Saturday, September 20, 2014

Faith, Family, and Football

Many of my peers would read the title of this post and say, "Yep, those are the three most important things to most southern Christians."  In fact, as I type this blog post, I am working on my sermon for tomorrow and listening to College Gameday in the background, occasionally flipping to watch for a few minutes.  As for the family part, I have never had a lot of family, and at the moment I am not close to any of them.  I have therefore extended family to include the family of God, my fellow Christians with whom I work, attend church, and do other things.

The real reason I am writing this post is to talk about rivalry--particularly the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.  As most people who might read this know, a large percentage of people in our great state have a strong allegiance to one side or the other.  You either yell, "War Eagle," or "Roll Tide."  And you especially yell your phrase of choice when confronted by fans of the rival school.  Perhaps the worst thing I have done in this regard happened a few years ago while driving on the interstate.  

It was 2010, the famous $cam Newton, Camback, Auburn national championship year.  There was a truck in front of me with some sort of Alabama "A" or Roll Tide sticker, I forget which.  As I prepared to pass them, I looked over in the passenger's seat and saw my orange ballcap with the embroidered navy blue "AU" symbol.  As I went past them, I held up that symbol, so that the driver in the other lane could clearly see it, and I silently mouthed several times, "War Eagle!  War Eagle!"  Here I was, a pastor and teacher, setting such a good example for future generations.

While I do believe a good natured rivalry and "ribbing" are harmless, I think we sometimes take it too far.  Growing up, many of my friends were Alabama fans, and they were the first to let me know if Auburn lost.  In return, I hated all things Crimson and moved elephants WAY down my list of favorite animals.  It was all tigers and eagles for me.  My favorite teams were Auburn and whoever played Alabama any given week.  I even stooped as low as to root for LSU.  

This brings me back to the family part.  God has a sense of humor.  He put a die hard Auburn fan and Auburn graduate in the middle of a crimson sea.  While there are a few more of us orange and blue faithful in my part of southwest Alabama, we all swim against a strongly represented tide.  Over the past few years, I have learned to love many of these crimson-clad people.  They are a majority of my coworkers, my parishioners at church, and my good friends.  I have taught many of their children, some for all their years of high school.  And some of them have even gone on to attend that university in the sky, the dream of many Alabama children.

It is for that reason that I can now put two words together that I once considered off-limits.  It is a phrase that has given me more pain than anything physical.  It has been hurled at me in abusive tones, mocking tones, and even children are taught to say it before they can say "mama" or "dada."  Yes, I, Kenneth W. Bowen, orange and blue, through and through, say Roll Tide!  

How? My fellow Auburn fans may ask.  "Traitor!" you are screaming.  It is because in faith, family, and football they are for me in that order of importance.  And since I established that faith and family go hand in hand for me, I can say those words when I am proud of one of my students for making 100 on his first college precalculus quiz.  I can say "Roll tide," when one of the sweetest Alabama fans I have ever known, Mrs. Christine Bryars, also wishes my Tigers well.  I miss her greatly, but there are many others like her who pick up the flag of good sportsmanship.

Don't get me wrong, you still won't find me wearing crimson.  You won't find me yelling "Go Bama!" when I'm watching them play.  And I might still give a little tease if they lose.  But I promise I won't hold up an Auburn emblem and yell War Eagle if I pass you on the interstate.  I won't wish bad things on your team.  I can wish a school well because I love the people affiliated with it.  So for that reason, I say Roll Tide.  But I still shout WAR EAGLE!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sports, Humilty, and Trash Talk

Richard Sherman and his comments following last Sunday's 49ers vs. Seahawks game have been one of the major topics of discussion in the sports world this week.  While every side of the story has probably been analyzed multiple times, I would like to add my own point of view on the situation.

1. Sports - What are sports, especially professional sports?  I would argue that their main purpose is entertainment.  It is a multi-BILLION dollar enterprise that frankly has way too much money involved when we have hungry and homeless people around.  However, with moral problems aside, most of us enjoy a good sports contest.  We watch and hope that our favorite team wins.  Admittedly, many people allow sports to reign a bit higher in their lives than entertainment (this Auburn fan has been guilty of that), but ultimately it is a show whose purpose is to entertain fans.

