The Religion of The NFL

Related imageThe word religion comes from a root word that means “to bind together.” Thus, the word actually refers to a sense of unity, oneness wholeness (Butterworth 2001). In this sense, the NFL has become a religion to millions of people around the world. Maybe it is right to say that sports in general have become a sort of religious practice. In my opinion, it is a religion based on consumerism and capitalist greed and the adherents of this religious practice are those who seek to escape the reality of daily living in the ecstasy of entertainment based on worship of the human body.

The average official liturgy of the NFL, better known as game time, is approximately three hours during which the ball is actually in motion only about 11 minutes.  The NFL does not release its annual financial data, but one NFL team is a public entity: the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are the best barometer for team-by-team revenue because their financial reports must be made public. In 2013 the Packers earned $187.7 million in national revenue, which consists of its portion of NFL national television contracts, sponsorships and a portion of jersey and ticket sales—split between all the NFL teams. (The Packers had total revenue of $324 million in 2013, including local revenue sources, like increased seating and ticket sales at Lambeau Field.) If you multiply the Packers’ national revenue by 32 (the total number of teams in the NFL), it comes out to a little more than $6 billion (Ejiochi 2014). This is hardly an offering to be ignored.

In 2013, about one-third of NFL players were white, and two-thirds were African-American.chalabi-sports-diversity-nfl

Recently the NFL Bishops, or owners, has ruled that it’s clergy, I mean players, cannot kneel in protest of police brutality of Black and Brown bodies, but can stay in the locker room until after the opening hymn, better known as the National Anthem. Many would say that this is white policing of Black and Brown bodies in the grand tradition of the American experiment. Some would even offer that the religion of the NFL is nothing more than a celebration of white gaze and the objectification of Blackness.

I would submit that the NFL is a corrupt authoritarian religion. It is so because it is based on the recognition on the part of its adherents of some higher unseen power (owners) as having control of the destiny of clergy and laity (players and fans), and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship. In fact, one can always see the degree to which a religion is corrupt and its rituals irrational by the degree of fear produced by its violation in any manner (Fromm 1950).

It is my theological assessment that the NFL is performing in the world as an inhumane religion, not just because its rituals require the sacrifice of the bodies of its clergy, but because it is diametrically opposed to humanism and human flourishing.  By humanism I refer to a global philosophy which emphasizes the oneness of the human race, the capacity of man to develop his own powers and to arrive at inner harmony and the establishment of a better world (E. Fromm 1966). This is a humanism rooted in the Christian concept of Imago Dei, or the understanding that humankind is made in the image of the Divine. For me the NFL seems to be a religion rooted in evil. Evil such as racism is carried partly through the violence and evil of individuals. But it is possible as an institutional and historical reality because it is mediated by language, culture, economic, and social policies: by a thousand almost invisible structures and powers that perpetuate prejudice and its debilitating effects (Farley 1990).

All marginal groups in this society who suffer grave injustices, who are victimized by institutionalized systems of domination (race, class, gender, etc.) are faced with the peculiar dilemma of developing strategies that draw attention to one’s plight in such a way that will merit regard and consideration without reinscribing a paradigm of victimization (hooks 1995). The NFL clergy (players) were and are a voice to draw attention to the plight of those on the underside of power, what does it say about the Bishops (owners) of the NFL that they would refuse to stand in solidarity with those who attempt to do good in world?

Consider this week what your religious expression is doing to stand with those on the underside of power?  How are you personally complicit in systemic evil? How will you engage the NFL in light of its moral choices?

Feel free to comment below.

Peace is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Butterworth, Eric. 2001. Spiritual Economics. Unity Villege: Unity Books .

Ejiochi, Ike. 2014. cnbc.com. September 4th. Accessed May 29th, 2018. http://www.cnbc.com/2014/09/04/how-the-nfl-makes-the-most-money-of-any-pro-sport.html.

Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.

Fromm, Eric. 1966. You Shall Be As Gods: A RAdical Interpretation of the Old Testament and its Tradition. New York: Fawcett Primier .

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

hooks, bell. 1995. Killing Rage:Ending Racism. New York : Henry Holt and Company.

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The Courage of Bishop Curry: A Paradigm of Preaching

Bishop CurryIt seems that the world is a buzz with preaching fever. This weekend Bishop Michael Curry the Presiding Prelate and Primate of the Episcopal Church stood and captured the world’s attention for thirteen minutes as he delivered the Homily at the Royal Wedding. After the singing of the choir he did what centuries of preachers before him have done and boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a waiting congregation. What made this occasion so captivating was not just the grandeur of royal customs nor the Bishop’s Black embodiment. What has the world completely enraptured was the power of the message and the courage of the messenger. The Bishop Curry dared to show up authentically and invoke the prophetic preaching tradition of the historic Black Church.

