe is developing a Swedish-language series adaptation of Beartown, the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman.

Then I remembered it’s been way too long since I read that amazing book.

So, while we continue to wait for hockey to start up again here in North America, I’m going to work my way through it again, posting some thoughts on here from time to time.

I’d love for you to join me! Please feel free to read along and comment here or on Twitter as I post.

If you love hockey and have yet to experience this book, you won’t regret it; if it’s a second, third or fourth reading, you’ll still get something out of it. I know I do every time I pick it up.

Let’s Beartown together, shall we?

 

 

Searching For Sunday

Rachel Held Evans passed away today at the age of 37. 

I’m so sad and don’t know what to say.

All I can think to do is share this review of one of her books that she graciously sent me directly. It speaks to her impact on my life and how much she will be missed.

If you’re able, you can support her husband and two young boys here.

So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another.

imageThat’s the conclusion reached by Rachel Held Evans in her new book, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, And Finding The Church, wherein she describes her journey out of evangelicalism, through a church plant that didn’t quite get rooted, a break from church altogether, and into a deeper, richer and fuller understanding of what it means to be part of the body of Christ in the 21st century.

I read and enjoyed both of Rachel’s first two books – Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood – and have benefited from following her on social media and meeting her in person at the conference that spawned the book Letters To A Future Church.

But of all work, I can honestly say nothing has impacted me as much as this new book.

I’m not sure if I qualify as a millennial, but Rachel’s story of growing up in, moving away from and rediscovering ‘church’ resonated with me in deep ways, as if she was sharing my story and the stories of thousands of others in the same boat, beckoned to step out, in faith, to something different.

But this is distinctly her story, told through the lens of seven sacraments of the church, namely baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and marriage. Interspersed throughout are tales from her travels, some hilarious, others heartbreaking, all with a heavy impact.

What struck me most – and what might cause many to strike back – is her telling of stories shared at a Gay Christian Network Conference, stunning example of how the church is meant to look more like a support group than a country club.

Reading on the train on the way home from work, tears came to my eyes as I thought of the church’s wretched history and its brilliant future, one based on embracing the call to love and live together, as described above.

Reading this book felt like I was having a good, heartfelt chat over coffee with a like-minded, like-hearted friend, grieving that which has gone wrong and celebrating a bright hope for the future of the church, of this world, and ultimately, in Christ.

Very much worth checking out.

Oh, and I’m going to frame this quote, I think.

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Comedy Sex God and me: A review of Pete Holmes’ book

My journey to Comedy Sex God began with Rob Bell, which is fitting because he’s the author of Sex God.

Similar themes, but less funny.

Rob is the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI (not to be confused with Mars Hill Church in Seattle). I used to religiously download his weekly sermons, and was feeling a Bell-shaped void after he decided to take off for Los Angeles to pursue other ventures.

Image result for you made it weird

It was 2013 and were planning a trip to Ottawa at the time, so I did a search for Rob Bell in my podcast app to help keep me entertained on the long drive. I came across his name listed beside this funny little logo and was interested to see how the author of Love Wins could make it even weirder. As it turned out, that book was the impetus for this podcast host to reach out to Rob, and I quickly learned that I actually had a lot in common with Pete Holmes.

We were both raised in the church. We both went to small Christian universities (I even knew people who went to his). We both liked to make jokes, although he’s admittedly a million times better at comedy than I could ever dream to me. We were both clearly fans of Bell’s, and welcomed his work as opposed to bidding him farewell like so many others still caught in the throes of evangelicalism.

I ended up listening to that episode more than once, and You Made It Weird has been part of my weekly routine ever since. I love the silly episodes, the spiritual elements of it, the Friends of Rob Bell series, the comedy guests, the inside baseball tales from the worlds of stand up and show business. I rarely take a week off.

On top of that, I devoured clips from Pete’s foray into late night television, his HBO specials, and especially the recently-cancelled Crashing, which I loved for all the same reasons I keep downloading the podcast.

So when Pete first announced he was working on a book, I knew it would be right up my alley.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy from Harper Collins and made my way through it over the course of a few days. Here’s a few thoughts on this delightful piece of work.

Image result for comedy sex god

I was already pretty familiar with Pete’s story from all of the above, but I really resonated with his early struggles with the church, particularly as it pertains to purity culture, the sins that tend to befall teenage boys, dealing with that guilt and shame, responding to countless altar calls and repeating the process over and over again.