After Sunday's game, I was disappointed that my favorite NFL team, the 49ers, had lost the game, especially on a play that was so close to being the winning touchdown.  However, a guy named Richard Sherman made the play of his life to tip that ball and his teammate intecepted it to end the game.  I was not happy.  I was mad at the referees for all the bad calls.  And then they let Sherman have a microphone...  He called Michael Crabtree a "sorry" receiver and bragged about being the best corner in the game.  This brings me to my second point.

2. Humility - Most of us appreciate and expect humility from sports figures when they give interviews.  I appreciated this year when any Auburn player or coach was interviewed about his success, he immediately gave credit to his teammates and coaches for his own success.  I believe that is the Christ-like thing to do and in most cases the right thing to do.  I was not happy with Sherman's comments and I quickly joined the bandwagon that said Sherman had no class and was a thug.  Most people don't like trash talk.

3. Trash talk - I know from hearing players and coaches talk that trash talk happens quite often on the field, most likely every single play.  And we are okay with that.  It's part of the game, right?  But when those players have a microphone shoved in their faces only minutes after making the biggest plays of their lives, which also involved a player on the opposing team putting his hand to your facemask and shoving you backward, then maybe some of that trash talk bleeds over to the interviews, and suddenly it is not okay.  He crossed a line.  He was supposed to give everyone else credit.

I used to watch the WWF (yes it was WWF back then).  The best wrestlers were not the strongest or fastest but the ones who could trash talk the best.  Think about it.  The Rock, Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Mick Foley... all masters of the mic and trash talk.  Why are we okay with our favorite professional wrestler making a career out of trash talk, but we want our favorite NFL player to give Tim Tebow answers?  Ultimately, Richard Sherman is like a WWE wrestler.  He understands that if he wants the most attention, then he needs to trash talk the best and then back it up on the field.  So far he has done it.

I switched sides on the Sherman debate when I read about who he really was.  He's a very intelligent guy (degree from Stanford), very generous guy (runs charities and donates generously to them), and his teammates love him.  I think Sherman is an actor playing a part to increase his popularity.  As an entertainer, isn't that what he should be doing?  If he is then giving more and more to good causes, then why should we be concerned?  I know there are many viewpoints on this issue, but this is mine.  Richard Sherman is a professional entertainer who uses trash talk as a means to improve his brand, and by the way he backs it up with his play on the field.  If you don't like it, then as a wise man once said, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

David Sermon Series - Unsung Heroes

This is the sixth sermon in a series I have been doing on the life of David.  I may go back and post the other five if I get enough positive reaction.  My mom wanted to read my sermons, so I am going to start trying to post them here weekly.  I am open to comments and criticism, but please keep it civil and if you have a problem with something I say then you can pm me on Facebook or send an email.  I pray that God's word blesses you as much as it does me when I study it for these sermons.

- Cap'n Pastor Ken

1 Samuel 25 

A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.

While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!

“‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.

10 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.

14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

18 Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs[b] of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.


I am a big fan of comic book superheroes.  This past week, I had the chance to see the new movie Man of Steel about Superman.  On the 4th of July, I proudly wore my Captain America shirt.  There is something about these heroes that we appreciate.  Maybe because we live in a world where we so often see evil having its way, it is nice to see good triumph over evil in these superhero stories.  Sadly, in real life we do not have superheroes with super powers who can fly, throw cars around, or shoot lasers from their eyes.  But I think another thing that superheroes teach us is that there are heroes found in ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  You won’t see any movies made of these heroes, and they hardly get any recognition.  They are often called unsung heroes.  Today’s scripture is the story of one of those unsung heroes.

David – the Superhero

We often see these larger than life characters in the scriptures that seem like Biblical versions of Superheroes.  David is one of those characters.  He starts out as a shepherd boy, but then we find out he has already killed lions and bears with his bare hands even as a boy.  He shows up at the battle lines and faces down the biggest guy out there and takes him down.  He becomes a leader in Israel’s armies and wins every battle he fights, earning the love and respect of all Israel.  Even when Saul comes after him, David seems to have powers of invisibility to stay away from him. When David has the chance to take Saul's life, he does what any superhero would do and spares his life.  David is the kind of hero that would sell a lot of comic books and movies.

But in this story, we will find that David is not perfect.  For the time being, Saul has stopped pursuing David and the two men have gone their separate ways.  Saul went back to Israel and David and his men made their living in the wilderness.  They happened upon a wealthy man named Nabal with 3000 sheep who had reached the time of year to shear the sheep.  This was usually a time of celebration and feasting.  Many sheep would also be slaughtered to provide meat for the rest of the year.  This process of shearing and preparation for the feast was a common occurrence, and all the bandits knew when that time rolled around.  It was very common for men like Nabal to lose a lot of sheep to thieves and have a lot of servants killed as well.

