Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Protest Door

Each piece of church furniture has, or at least should have, significance in the process of worship, disciple development and pursuit of the Great Commission. The chairs seat the congregation in the manner needed for the desired communal effect. The pulpit represents the unique function of preaching in the ministry of the Word for the body of Christ. The Table conveys the communal worship of Christ in remembering his sacrifice and rekindling hope for the future. Even the copier carries the theological weight of being used of God for informing the people of God through bulletins, teaching them in handouts and worship with music lyric copies. Every utensil, in some way, deserves contemplative reflection on how it is used in the missio Dei. Indeed each instrument and tool in the church deserves a thoughtful blog entry on its use for God's glory.

Of particular importance is that means by which God corrects his people when they err. Because of the "prophetic" function of preaching, the pulpit has been a classical symbol of correctional proclamation. However, in the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther gave us another symbol for God's correcting voice: the Door. By nailing his "95 Theses" to the front door of the cathedral in Wittenberg, Luther brought to light a means of calling for reform that occurs outside the pulpit. Certainly the door did not replace the pulpit, but instead the door came to supplement the pulpit in informing the community of faith where reform is needed.

The Door informs.
The Door fosters healthy debate.
The Door brings needed controversy.
The Door gets people thinking.
The Door holds up a mirror to the church, so that the Bride of Christ can examine how appealing to Christ she may appear.

In the present day, we most often do not use a "door" for our announcements, our news bulletins or theological theses. Other means are use for these. Nevertheless, these functions are fulfilled all the time in the present day because their importance has never diminished. For the church today, the Pulpit is supplemented by internet sites, books and magazine articles. The "Door" is still being used of God to educate, stimulate and challenge the Church to reform where necessary. For this reason, many pastors and preachers in the present day rightly maintain writing ministries concurrent with their preaching ministry.

The spoken word and the written word have different natures, requiring different skills and different content. Influential theologians such as Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards and even the popular Charles Swindoll are examples of having both of these skills together. The preacher/writer uses both mediums for their respective functions, mining the value of each. The Pulpit and the Door are both effective tools in training the community of faith to mature as followers of Christ. For this reason, the pastor hopes that people will read his writings with similar interest that they heard his sermons. However, the genre of preaching often does not lend itself to the same nuances and arguments that writing can accommodate. Therefore, the Door may not be as popular or as public as the Pulpit. All the same, the preacher must find his "door." My "door" has taken the form of this blog site or the newspaper articles.

For the Christian who desires to have an impact in their community and world, the avenues are just as numerous. To encourage this, we place a "door" next to our front door for the Reformation Day celebration that people can nail their own "thesis" to. Both at our home and at the church, we lay out sample "theses" that people can nail to the "protest door," or they can write their own. Whatever form it takes, the protest "door" is an important piece of furniture in the Church. With all the of the forms that modern technology has enabled "the door" to take, believers can make their contribution easily. Hopefully, or Reformation Day celebration will find people celebrating the "door" through nailing plenty of "theses" as well. These "theses" are short, pithy phrases that capture what the writer believes should improve or reform about the church. Review Luther's 95 Theses for examples. In any event, the door is important. May we all approach it, hammer and parchment in hand, ready for God to reform us.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Costco Culture and the Religion of Consumption

Today as we were touring the metropolis of Sam's Club, purchasing supplies for our upcoming Reformation Day celebration, I was struck by the massive quantities of all the various goods on the shelves. The sheer size of the inventory was a visually assaulting reminder of an article I read years ago. It lamented the growing integration of our faith in a personal God with our assumed right to a life of plenty. In a culture where food, electricity, heat, shelter, computing and fashion are so abundant, the availability of such resources has gotten confused with the blessing of God.

Why is this a problem? It separates modern believers from experiencing a continuity of faith with those believers that have suffered throughout history, or in developing countries in the present day. Psalm 37:25 is over-quoted ("I was once young, now I am old. I have never seen a godly man abandoned, or his children forced to search for food."), assuming that those beloved of God will not go without. Indeed I have been hungry before, and so have my children. The emotional-spiritual pain of lacking such provisions is immeasurably heightened by a well-meaning health-and-wealth gospel koolaid drinker (make that a two-fisted drinker) insinuating that God will provide such necessities if I only believe more. Or sometimes it's surely because of an unconfessed sin that I must embark on an internal excavation to unearth in some emotional manner to finally receive the redemption of Christ in that area. Among the worst ones, for which all readers of this would have my permission to punch the misguided advisor in the face, is the suggestion that I've wandered far from God and therefore his blessing. This supposes that some fasting, prayer, Bible study and confession (maybe throw in a little holy water for good measure) will make it all better. Instead of two aspirin, we're prescribed, "have two charismatic experiences and call me in the morning." I can only imagine how insulted our Savior must be my such petty attempts to unlock his favor.

