It’s Tebow Time: A Lesson in Being Human

Ok. Truth be told, I am not a big Tim Tebow fan. For those who live productive and meaningful lives and do not know who he is, Tim was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in college (trust me, that is a BIG award) and now plays in the professional ranks though has not enjoyed a good career. His style of play, his critics contend, does not match the needed skill sets for the pros. Yet Tim remains profoundly popular due to his clean-cut, squeaky clean Christian image and boyish good looks.


Tim is known for frequently pointing upwards to God, praying openly on the field and thanking Jesus Christ for everything (though his interceptions are brought about by satanic influence, I assume).  I am not a big fan of such ostentatious spiritual arrogance and frequently find myself cheering for whatever team he is playing against.  Don’t get me wrong, he seems like a nice enough guy and it would probably be a delight to sit down and drink a few near beers with him, though I would like to ask Tim if it would be ok if I could visit his church sanctuary and play football, because he is visiting my football sanctuary and playing church. Pray to God, point to Mecca, or light a candle on your own time NFL players, this is football. I am all for praying–I also am all for masturbating–time and place people.


I am still waiting for the first NFL player to score a touchdown and point downwards while screaming into the camera, “Hail Satan!” Imagine that! Hell, even a shout out to Allah would be remarkable.  I guess only Jesus follows football.

Currently Tim is being criticized for, apparently, being unhappy in his role with the New York Jets and the offense they are running. ESPN’s Merrill Hoge said Tebow is “phony as a three-dollar bill,” apparently for his outspoken dislike of his role on the team.  In many ways, Tebow has set himself up for such criticism because he is so outspoken about his faith and beliefs, thus he is under the microscope constantly. Perhaps some find it inconsistent for Tebow to be praising God for the good on the field and then whine over the bad off the field.

Yet I personally have no problem with Tebow complaining about whatever Tebow wants to complain about: He is human.

Whatever religion, ethnicity, culture, profession, or region of the world you are from, we all share the same predicament of being human.  Yes, I may not have a lot to say with someone from a small village in Asia, for example, though rest assured we share a similar brain, we both defecate, we need food for sustenance, share a particular temperament and need a community to survive. We humans are just like that.  Mother Theresa farted and Ghandi burped, trust me. I would imagine both even complained from time to time.

In the end, humans will act human.  I have known atheist idiots and atheist saints. I have known religious idiots and religious saints and everything in between. Why? The nature of a person is the nature of the person. Slap whatever title you like on yourself or those around you, the only name badge that really matters is that badge found deep within the window to the soul.

Tebow is upset. Yes, we humans feel that emotion. We are allowed. So Tebow or any other player can choose to use the football field as their own sanctuary to God, fine. Though in the end, Tim’s not phony nor inconsistent, he is human. If we are under the illusion that one’s pious, sanctimonious and grotesque public displays of spirituality actually make that person any different, that’s our bad.

Cry away Timmy boy, we humans learn the most about this world while in tension.


On Bullshit


Bullshit. I just love that word.

My first literal encounter with bullshit was when I was about 10 years old.  As a child I would frequently go fishing with my dad and uncle to various lakes around Southern Cal. On one particular expedition to Lake Piru the fish were not biting so I decided to take a walk. Lo and behold on this walk I discovered my first real true-to-life pile of real bullshit: A close encounter of the bullshit kind.

I gazed in youthful awe at its tremendous girth. Never a child to back away from experiencing anything, it was not enough to look at the big steamy pile of excrement, I needed to, ah, eh, hmmm, find out more. I got close enough to smell it…no odor.  Its appearance intrigued me so I decided to lift it off the ground ever so gently. Even at the tender age of 10 I had heard of cow chipping contests, in which participants tossed bullshit for distance, so, appeased by its odorless presence and apparent lack of sticky content, I picked it up.  That is when I realized the pinpoint accuracy of the term in the cultural conversation—though large and intimidating, it was an odorless, nearly weightless, very dry piece of nothing—a pile of digested grass.

Hence, bullshit. Bullshit is an argument, talk, or piece of information used for intimidation/entertainment of any variety, designed to strike fear, compliance or enticement into its audience.  In reality, this type of information is bullshit… it means nothing, has no inherent value and sounds impressive though has no substance at all. Author Neil Postman calls it “inert information.”

Our culture is full of it.

Recently, a student of mine, Odos, elected to use a very unique presentation aid for his claim which argued against my assertion that most information we receive on any given day is bullshit; living next to a cow farm he brought in a literal pile of fresh and uncorrupted bullshit. His presentation was one that has forever changed my mind on the concept. His argument brought me in tension. He asserted that bullshit does not exist independently on its own as bullshit, rather it is up to each of us to determine what is bullshit in our lives and what is not.


In class I would contend, for example, that the latest Lindsey Lohan’s brush with the law, Kim Kardashian’s ass, or even a crime in our city was bullshit information—designed to entice and titillate, without any real intrinsic value—leading to no meaningful action.  However, Odos made the claim that all of that information COULD be relevant if we choose it to be. We could try to set up an intervention with Lindsey, help with Kim’s ass woes or commit to investigate and solve the crime in our city—our decision.  A stretch to be sure, though I get it. Nice. Very nice.

He proudly pointed to his huge pile of shit resting comfortably on the front table and stated that we could call that thing bullshit if we choose OR we could plant some seeds in it and a beautiful flower could spring forth and call it life, our choice. I love students who argue with me. I learn so much.

