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Purists in Sports and Church

November 21, 2009

I understand many are not big futbol fans (aka soccer), but a very controversial event happened this week of huge importance to the world’s most popular game.  A game took place between a big country with loads of talent, France, and little country with a big heart, Ireland.  The prize would be a trip to next year’s World Cup.  Without question the biggest sporting event in the world.  The Olympics are a sideshow in comparison.  France was down a goal in overtime when one of the world’s most famous players committed a hand ball that allowed France to score and effectively eliminate Ireland’s hopes.  Thierry Henry admitted afterward to committing the foul but said it was the refs call and even said it would be fair to replay the game.  The foul was not called and an entire nation’s dreams dashed.  As a result, once again a huge debate is going on about using technology to cover human error.

This highlights the cry by “purists” in sports to not allow TV replay’s to interfere with the game.  One of the controversies that continues to come up in sports is that of using technology to get “the right call”.  FIFA, soccer’s governing body refuses to allow replay.  Major League Baseball has also had a long hard fight to use replay.  In both cases, the sports are attempting to honor the human element of the game.  These old school sports of baseball and soccer either are fighting for the sake of maintaining “purity” in the game or need to give way to technologies promises.

A similar debate is heating up in the church as it relates to the use of the internet and allowing “online” church.  Purists certainly abound crying that we should not allow technology to intrude to that extent.  Others are simply saying we need to get on board with the wave of the future so that the church is not technologically left behind like before (a misrepresentation of church history in my opinion).  The problem is one that is cutting across all aspects of culture these days.  To what extent do we allow technology to intercede for actual physical human presence and decision making?  Will the “purity” of the game, or church, be damaged by technology or will it be enhanced?

I see at least a few significant in this…

1) I believe technology, for all of its benefits, offers a false hope.  Everything from computers to medicine give the false hope of infinitely increasing prosperity, comforts, abilities, and cures.  Lets be real.  For all of its benefits it has created equal if not worse terrors.  This is where an eco-terrorist could go off…  However, sticking with my sports connection, consider the NFL’s use of technology.  Has it really enhanced the game?  Replay challenges are annoyingly complicated, long, calls are more often confirmed, and have only heightened our awareness of how close the calls really are.  Besides, its part of the game to be able to yell at the ref.  Theologically, sin has affected ALL aspects of creation not just human error, and technology is no different.  Technology, if we are not careful will become a tower of babel especially if it continues to divide the “have’s” and the “have nots”.

2) Human presence is very important and valued.  God created us in his image, and technology is one of the ways we can reflect creativity.  But, technology has no intuition.  Malcom Gladwell is brilliant in highlighting the value of human intuition in his book Blink.  He is right, all the computers in the world can be fouled by a fake but the wealth of real live human experience cannot be replicated.  There is an art to human work and involvement.  I don’t want sports or church to be reduced to mechanical elements.  There is an art to when a ref intervenes, makes calls, or lets play continue based on the circumstances and environment.  A strict or technical interpretation of a rule is not always the best one.  It isn’t grace oriented either.  As a pastor, I can see things about people in an instant that is extremely limited without real physical presence and experience.  I don’t see how a pastor can use intuition over the internet.  80% of communication is non-verbal.  People will use internet church as a fig leaf, to run away from confrontation and their problems.  It is what sinners do.  God calls us out from behind the bush, out of the darkness and into the light.  In so doing, he cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

3) One last beef I have, is that technology is being used to remove supposedly “mundane” tasks.  Jobs that could be given to the weak, poor, and undereducated are replaced by “cheaper” and more “efficient” technological solutions.  All of life is good.  All of it is can be made holy if received with thanksgiving and done as being done as for the Lord himself.

4) Finally, in keeping my conviction that the gospel is at the heart of all good theology.  Jesus came in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2-3).  Jesus died on the cross.  He didn’t send a video replay of your sins or a text message that he loved you.  He took care of it in person.  The solution to problems created by human error and limits, is the all encompassing Jesus (Col 1:15-20).  Grace, forgiveness and reconciliation is the means.  Ultimately, he will dwell with us in a city in the flesh.  Then we will see face to face.

Then… Ireland won’t get robbed and will get justice… at least because I don’t think France will get out of their group.  Their coach is terrible.

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