This is not to say that the mountainous cache of energy drinks, breakfast cereals, candy bars or gallon cans of chili are evil in and of themselves. They are just raw materials that people will use either responsibly or gluttonously. The evil represented by the Sam's Club stacks is the unreasonable expectation developed by people that such indulgence is a right, a given, a guaranteed life of "as much as I want." This may be labeled as an American phenomenon, but certainly this unlovely set of assumptions are given fangs and claws by the added suit of Christian pious triumphalism. Many of those biblical promises concerning the coming kingdom of God (instituted when Christ returns) get over-realized for the present. The land of abundance and the material blessings of God, not to mention the unprecedented time of peace, start to get assumed as imminent. The treasures of Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart (insert any other favorite department store here) or the local mall, supposedly, belong to those who God favors. As a result, religion becomes a means not so much for training the human condition for devotion to God as it is a means for using God to improve the human condition.

The Costco culture is the not the cause of the religion of consumption, but it is related. Not unlike how the fever is related to the flu, so also is the assumption of plenty related to the god of our stomach. We sit in plush chairs in darkly lit rooms and tap our fingers on a table while a college sophomore or single mom retrieves our food for us from the back kitchen. We've erected temples to our appetites and claim that the God of the Bible is on the hook to put out for this strange deity of our invention. Far from setting aside the best for the worship of God (as the Old Testament prescribes), we demand the best be set aside for us (this is self-worship). May God deliver us from the religion of consumption, whose services are held daily at Sam's Club, Walmart and Costco. May he forgive us our attempts to garner his favor with Christianese platitudes, and for our instincts to fill ourselves anyway when he's slow on the draw.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Addiction and Gravity on the soul

It is a particularly heinous affliction in the human soul, that aspect of fallen depravity that makes destructive behavior much easier than its productive counterpart. From our earliest years we are not only able to make poor choices, but follow them up with selfish instinct as well. Children in a preschool do not need to be taught to take toys away from classmates; it’s intuitive. Nevertheless, depravity makes sin our instinct; self-destruction our outcome. Few categories bear this out better than in the various forms of substance or behavioral addiction manifested across the societal spectrum. The essential characteristics of these myriad addictions are:

1. tolerance (the need for more)
2. withdrawal (reaction and rebound)
3. self deception (denial)
4. loss of willpower & control
5. distortion of attention (preoccupation)

Within the context of a conference for fire chaplains, this subject is broached because of the frequency with which addictive behavior is found among firefighters attempted to cope with occupational stresses alone. This is meant to better equip the chaplain for ministering the to firefighter, who needs better coping skills than an addictive behavior that will ultimately prove self-destructive. However, it is not to the chaplain to become the “behavior police.” It is the responsibility of the firefighter to approach the chaplain. Therefore, the applicability of the lecture on addiction and grace is found when the chaplain has been approached by the addicted emergency responder. Also, my own life bears out that this information is applicable to the chaplain as well. We are just as capable of engaging destructive addictions to cope with various pressures as any firefighter.

Nevertheless, it falls to the chaplain to remain at the ready to assist the one approaching them with the ministry skills necessary for healing. Grace is the essential framework in which for this ministry to occur. The appropriateness of grace is made evident by the minister’s own struggles with the spiritual sense of “gravity” on the soul. It is a great deal easier to fall, than it is to jump or climb. It is a whole lot simpler to become addicted, than to be liberated. It is easier to be enslaved, than to be freed. This sense of “gravity” on the human soul is called depravity or sin nature by theologians. Derek Webb sings that “we’re crooked deep down.”