The Black Church, like the communities it represents, is not a monolith. Just as there are multiple ways of constructing Blackness, there are multiple ways of being the Black Church (Touré 2011).  It is true that Bishop Curry presides over a church mostly made up of the dominant culture, however he has brought to his role the sensibilities connected to the Black preaching tradition. Preaching in itself is a liturgical act, a ritual the exercise of communal speech and Michael Curry brought the royal wedding the liberation speech of the community that gave him entrance into the world (Lathrup 1998). He showed up authentically. Black preaching belongs to a discursive formation of resistance. This resistance discourse denotes terms, phrases, figures of speech, concepts, poetry, and songs that are common to a group of subjugated persons, all of which calling them to resist in some way the oppression to which they are subjugated (Hendricks 2011). As he repeatedly lifted up the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the lyrics of Spirituals right in the heart of Imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy Bishop Curry engaged both head and heart in an exercise of speaking truth to power.

 

Bishop CurryStanding on the continent which gave us such theologians as Bultmann, Bart, and Bonhoeffer, Bishop Curry reminded us that Christian theology is language about God’s liberating activity in the world on behalf of the freedom of the oppressed. As James Cone taught us, any talk about God that fails to make God’s liberation of the oppressed it’s starting point is not Christian (Cone 1999). Curry maximized the platform that time and chance graced to him, because he was prepared to be an oracle of truth. That preparation was not solely academic, however that part of preparation bares a large portion of responsibility, but a spiritual preparation that resist the global urge toward commercializing and commodifying every moment.  This is the preaching that comes from a pastoral heart of one who does not see them self as a CEO, rather a loving Shepard. In a time where religious cowardice is running rampant and preaching has been tainted by the tendency toward celebrity, Michael Curry delivered the heart of the Gospel with clarity and passion avoiding the obscene moral emptiness of modern preaching.

Prophetic preaching seeks to paint a new world with the toolkit of oral performance, imagination, and ken intellectual investigation so that the hearer is left with a picture of a preferable future (III 2015).  European and American preaching alike have a complex history of failing miserably to speak to the moral bankruptcy built into the systems of empire, however there is also a tradition for which the call to repentance is a core element. The homily at the Royal Wedding finds the true task of preaching to insist upon both this worldly liberation and otherworldly salvation as the proper loci for Christianity. Bishop Curry shows in his message that he understands to prophesy is not to predict an outcome, but rather to identify concrete evils. To prophesy deliverance is not to call for some otherworldly paradise, but to generate enough faith, hope, and love to sustain the human possibility for more freedom (West 2002).

As we begin our preparation for our next preaching assignments may we take seriously the paradigm offered to us by the excellent preaching of Bishop Curry. May we be aware that preaching makes available to the hearer the old things of the text and ritual as images and words that speak the truth of our world, our lives, and our deaths, our alienation and our need, more deeply than had occurred to them before (Lathrup 1998). Let’s ask ourselves if we have called people out of the complicity with evil and into an active resistance? Have we shown up as our authentic selves knowing that what comes from the heart reaches the heart? Have we been faithful to our vocation as we engage the prognostication of the Gospel?  In short is our preaching worth hearing?

Please feel free to comment below:

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 1999. Speaking The Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis .

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

III, Otis Moss. 2015. Blue Note Preaching in a post- Soul World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Touré. 2011. Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now. New York: Free press.

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophesy Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

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The Televangelism Effect

Televangelism 2In a cultural moment when everything seems to be commodified and utilitarian the conversation about the role of religion has taken on a different tone than at other points in history.  Within ever widening Christian circles religious broadcasting has centered three distinct elements as core to any conversation about liturgy and worship. Those three elements being that liturgy has become increasingly personality driven, crowd dependent, and entertainment oriented (Walton 2009). Regardless of ecclesiastical, theological, or political perspectives of individual churches the impact of mass media and multimedia realities has reformed the way leaders engage the life of the church. These three elements that now ground our conversations and realities mean a new ethos has become normalized within many institutions. This ethos of commodification means that religion is not primarily concerned with being profitable, rather the focus for far too many is that religion has become profit driven! Ritual, broadly speaking, is a shared action expressive of common strivings rooted in common values (Fromm, Psychoanalysis & Religion 1950).  By this definition the rituals of the church have been hijacked and perverted by leaders who are using the church and her liturgies for fame rather than to spread the message of liberation found in the teachings of Jesus.

