Well, the big S-Bowl has finally come and passed. I have to confess, though, I did watch part of it in between excursions to the Military History Channel and a snooze. When I came to with about 5-min remaining it had turned into a game and it was almost captivating. Somebody ran something back 109 yrds and set a all-time record, and the commentators were positively orgasmic. Probably the most fascinating thing about the game for me was the 34-min power outage. A friend of mine was there at the dome working the video feed and Fb was full of speculation that Dave had tripped over a cord and unplugged the power. Anyway, I made it a point to not watch the booty-shakin’ Beyonce half-time show or any of the pre-game nonsense–which I was told started at 11-a.m a full six and a half hours before kickoff.
My disinterest is at least partially a self-imposed repentance for being a “rabid” sports fan for most of my life. A few years ago I knew my interest was fading because I no longer memorized the height and weight of all the starters on my alma mater’s basketball team, and I no longer spent five minutes studying each box score for the Cleveland Indians or the Orlando Magic. A decade ago I estimated that I had spent about 562 days worth of time during my life either watching sports, playing sports or fantasizing about sports–and that was a conservative estimate. Finally, I felt that post-60, I was at long last growing up.
Six months ago I stopped listening to talk radio, and my spirit immediately brightened. Before that, about six or seven years ago, I stopped listening to sports talk radio. One of the AM stations that I used to listen to in the car had changed from sports talk to political talk. I found that I didn’t miss the sports blather at all, and for a while I became moderately addicted to all the jaw-boning about politics.
I guess I relapsed a few weeks ago as I found myself listening to talk radio again a few min here and a few more there–well, that’s how an addiction starts. And some of what I was listening to was sports talk. The aether was full of impassioned commentary about Lance Armstrong doing performance enhancing drugs and the Mante Teo girlfriend hoax. I couldn’t turn on Yahoo or look at the newspaper without seeing more commentary on these two almost completely irrelevant human beings. Anyway, they were quickly out of the news because the Stupor Bowl was looming. In listening to the pre-bowl blather I was struck again by how much this all matters to some people–especially the guys who host the talk shows: The Ravens defense becomes of cosmic import. The significance of Colin Kaepernick’s being adopted and his tat-covered arms are topics of considerable speculation, etc., etc, etc. Today, the hot topic was where MVP Joe Flacco would rate in the pantheon of S-bowl winning quarterbacks–about sixth or seventh according to the hosts and the callers.
Around six years ago I published a book titled Satan’s Top Ten Tricks. It became an instant bestseller–not. Well, anyway sales were brisk at the Northland Church bookstore, and I sold a few hundred more on Amazon and out of the trunk of my car. Some of my observations about the enemy–or as Lewis’s Screwtape calls him: “Our Father Below” resonated with folks.
Trick Number 5 is Distraction: “Filling our thoughts with gossip, obsessions, trivia and irrelevant amusements.” In revisiting that particular chapter I was struck by how clumsy my style was seven years ago when I wrote it. I could do a better job today. However, I believe the idea is still valid. Our human nature abhors a vacuum and we fill up empty heads with thoughts that push the pleasure button in our brain–whatever it takes to release a little serotonin or dopamine. I believe that the enemy and his helpers play on this tendency and direct our focus. A little subtle shove here, a little subtle shove there–“hey look at the ass on that one, whoa.” Guys fantasize mostly about sex and when they’re not thinking about that, then they’re thinking about sports, or cars, or maybe sports cars. I’m not sure what girls think about, but it’s probably something a bit less trivial.
I prefaced the chapter with this paragraph:
“Satan has a field day with this particular trick because it plays on tendencies that are so common, so universal, so human, so seemingly innocuous. Who has not gossiped a bit? Who has not been obsessed with something or someone just beyond their grasp? Who has not spent a few hours focused on the ups and downs of some athlete, team or celebrity? Who has not spent mindless hours gazing at whatever happened to be on the tube at the moment? Who has not filled an afternoon or evening playing cards, chess, Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit? It often seems so innocent; and done in moderation it usually is innocent. However, the feelings engendered by this trick are boredom and cynicism, and the pitfall is in distracting us to the point of our being useless as Christians.”
Our minds need a break from the stress and tedium of day-to-day living and amusements provide that. However, there are folks whose obsessions and amusements become their life, and a 95% preoccupation with the worldly doesn’t allow much time for Jesus, and I think Satan is absolutely thrilled when the airwaves are full of impassioned talk about this team or that, or this or that politician. Most of this talk qualifies as gossip. It’s rarely about the love of game, or ideas–its more often about personalities, and when you talk about and speculate about people, it’s gossip. It also causes a lot of anger; when I listened daily to those commentaries I would often get mad as hell–and all about things I could do absolutely nothing about. But anger gets the neurotransmitters flowing just like pleasure.
The enemy uses “amusements” as a way of focusing our attention on the world and the flesh and away from the Eternal. The word “amusement” is derived from French and means literally “to stare at.” So what have we been staring at lately? I have 160-odd channels to choose from, plus the internet and five movie theaters within easy driving distance. I’m likely amused and distracted far more than is good for me. Churches it seems even feel compelled to provide entertainment to hold their flock’s attention. Our culture is more and more focused on amusing and entertaining. It is an addictive process: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to endulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Eph. 4:19). Paul nailed it–with a continual lust for more.
Paul gives us a model in Philippians 4:8 on where our focus should be: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”