The gravitational pull, that human effort cannot break free from, is what necessitates grace. Grace, by its nature, cannot be deserved, grasped, demanded or expected. It’s unmerited. Perhaps the addict is more aware of this than any other figure, since her cannot break free of that which enslaves him. They are more aware of their need for grace than most. Therefore, if one approaches the chaplain (or pastor) for help with their addiction, they are among the more prime targets of grace one can find.

Mediating Common Grace

In theological circles, discussions about God’s grace often identify two categories: “special” grace and “common” grace. These are separate, but linked. Special grace is often spoken of that application of God’s grace that results in acceptance of the Gospel and eternal salvation. This is a work of the Spirit that tends to follow the overt proclamation of Christ and an orthodox sharing of the Gospel. It is a very particular work of the Spirit to regenerate the person. This “special” grace is necessary for someone to be illuminated to the beauty of the Savior, such that they would respond to his offer of dying in their place. Though the Church of Jesus Christ has manifold duties, this is its chief purpose. When Christ commands the first apostles to “Go and make disciples of all nations,” this “special” grace is in view, making the spread of this special grace the primary purpose of the Church.

However, theologians also find biblical support for another type of application for God’s grace altogether. This grace is applied very broadly to humanity and the world in such a way that it does not necessarily result in salvation. The question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” has been a quandary for many. On the other hand, the question “Why do good things happen among fallen people?” can be much more troubling. The believer might expect trouble or persecution from a fallen world, but what about when their atheist neighbor treats them better than people do at church? It can be reliably suggested that God is to be thanked for all goodness (wherever it is found). What this means is that God’s grace was at work in a way that did not result in the neighbors salvation, though it moved them to neighborliness.

This latter view is often called “common” grace. It’s a much more subtle symptom of Christ’s reign in the kingdom of God. It spreads well outside the community of faith. It’s a very broad work of the Spirit (rather than his particular work on the newly-regenerated) that suppresses human depravity, social and natural chaos. For the human race, this results in both individual and communal adherence to natural law, moral order and “common sense.”

For his part, God is complete control of how, and of “type” of grace he extends toward people. Nevertheless, though he is always the ultimate source of grace, he has historically used “mediators” to participate in the work of the One Mediator between God and man - the man Christ Jesus. These little “mediators” have taken the form of prophets and priests in the Old Testament, later chiefly expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, but also played out in the apostles of the New Testament. These “little mediators” are not the source of God’s grace, but for reasons which seem good to him, God has chosen to extend his grace to people through contact with these “little m’s.” God saves, but he indeed uses preachers and evangelists to deliver the Gospel that the newly saved person responded to.

Many may be uncomfortable with the use of this "mediatorial" language, fearing that it appears to place into human hands what is the sole prerogative of Christ. Far from being feared, this understanding should be embraced with the "little m" knowing that they are being the "hands and feet" of Christ in how they bring grace to others. For this reason, believers must consciously own their priestly responsibility to mediate grace to people, whatever type of grace God may will. At times, it has been my pleasure and privilege to "mediate" special grace by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:14-17 tells me that I have a role in the mediating process Christ employs. In addition though, I must also fully accept my responsibility in how Christ mediates common grace as well.

It is this role in mediating common grace where chaplaincy truly is best understood. Here at the annual conference for the Federation of Fire Chaplains, I'm receiving training on how to better "mediate" that common grace in crisis and traumatic situations for victims, and especially to maintain a "mediatorial" presence among the firefighters the rest of the time. Actually, my primary role is to minister to the firefighters in this manner, reminding them by my presence and practices that God is with them in all their functions. This is "mediating" common grace, and all Christians should feel a responsibility to step in and take such a mantle. However, the role of a fire chaplain is a role set apart and distinct to perform this service to those who serve others. It's a heavy duty, as being an extension of how the Church mediates grace outward to the community, but I love it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Music and Miracles

"Music is the voice of miracles."

That's what I had etched onto the back of my iPod shuffle. How amazing that God has created our world such that some emotions, sentiments, memories or longings simply cannot be captured with words. The notes, the melodies, the tones, chords and tunes can, at times, convey meaning that was never going to enjoy the match of a well-turned phrase. The arts hold such an important place in the human experience. Poetry, canvas, sculpture and music carry meaning, but much more. Rather than simply conveying the content of a message, they convey the experience of it. The "feel" of a particular truth is delivered by the arts that propositional prose will struggle with. No wonder that the song book of the Scriptures is found in the middle of the Bible.