Enter our superhero, David, and his small army.  They offered their services during this time and kept watch on Nabal’s property.  The Bible tells us that not one thing was lost during this time, a very rare occurrence!  But David, the one who fought for truth and justice was making sure all the bad guys stayed away.  After the shearing was done, David then had a request.  Nabal was very wealthy and had more than enough food and drink to last a long time.  In exchange for his services, David requested some supplies for his men.  This was pretty much expected in this area of the world at this time.  It was almost like an unwritten law that you provided hospitality to those who helped you out.

Nabal’s response reveals that he lives up to his name, which actually means “fool.”  He basically said, “I don’t know David, so why should I give him anything?”  When David received Nabal’s response, he reacts in a way that is uncharacteristic.  David loses his cool.  He tells his men to get their swords and get ready for battle, because they are going after Nabal for this insult!  This is the same David who just recently showed great wisdom in sparing the life of King Saul, and now he loses his temper with Nabal, intending to kill him and all the men of his household.  Our superhero is not being very heroic.  Maybe a weakness has been revealed.  Whatever the case, David is about to make a horrible mistake, and several people, most of them innocent, are about to lose their lives.

Enter the Unsung Hero

That’s when we first hear about another hero.  Abigail is far from a superhero.  She is not a prophet, a priest, or an anointed king.  She is not a fighter or a skilled diplomat.  She is a woman, and in that day it meant she was more like a piece of property than a person.  She was probably forced to marry Nabal because it was a good deal for her father.  But rather than accept her station and just let things happen, she decided to be a hero.

She must have already developed a reputation as being intelligent and being willing to listen, because one of the servants went to her with the news:  Nabal is being a fool again.  This time he has gone and made the wrong man angry!  There are four hundred armed men heading our way, and it looks like they have murder on their minds.  Most women would have just let the men handle things, but there was something about Abigail that made her a hero in this story.

1. Abigail was a woman of action.  In verse 25, we read, “Abigail acted quickly.”  She was aware of the situation, she knew the right thing to do, and she did it.  I believe that someone who is a hero is someone who takes action where others may just sit back and watch.  James agrees.  He writes in 4:17, “17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  That’s pretty heavy words!  Not only should people of God act but we are actually committing sin if we are in the position to do the right thing and fail to do so.

A few weeks ago at the Daytona NASCAR race, there was a bad accident that sent pieces of cars flying into the stands.  One man was struck by a tire in the chest and had several broken ribs.  Thankfully, there was a military doctor in the stands nearby, and he immediately took action.  He did what he was trained to do on the battlefield to help stabilize the man and get him to an ambulance.  The injured man survived thanks to the doctor’s quick action.  Sometimes God has the right person in the right place at the right time to do the right thing, but that person still has to be willing to act.  Maybe you will be given the chance to make a difference in someone’s life, and I pray that you are ready to act when the chance comes.

2. Abigail was courageous.  The word courageous means a person who is not deterred by danger or pain.  Abigail knew that her husband would be very angry and that she could be putting herself in danger, but she knew that none of that would matter if she did not get to David before he got to them.  She was willing to risk her own well-being to do the right thing and fix this bad situation.  I appreciate those who have courage to put themselves in harms way for others.  I think of our military men and women who sacrifice time with their families and volunteer to go to hostile places to defend the freedom they believe in.  I also think of the firemen and policemen who respond immediately when tragedies happen, putting the lives and safety of others ahead of their own.  It was tragic to see the firemen lost in the fires last week, but I know they would willingly step in harms way again if they thought it would help put that fire out.

But you don’t have to step into a warzone or a raging inferno to be courageous.  We often think that a person who has courage is not afraid, but that is not true.  Courage means that even when you are afraid, you still move forward.  Now more than ever, we need Christians who have courage.  We need Christian parents and grandparents who will stand up and tell the world, “I will raise my children to know what is right and wrong by God’s standards and not by yours!”  But don’t limit it to your children.  Have the courage to teach other children right and wrong too, because we have many children out there with no guidance or the wrong guidance.  