Like I said, I too went to a Christian college, began to explore new/old ideas, and eventually left the church I grew up in.

Our stories aren’t quite the same (my wife didn’t leave me for a small Italian man, thank God), but I weave in and out of phases of deconstruction and reconstruction as a result of life circumstances, having my eyes opened to new ways of thinking while shelving old, harmful beliefs about faith and God’s role in the world in which we live.

I can’t say I’ve gone so far as to have my mind opened by psychedelics, and likely never will. Pete’s deep dive into Ram Dass is kind of where our paths veer most obviously. I’m interested in him and will check out his teachings, but I won’t be humping on a plane to Hawaii anytime soon. At the same time, I’ve kind of found a guru in absentia in Richard Rohr – another previous YMIW guest and a fave of Pete’s – and often think about planning a retreat to New Mexico to meet him.

That’s kind of the point of Comedy Sex God, really. We’re all on different paths, but we all come from the same Oneness, and the more in tune we become with it and each other, the better off we all will be.

Pete referenced Bell in this book, and I know he has a relationship with others I admire, namely The Liturgists, David Bazan, and Rohr himself. Again, different streams, but all flowing from the same grand river.

The sections on meditation and breathing and Awareness were particularly meaningful for me, and I know these are practices I need incorporate into my life. Thanks for another kick in the ass, Pete.

I should add Pete is a really great writer, and both his comedy and his warmth come off the pages in droves. This book is hilarious, and I laughed out loud on several occasions; it’s also deeply moving, and I teared up more than once. It’s above all incredibly honest and vulnerable, and Pete’s authenticity is what draws so many to his work, myself very much included.

Right off the top, Pete writes “My mom always wanted me to be a youth pastor. When I become a comedian, she said, ‘Close enough.'” I’m a grown man with a wife and 3 sons, and Pete’s inner youth pastor speaks to me on a regular basis. It will come as no surprise that I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I hope you all read it, love it, and come to admire Pete as much as I do.

Book review: Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor

After years of serving as an Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor began teaching Religions of the World at a small liberal arts college in Georgia. She guided her students through Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, discovering more about herself and her faith along the way.Image result for holy envy

She recounts stories about this in her new book, Holy Envy. The title speaks volumes; only does she allude to be very much attracted to elements of religions other than her own, she sees holiness in all of them. We are all created in the image of God, and religion – at its best – is humanity’s attempt to figure out what means.

There’s a million different ways to go about it, and certainly a fair amount of diversity within Christianity itself. Regardless of what you believe about God and Jesus, few object to the notion of a divine spark within us, and the call to love. As the author writes:

Yet this, in a nutshell, is the monuymental spiritual challenge of living with religious difference – and more centrally than that – of living with anyone that does not happen to be me. “Love God in the person standing right in front of you,” the Jesus of my understanding says, “or forget the whole thing, because if you cannot do that, then you are just going to keep making shit up.”

Amen.

We don’t need to be afraid of the differences between us; a lot of it comes down to using different languages and symbols to try and articulate the same things.

We are all made in God’s image, called to love each other and take care of this world. It’s OK to open our eyes and look around at what others are doing, and we don’t have to be afraid of otherness.

All that matters in the end is how we loved each other.

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for hooking me up with a review copy of this book.

Book review: How The Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns

y450-274 “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

This is a common trope heard in evangelical circles, but it’s light years away from that simple, as Peter Enns explains in his new book, How the Bible Actually Works:
In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers – and Why That’s Great News (which I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of courtesy Harper Collins Canada).

His central argument is that God is not a helicopter parent and the Bible is neither an instruction manual nor a rule book; instead, it’s a a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to seek and use wisdom.

The Bible itself is an embodiment of wisdom at work. Its ambiguity, antiquity and diversity dictates certain noticeable and intentional shifts as you move from Genesis to Revelation. That’s because each text was written at a specific time for a particular audience and in order to communicate something unique within that context, resulting in certain tweaks – big and small – as people grew in their understanding of who God is and the nature of his relationship with creation.

Through the pages of the book, Enns offers example after example of how the biblical writers exercised wisdom and made additions to or removed bits from previous pieces of scripture, showing us that the aim of the Bible is not to give definitive answers, but to discern what it means to live God’s way for our time; “thus the Bible, rather than closing down the future, sets us on a journey of relying on God’s presence to discover it.”