A broad spectrum of human emotions can be communicated, and experienced by music. I am particularly fond of, and reliant upon, music for fully exploring the depths of my emotional caverns. Mourning, celebration, love, hate, sadness and joy are represented in my music collection. I gravitate mainly to classical music (which includes modern film scores), but also include some country and rock as well.

Take the category of joy, for example. How could one remain in the doldrums following the musical set below? View it, and then honestly evaluate if you were not uplifted.

See. You likely could not help but tap your foot, bob your head or smile at least a little. I will go so far as to suggest that one's music collection is second only to their Bible for shaping their worldview, attitude and emotional ebbs and flows. For this reason, families used to keep their personal hymnal next to their Bible on the table. What you sing to, tap your foot to or in any way allow access to the deeper recesses of the soul that only music can invade determines a great deal about your character and spiritual well being.

Really, music's work is often measured in those layers of the human condition that typically only God can miraculously transform. For me, such a miracle occurred in Georgia when I was given a gift token to Turtle Records. I used it to buy two classical music tapes (Mozart and Beethoven). That change of music marked a significant change in my spiritual evolution. Before that I couldn't care less about spiritual matters or growing in Christ. After that, the music seemed to open up my heart to truth like it had never been open before.

I encourage people to pay close attention to the music they imbibe. It's likely having a much greater influence on you than you realize. Not that you evaluate the music so much that it can never have its effect; but some evaluation is necessary because of the powerful (and yes, miraculous) effect that the music will have on you. It does for me, and I suspect I'm not alone in this.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reformation Reflections

As Reformation Day for 2008 fast approaches (Oct 31st), the confessed "pillars" of the Protestant Reformation require new emphasis for the Christian church in America. Those pillars being as follows: sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus and sola Deo gloria. Their applicability remains as steadfast in the 21st century as they were in the 16th.

Sola Scriptura - "Scripture alone" remains the final authority of faith and practice for the Christian. Though the ancient creeds offer helpful guides of orthodoxy, and personal experience customizes the walk of faith for many, only Scripture can offer the normative templates for belief and behavior that are to be taught in the assembly. Formulations, creeds, confessional statements and doctrinal lists are fine, but they must pass the scrutiny of Holy Scripture to fall in the category of authoritative instruction. This is as necessary now as it has ever been. When we consider the great and powerful temptation for teachers and preachers to admonish audiences using pop-psychology, seminar bullet points and bestseller book titles, the Scriptures often take a back seat.

Sola gratia - "Grace alone" is the reason that God offers the redeeming work of Christ to us. No merit of our own incited God to extend salvation to us. The nature of grace is that it is undeserved. We were not pleasing to God to the point that he would feel obligated to save us. On the contrary, while we were still his enemies by means of our sinful alliances and impulses, Christ died for us. One of the worst effects of 9/11 is that Al Qaeda assisted many Americans in believing that evil is "out there" or "over there;" it looks like him or sounds like her. "Evil" is manifested in a wide variety of fashions, but is no less resident in me than in someone flying a plane into the South Tower. How do I know this? It took the death of God's only Son to redeem me. Only grace can account for why God would offer us a means of escaping our self-imposed destruction.

Sola fide - "Faith alone" is the means by which we receive the redemption offered by Jesus Christ. Salvation from God's just punishment for our rebellion is not acquired by means of adherence to religious ritual, executing a list of productive behaviors, good citizenship or a positive mental attitude. Beneficial as those things may be, the saving relationship to God in Christ is secured only by faith. This is alarming to many who would rather offer practices to God, but keep their hearts to themselves. It also can trip up those patriotic individuals in wartime who think (since evil is "them, they or those") that God already has saved them by means of living in a country where they see so many churches everywhere. The problem is that salvation does not occur by osmosis. Every individual who desires a right relation to Christ must submit to, relate to and receive him by faith alone.

Solus Christus - "Christ alone" is the object of our thanks for redemption. Though clergy, friends, family, authors and speakers are helpful means by which the good news of redemption ("the gospel") is delivered, they are not the one's redeeming. Bishops, cardinals, popes might even serve helpful means of organizing church polity (a debate for another day), but they are not responsible for the salvation offered. Only Christ is to be thanked, and given all of one's allegiance in response to his redeeming work on our behalf by dying on the Roman cross, fully receiving the penalty due us, and rising from the grave on the 3rd day of that earth-shaking event. This tenant of the Reformation could not be more applicable today in light of ministries built on personality, popularity or broadcasting power. Only Christ deserves credit for our redemption (in every way we experience it).