 I will tell you that if we leave it up to our secular society to raise our children, then we will continue to see more and more of our children turn to homosexuality.  We will see more teenage pregnancy.  We will see more teen suicide.  Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death in America among young people?  So many people feel they have no reason to live, because they have not been taught about Jesus and do not have the family of God to lean upon, and that is because we have not had the courage to witness to them.  Abigail saved lives with her courage, and we can too!

3. Abigail was humble.  I say that we need to take action and have the courage to stand up for what we believe, but there is a right and wrong way to go about it.  When Abigail approached David, she got off her donkey and bowed down with her face to the ground as a sign of surrender.  It is ironic that this is the same posture David took when he approached Saul in the previous chapter.  Abigail referred to David with the title of Lord, gave him the food and supplies, and left the decision in his hands.  There was no yelling, no threats, and no wheeling and dealing.  Because of the way she handled the situation, David changed his mind about what he was going to do.  Later, after Nabal died, David even took Abigail for his wife because he admired her wisdom and courage so much.

When we choose to be a hero, we must do so courageously but we must also do so humbly.  Those two things are hard to put together sometimes, but we see them here in Abigail.  When we choose to make our beliefs known, we cannot force them upon others.  We cannot make them change their minds.  I think that is one of the biggest mistakes Christians have made throughout history.  We approach people with a lack of humility.  We know we are right and we are going to make them believe it even if we have to drive it into their heads.  God never calls us to convert people, because only His Holy Spirit can do that.  He calls us to tell them and witness to them by the way we love them.  I have had to learn to allow people to disagree with me and still show them the love of Jesus.  Then I must pray that somehow, by my example and teaching, they can see the truth.

So you want to be a hero?  It doesn’t take superpowers.  It just takes common ordinary people, like Abigail, and like you and me, who are willing to do the right thing.  The best part is that God is with us and will give us what we need to be successful when we are willing to be a hero.  You may be an unsung hero.  You may not get any medals, trophies, or songs written about you, but you may also change a life, and there is no greater reward than that.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Aye Capn

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

The words of this poem are often regarded as inspirational, and they even lent themselves to a movie also entitled Invictus about the South African soccer team's importance to the people of South Africa during a transition from apartheid to the leadership of Nelson Mandela.  I find it odd that Mandela, a self-professing Christian, found encouragement from a poem that suggests that the self, and not God, is the "captain" of his soul.

I started this blog to share some of my thoughts on religion, politics, literature, video games, music, and whatever else I may decide to share.  The name of the blog, "The Captain's Chair," has a twofold meaning.

First, I am known in my gaming circles as "Capn" or "Captain" because I once played a character named CapnCrunch on a forgotten game called Shadowbane.  But through that game, I made a lot of good friends that I still game with today.  So in one way, this blog is my chair in which I sit to share my thoughts with those who care to read them.

Secondly, I thought of the poem "Invictus" and the concept of being the captain of your own soul vs. having God as its captain.  It is truly a constant battle for human beings over the captain's chair.  As Paul suggested in Romans 7, we Christians have an inward struggle over the captaincy.  The sanctified part of me puts God in control, and indeed He is in control of the greater part of my life.  However, there is still that "body of death" that likes to hang around.  But praise be to God, if I put Jesus in the captain's chair, then he helps me deal with that dead body, those attitudes and habits that do not look like the image of Christ.  That's what a life of sanctification is all about.  We turn over the captain's chair to the one who can truly right the ship, and we must continue to daily turn it over to Him.

In closing, I would like to share the words of another poet. Reese Roper is probably my favorite songwriter of all time, known for his work in Five Iron Frenzy and Brave Saint Saturn.  The following lyrics are from their version of "Invictus," found on the album Anti-Meridian.  Their version records a man who has been trying to be the captain of his own soul, only to find himself in darkness.  But God's love and grace are unstoppable and will break through that darkness to find him.

I've been breaking my backonly to show You,how very lost one can be,And bitterness fires through me.
The brilliance that wasis flickering cold,slowly burning to ash.I'm choking on pride,I'm closing my eyes,'till one day I'm scared to go back.
You part the shadows,Light of the World.Destroy the blindnessPeace Eternal.
Take this broken heart,if it brings You praise,Take this beaten soul,shivering hands I will raise.
Hope Unstoppable,Sing the morning sun,Wake up oh sleeper,the Daylight has come.

You are, You are,Invincible.You are You are,Unbreakable.