The Bible says a lot of things, many of which contradict each other, raise troubling questions about God, and appear to give answers to pressing questions that weren’t meant to be applied in 2019.

Wisdom, therefore, is needed not only to read the Bible, but also to continue on with the very biblical tradition of questioning, debating, and working out of the life of faith that its pages point us to.

It’s all far from settled, and that’s the point.

This is one in a long line of books about the Bible, but the best I’ve read in recent years, along with Rob Bell’s What Is The Bible? Do check it out when it becomes available on Feb. 19.

2018 Book List

As per tradition, here’s a list of books I read during the past year. My favourites are in bold, extra points for the italicized one.

2018 Reading List

  1. Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry
  2. A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry
  3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  4. Own The Moment by Carl Lentz
  5. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
  8. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  9. Paul by N.T Wright
  10. The Two Towers: The Treason of Isengard by  J.R.R. Tolkien
  11. The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry
  12. Grateful by Diana Butler Bass
  13. The Lifters by Dave Eggers
  14. Robin by Dave Itzkoff
  15. Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman
  16. The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor
  17. Us Against You by Fredrick Backman
  18. Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
  19. The Devil In White City by Erik Larson
  20. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  21. Eager to Love by Richard Rohr
  22. A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur
  23. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  24. The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning by Aaron Niequist
  25. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
  26. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
  27. You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers
  28. My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgard
  29. A New Harmony by John Philip Newell
  30. God Over Good by Luke Norsworthy
  31. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  32. Confessions of a Funeral Director by Caleb Wilde
  33. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
  34. Remembering by Wendell Berry
  35. I Declare War by Levi Lusko
  36. Faith For This Moment by Rick McKinley
  37. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  38. God Has A Name by John Mark Comer

Book review: Faith For This Moment by Rick McKinley

In his new book Faith For This Moment, Portland pastor Rick McKinley asks, What does it mean to be the people of God now?

Today, many Christians in America feel like exiles within their own country. Some yearn to return to the Christendom of an idealized past. Others seek to assimilate the values of our culture into the church. In between are those uncomfortable with either extreme–exiles looking for a new way of understanding what faith looks like in a polarized, pluralistic, post-Christian culture.

In Faith for This Moment, Rick McKinley comforts and equips the spiritually homeless. He shares how people of faith from other times and places lived faithfully, prophetically, and imaginatively, compromising neither their principles nor their compassion and never giving in to despair. For those searching for a better way to live out their faith in our complex cultural moment, this is it.

We live in a crazy time here in North America, and people of faith seem to be either holding onto their beliefs so tight that they forget to love their neighbours, or have become so closely tied to the culture that there’s nothing indistinguishable about them.

Cover Art

McKinley offers helpful analysis about living in exile and living in the heart of Christendom, and offers timeless practices that we can employ in order to keep the heartbeat of Jesus going in this time and beyond.

“We are called by God to love our neighbour and our enemy, to embrace rather than demonize those who, we disagree with,” McKinley writes. This book certainly helps re-centre the reader towards those ends.

Book review: I Declare Way by Levi Lusko

I Declare War is a new book by Levi Lusko, the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church – a multisite church located in Montana, Utah, Oregon, and Wyoming that he and his wife Jennie planted in 2007.

The basic premise is this:

Win the battle with yourself by declaring war on your darkness, demons, and self-sabotaging tendencies. Discover the thoughts, words, behaviors, and power you need to achieve ongoing victory. You might not want to (or even know you need to) declare war, but it’s time for you to want to enter the fight. It’s likely you are your own worst enemy. Learn to get out of your own way and discover the secret weapon to winning the war within.

Lusko specifically targets our thoughts, words and actions and outlines how we can gain control over these areas in order to win the war within ourselves.

In all honesty, I’m a bit torn after reading this book. On one hand, I readily acknowledge I struggle to do the best and right thing when it comes to words, actions and even thoughts. I am can be grumpy and snippy, spend time doing things that aren’t beneficial to my life, and get bogged down in anxious and depressive thoughts. I know this needs to change, and Lusko offers some helpful tools towards that end.

Having said that, I’m not big on war metaphors, and using examples from the real world (or even biblical tales) wherein there’s a hero on one end and, well, death and destruction on the other … there’s better language to use, in my opinion.

There’s not much new in this book, but that’s the thing, I think – these are timeless struggles and timeless answers, and we all need the reminder every now and again.

Definitely worth a look and there’s some helpful nuggets in this one.