Sola Deo gloria - "The glory of God alone" is the grand effect that redemption is to have in us. People are not redeemed from sin and death so that they may start a political movement, have their own country or create enclaves of separate communities wherein the comfortable few can affirm each others' adherence to a few arbitrary rules. The image of God (imago Dei) is placed on mankind, along with the command to "multiply and fill the Earth," so that wherever God glances around the world he sees himself represented. For his own glory alone, God graciously (yet inexplicably) redeems people so as to reclaim his glorious representation in us. His global mission (missio Dei) is to see his grace, his character, his love and his loyalty to himself represented by all people, languages, cultures and regions. This is the pursuit of his glory on Earth, and his glory alone remains the grand goal of our salvation.

Churches in American (I speak mainly of evangelicals because that is my sub-group), need their own "reformation." October 31st is not merely a significant date in 1517. It's a day to remember our own need to constantly reform. May God invade our time in a similar manner that he worked in Martin Luther's, and reform us into what we ought to be.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Unprayed Desires" revisted

In August of 2007, when I wrote on the subject of "unprayed desires," I was speaking of the fulfilled dreams of seminary and pastoring. Now, I have an entirely different reason to revisit the subject. Again, a deep seated, secret desire is being fulfilled by the Lord. One so personal, so valuable and so intimate that once again God shows how well He knows me. As a result, I am left in awe of his loyal love.

It's not easy to explain, but ever since I was discharged from the U.S. Navy back in December of 1988, I've regretted it. I tried to re-enlist back in the early 90's during Operation Desert Storm, but because of the nature of my discharge (medical, though honorable) the Navy did not want me back. I've continued to read about U.S. naval developments along the way, and maintained a membership with the U.S. Naval Institute. Since having followed a "call" to Christian ministry, I've entertained the possibility of a Navy Chaplaincy career. That inclination moved in and out of fancy for me over the years, always tickling the "desire bone," but not enough to commit to following it. Two things then seemed to place that desire well out of reach.

1. The Navy prefers that the new chaplain be between the ages of 21 and 38 at the time of appointment. This seemed to count me out since I was likely going to be 40 years old (or order) when graduating from seminary.

2. My appointment to pastor a church appears to have made that choice for me was well. Pastoring a church is NOT something that one does while they're waiting to do something else. It is NOT an entry level position. The Church of Jesus Christ is the pinnacle of Christian ministry. All other possibilities support its mission in one manner of another.

For the above two reasons, I thought military chaplaincy (specifically the U.S. Navy) was quickly turning into one of those unfulfilled dreams that's just a part of life. As one gets older, there is much that goes unfulfilled; many goals that go unmet; many dreams that go unrealized. That's not cynicism; that's life. By God's grace though, many desires ARE fulfilled; many goals ARE met, and many dreams ARE realized. Not all are, but many are. For this reason, we must remain thankful for those dreams that are reached that God was under no obligation to grant. The reality is that some dreams go unreached, and question is whether one will be content about that, or will they obsess over "the one that got away." I had grown content that the dream of naval chaplaincy might never be realized; my military appetite left unappeased.

Then, at the National Night Out for the city of Fate last year, Fire Department Chief Sean Fay approached me about the possibility of serving as the chaplain for the Fate Fire & Rescue. I agreed, though not fully understanding what I was entering into. Having now served the department for nearly a year, I see now that God was mindful of my previous desires stated above. With those longings in mind, He arranged for me to serve in a capacity that not only closely parallels that experience I was seeking in Navy, but also accommodates the present appointment to Woodcreek Bible Church as well.

What's more? Chaplaincy for Fate Fire & Rescue fulfills several desires at once: (1) my military "itch" is scratched, (2) it opens doors for community ministry, and (3) it involves formal training and connection to a broader guild (echoed in the military as well). Later this month, the city of Fate is sending me to attend the Federation of Fire Chaplains Annual Conference. This formalized training offers not only the basic training for the chaplaincy certificate, but also the added benefit of being interconnected with the wider "brotherhood" of fire chaplains. The conference program even entails a tour of the U.S. Naval Chaplains' School (amazing!).