Culture is not simply an intruding power that one has to resist. It is a space in which one lives, the air one breathes (Volf 2011). Unfortunately, in too many instances, the church has forgotten it is a countercultural organism. Intoxicated with the unfiltered air of the present culture, the church is failing in its responsibility to speak out against the pollutants of culture which fight against humanity’s highest collective and individual self.   Without the ability to offer (and be) a cultural critique, the church has slipped into an insanity of sorts. Whenever one loses the capacity to perceive actuality, one has succumbed to dangerous mental health challenges. The psychotic person builds up an inner world of reality in which they seem to have full confidence. Living in their own world, common factors of reality as perceived by others are unreal to them (Fromm 1947). In this way, the church has become insane, having lost the ability to see the factors that have caused the church to take on the identity of the culture around her.Televangelism

The primary function of our spiritual gatherings is not personality-driven entertainment, designed to captivate crowds who are then motivated to feed the machine of the material success of that central personality. The primary task of our spiritual gatherings is to present people with truths which are their own reason and enjoin practices that are their own justification (Buell 2006). That is to say, we gather together to assist people in producing wholeness, through principles that are themselves whole. We speak that which is virtuous and leads to virtue. Any spirituality, especially that which is organized religion, liberal or conservative, must be not only emotionally satisfying, but intellectually credible, and morally worthy of respect (Maslow 1978).

While it is true that a viable religion is one that has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts, the culture alone cannot dictate the content, intent, or direction of the rituals of that religion (Townes 1995). The church must return to its task of probing the message of Jesus in meaningful ways that become life-giving rituals to the faithful and the questioning alike.  This may mean that the future church is less centered on personality, less entertainment oriented, and less crowd dependent.  It may call for the church to hold the tension between its role as countercultural and contextual. We may have to look at a less hierarchical structure while figuring out how to honor ancient ecclesial roles simultaneously.  Whatever it will mean, it is certain that we need to rethink the way we show up in the age of mass media!

Ask yourself, what are the countercultural elements of worship in your church that need to be magnified? How do you see the interaction of church and media, and its impact on worship? In what ways have your local church disremembered its call?

 

Feel free to comment below.

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Buell, Lawrence, ed. 2006. The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings. New York: The Modern Library .

Fromm, Erich. 1947. Man for Himself : AN Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

—. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Maslow, Abraham H. 1978. Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. New York: Pengiun Books.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

Walton, Jonathan L. 2009. Watch This! The Ethics and asthetics of Black Televangelism. NewYork: New York University Press.

 

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Community

Fundamental to our humanity is the deep longing to belong and to be celebrated. There is within our core the desire to be loved, and to reflect that love back in authenticity.  We are hardwired to need vulnerability even though we live in a world that makes togethervulnerability an unpopular and many

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

times unsafe experience. At the depths of our soul we are communal beings and without faithful community it is impossible to be our highest selves. It is in community our commitments are made stronger, our doubts are soothed, we are validated, our intentions are confirmed, and our memories are more real (Flunder 2005).

Sitting on the plane after spending the weekend with six of the most amazing men preparing to usher our brother into marriage we began to rehearse the events of our excursion. The plane was filled with laughter and joy as we recounted the experiences of our time together, using names that could only be understood in context of the moments that gave birth to them.  Walking off the plan to the sounds of music that had become the soundtrack of our weekend I realized that if everyone could feel the feeling I was experiencing it would revolutionize the world. In a few short days my particularities as a Black, male, professional, and all the other things that make up my identity had been affirmed by the collective. Those intangibles I needed to feel supported and seen in the world and in my work, had been gifted to me by the experience of being with.  I knew in that moment that the weekend had been a sacred religious moment of transcendence that was nothing short of Liturgy. This was a liturgy born of true spirituality and nurtured by community.  In this particular case, it was a masculine spirituality giving birth to the liturgy and ritual known as a “Bachelor party weekend”.  Masculine spirituality among these brothers was a vision that seeks to explore and incarnate. It is not concerned with living in a world without women or with women as subordinates, rather it wants men to exist as co-creators with women in healthy relationships. It imagines a world where men and woman and indeed nonbinary siblings are experiencing their own fullness, vitality, and vision (James 1996).

 

What if we take seriously as liturgical theologians that Liturgy is first and foremost the work of the people? Church – in the Christian tradition –   in its most basic and constitutive sense refers to communal gathering around text, meal, and washing as these are interpreted as having to do with the person and work of Jesus (Lathrup 1998).  Let us not forget the church’s task is to assist its people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998). Community is the birth place of liturgy, it is where we ritualize our common beliefs, passions, goals, and relationships.  Without understanding our community our liturgies become vain oblations to an unknown God.  They lose the functional integrity necessary to be relevant. People stop engaging liturgy when the liturgy fails to be in service of and a product of authentic community. The influential philosopher Josiah Royce spoke of Beloved community as a perfectly joined lived unity of individual men [sic] joined in one divine chorus and that is the birth place of liturgy (Marsh 2005).cry for help 1048377

Ritual is an integral part of life. It provides actions and forms through which people meet, carry out social activities, celebrate, and commemorate. Rituals born from community become the glue that holds our hum

 

anity in mutual responsibility and accountability. Liturgy is ritual which addresses the urge to comprehend human existence; the search for marked pathways as one moves from one stage of life to the next; and the longing to know one’s part in the vast wonder and mystery of the cosmos (S.J. 2002).  This week I invite you to ask yourself what is the ethos of your community? How is your community expressed in the liturgy? What is missing from the liturgy that your community needs? How do you as a theologian define community and what role does that definition play in the way do your work?