Odos gets it.  His point is quite valid and he now has the filter to begin the process of recognizing what is bullshit and what is not, even if the bullshit is different for different people.  We cannot plant flowers and give life to all the information we receive on a daily basis, though we must be able to toss aside and eliminate that which is bullshit in our particular daily life between that which is relevant, meaningful and life-giving—while making wise and rational decisions accordingly.

I never really thought my walk that morning back in 1973 in a cow pasture would add up to much… in fact, I though it was just bullshit at the time.

Silly me. Wrong again.









It is not a subject I bring up very often—and frankly I wonder aloud why I am bringing it up now. My son humorously observed that the upfront confession may be necessary for future damage control.  Perhaps. OK, here goes. Hello, my name is Jimmy (hello Jimmy!) and for 13 years I was an evangelical pastor.

Smelling salts are available upon request.

My contemporary students and colleagues, some of whom I have known for many years, have no idea of my “former life” –with rare exception; even many of my current crew of personal friends have no idea. I generally do not divulge this personal history (for many reasons that serve no purpose to get into detail here), though, to be sure, having to live with the stereotype of a “former evangelical pastor” is near the top of the list. I never believed a person of faith was one who had to check their intellect at the church door, and, as a result, ended up writing my own “manifesto” of my then belief system –which is available upon request for anyone who really cares. I doubt it.

As a self-professed TERRIBLE former pastor, for years I would “warn” anyone who would listen that I am “this close” to walking out the doors of the church and never coming back… even as I lead my own congregation. The reality is that many were hoping I would take myself up on my own offer.  I would imagine some Sundays they wondered if I was even going to show; then, one Sunday, I did not. The rest is history. I believed that I could be an agent of change and change I did –as most left the services with far less faith than when they had arrived.

I concluded that my critical thinking mind had no place in the land of inflexible dogma, at least not as the one who was supposed to be there to provide the pat answers.  My “sermons” were more like college lectures and encouraged audience participation and disagreement. The new-age person could speak out freely while the visiting atheist was free to raise objections. I rarely made dogmatic statements (skillfully never using the dreaded definitive words every, always, never), rather provided probing spiritual questions coupled with a litany of possible responses. I desired to get people to think about many issues, including media, while some of my thoughts were even published. I desired for people to learn and live in tension. Long story short:  A pastor who encouraged people to critically think coupled with a congregation who wanted simple answers handed to them on a silver platter was a match made in hell.

Upon reflection, I probably would have made a far better rabbi.

I was labeled a heretic on more than one occasion (prompting me at one point to write an article on the great need for heresy). My proud heretical status was ironically derived much more so from what I did not say (or better, refused to say) than from what I did say. I was frequently encouraged to give THE answer, while I preferred providing all possible answers and allowing individual congregants to be informed, then decide for themselves while “owning” their response. Yeah, right. And the pope tweets….wait.

What do I believe now? What do you think? Does it matter? Why or why not? Why do you think I will no longer engage in such dialogue? Discuss.




The Media of Oz: Tragedy as Show Business


Much has been said of the media coverage of the events in Connecticut this past week. Yes, the media is obviously a powerful cultural broker though now its reach into our collective social psyche renders us officially out of touch with the real world; chasing media induced illusion while the real problematic issues lay primarily dormant.

As horrific as this tragedy was, perhaps the irrational reactions are far more damaging and hurtful to our culture; as it points to the unfortunate observation that our enslavement and dependency on the mass media to provide us our news could ultimately mean our collective cultural death.

Everyone has the freedom to react how they choose to any calamity- irrational or otherwise- yet when irrationality hits my life as an educator, our collective wallets, and potentially the freedom to defend our homes as we see fit, it must be called out.

All this paranoia – specifically more police presence in schools, gun/lockdown training for teachers and lobbying for more gun control- over the issue of children getting shot at a school 3,000 miles from my home has my attention.  Though far from a statistician, I know enough of the basics to figure out some basic numbers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics there exists 98,817 K-12 public schools in the US.  The same center estimates approximately 55.5 million K-12 students each year.  How many students get shot PER YEAR during school? 2012 has seen 24 children killed, a strikingly high number compared to previous years. One has to go back to 1999 and the Columbine shooting to find a number even close to this high, which was a total of 14 in the Columbine horror.

In a typical year, a small number of random shootings will occur at a school though it is typically not the “crazed gunman” scenario -rather two students in conflict, with one killing the other. To conclude, counting from 1999 to present, approximately 59 K-12 students have been killed, or, on average, 4.5 students per year, in a land of 55.5 million students. This means the odds of a child being shot at school, for any reason, would be about 1 in 12.2 million, in any given year. Let’s give this some perspective:

A child is over 16 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to die in a school shooting this year. To provide another vantage point, the CDC reports that in 2008 alone, 1,700 children died from child abuse and neglect in the US.

Yes, I agree that even one child dying is one too many.  Though what are the REAL dangers in society? According to economist Steven Leavitt, one very real danger is the swimming pool -in which 400 children’s lives, per year, could be saved with safer pool practices.

Where is the outrage?

“When hazard is high and outrage is low, people underreact, “ says risk communications consultant Peter Sandman, “and when hazard is low and outrage is high, they overreact.”

Yes they do.

A media consuming society reacts to many things we cannot control, while practicing more responsibility in that which we can control could save hundreds of children’s lives per year.

Though since media and its play on our emotions and our deepest fears drives most of us with well played stories rife with drama, we shall live in a continual state not of democracy or even a republic, but rather a “technocracy” where our technological media is our capitalist king and we are the complying masses willing to be wooed by our King’s court jesters.

We are collectively rendered out of touch and now even the most ardent media critic and foe must suffer, alongside the masses , the consequences of continued media driven irrationality.