Feel free to comment below!

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

 

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.

James, David C. 1996. What Are They Saying About Masculine Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Marsh, Charles. 2005. The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice From the Civil Rights Movement to Today. New York: Basic Books .

S.J., James L. Empereur. 2002. Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person. New York: Continuum.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

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An Homage to James Cone: A Call to Action

James ConeThis weekend the world experienced the transition of one of the great theologians of the 20th century. James. H. Cone was the father of Black Liberation Theology and a major influence on all subsequent liberation theologies. While all liberation theology engages a hermeneutic of suspicion, the work of James Cone taught us a hermeneutic of hunger. A hermeneutic of suspicion begins by suspecting every text, every tradition, in terms of its legitimizing role in promoting the domination of the particular tradition. The hermeneutic of hunger suggests that the Bible is read as the answer to what oppression, illness, lack of education, and apathy inflict on human beings (Soelle 2001). The experience of being oppressed by gender, race, or poverty does not limit the theology that emerges to women, people of color, or the poor. Rather, the particular experience of oppression(s)  brings into sharper focus what one asserts the heart of the gospel truly to be for one’s own time (McFague 1987).  All liberation theology belongs to a branch of religious thought that claims that theology should be done from the purview of the poor and oppressed (Perez 2007). Dr. Cone not only taught us that the Gospel is Universal, but that it is also particular and those particularities matter.

Black Liberation Theology analyzes the condition of Blackness in light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ both to create a new understanding of Black dignity among Black people and to provide the necessary soul in that people to destroy racism (Cone 1997).  Black theology recognizes that God, through Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, works with the poor as they learn to love themselves enough to practice their total freedom and create full humanity on earth as it is in heaven (Hopkins 1999). In the larger history of Christian theological reflection, Black Liberation theology has endeavored to give substance and systemic expression to a theological perspective that sees the work of salvation in the broadest of terms (Warnock 2014). Built largely on the Hebrew scriptures narrative of the Exodus and the Gospel’s account of the person and work of Jesus, Black Liberation theology establishes a theological foundation for the complete emancipation of Black people from white oppression by whatever means Black people deem necessary (Cone 1997).

James Cone 2An ethic of liberation arises out of love for ourselves and for humanity. This is the essential ingredient of liberation without which the struggle turns into a denial of what Divine liberation means (Williams 1993).  For the Black Liberation theologian, the fundamental act of God, the doing and ethics of God, is Divine liberation for all humanity. Earthly emancipation for those in bondage, both spiritual and material bondage, must operate in a co-constitutive fashion (Kornegay 2013).

While Cone’s work lifts the Exodus motif in ways I personally find troubling, without a doubt his contribution to the world brings a fuller understanding to the nature of the Divine, and the person and work of Jesus. As a constructive theologian with a liberative lens I see the contemporary moment as calling us to move beyond the Exodus motif to the Exile motif. The exodus motif brings with it the idea of a chosen people. This is problematic in that for Black people in America that would mean one group is chosen over another.  For white America that means God leaves them for the Black slave community. The chosen people narrative has failed this nation miserably. The exile motif, on the other hand, promises a God who is with and gives Black people the freedom to claim and name God differently than the Eurocentric God given during the ravages of slavery.  God’s response to the Hagar story in the Hebrew scriptures is not liberation. God participates in Hagar’s and her child’s survival (Williams 1993). The exile motif demands that both the robes of academe and the pulpit work together to frame a theology that accounts for the identity of all the Kindom (intentionally used, as per womanist terminology) of God.

What will your theological voice call for in this moment? As we consider this moment when the baton is passing and one of our luminaries has joined the great cloud of witnesses, what will be your contribution to this generation? Have you said anything that will help light the path of those around you or behind you?

The task of theology is to critique and revise the language of the church. This includes not only the language of uttered speech but also the language of radical involvement in the world (Cone 1997).

 

Please feel free to post a comment below.

 

Peace Is Possible,

 

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Cone, James. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Perez, Joe. 2007. Soulfully Gay: How Harvard, Sex, Drugs, and Integral Philosophy Drove Me Crazy and Brought Me Back to God. Boston & London: Integral Books.

Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God- Talk. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

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