God was clearly aware of this desire all along, and like a loving father keeping some Christmas presents concealed until the right time, waited patiently to spring this blessing on me. I'm humbled by how wisely, and completely He knew to fulfill my "unprayed desires." May I wear the uniform with pride, serve my department and city with humble passion, and remain thankful for God's loving care each time I put on the chaplain's uniform (right after I pinch myself again).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Win the Crowd!

Last Sunday I attended my first professional football game. Technically, I could count my attendance of a Seattle Seahawks game in 9th grade (when they played in the Kingdome), but I'd rather not since the game, the venues and the frills have changed so much since then. Nevertheless, it was the first visit to a NFL game in my adult life. Texas Stadium was surrounded by a swarm of people celebrating the event well in advance. The tailgate parties were plentiful, jerseys were worn with pride and the cheers rose in unified chorus. The sea of humanity we waded through to approach the stadium was impressive. The Dallas Cowboys certainly have a great and loyal following. Fan enthusiasm and expectation is understandable, and it's not only easy to get wrapped up in it, but pleasuring as well. There's a very appropriate emotion of celebration that is conjured by company that is difficult to achieve alone. Recluses are pitiable for at least this reason.

However, after entering the stadium, I was struck by the grandeur of the facility. The migration proceeded inward from the parking lot (immersed with the smells of BBQ and the sounds of Rap music), with several pedestrian streams confluencing at security points. In finding our seats, we finally entered the stadium interior, at which I was struck by the grand scale of the massive structure. This is sobering considering that Texas Stadium is relatively humble compared to its NFL counterparts throughout the country. The structure itself, though, is not the dominant cause of concern. In fact, no element of the presentation alone could account for my unease with the event. (At this point it's important insert how grateful I am for having been invited to the game by my friend, and how thankful I was for not only the fun of it, by the time spent with fine company as well).

Many aspects of the event seemed to cater to my more base instincts. The stadium, though older and in disrepair, was designed to be awe inspiring. The immense crowd, the loud music, fireworks, flames and excitement came together to create a "feel" of the event. This "feel" was both easy to get wrapped up into, yet disconcerting at the same time. What seemed to make the "catering" more obvious was the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. More than merely "cheerleading" in the classic high school or college sense, they were clothed-exotic dancers meant to distract me during the time gaps in the game's action. In the ancient Near East, kings and dignitaries were entertained with such distractions to arouse fond feelings for the host or to make them "feel" royal. Since in America the dollar is king, customers get the "royal" treatment. This includes women as distracting objects for consumers' pleasure.

To avoid hypocrisy, I must admit that the Dallas Stars also have the Ice Girls. I am a great fan of the Stars. However, because of the ice rink the Ice Girls are much more relegated to the side (more out of view). They are not made as central to the spectacle before me. If that should ever change, I will be quite disappointed with the NHL. Nevertheless, the Cowboys cheerleaders' component in the presentation was much more pronounced, leaving me feeling more "catered" to by their show.

The sights, smells and sounds of the stadium experienced with the Dallas Cowboys transported me back to my last viewing of "Gladiator." The film was an insightful social commentary on cultures driven by entertainment (particularly contest-entertainment), and where it can lead to. Roman society degenerated into one in which bloodsport was necessary to adequately distract people from governmental erosion. "Win the crowd," was Proximo's admonition to Maximus. This advice was born of his understanding that in such cultures, entertainment is power. "I am a slave," laments Maximus at one point, "with the power only to amuse a mob." The reply is given matter-of-fact like, "that is power." Another conversation, earlier in the story summarizes well the interplay of entertainment and power in Rome:

Gracchus: Fear and wonder, a powerful combination.

Falco: You really think people are going to be seduced by that?

Gracchus: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the coliseum. He'll bring them death - and they will love him for it.

Though I enjoyed the Cowboys experience, I couldn't help but feel part of the "mob" that Gracchus spoke of. Someone may counter, "How is it that you 'felt' this at the stadium and not at a hockey game?" The point is well taken. I'm not sure they differ in substance so much as in degree. The size, the crowd, the sexy women and the grand spectacle all "felt" more like the Colosseum that I had ever experienced before. Competitive sports serve a productive purpose in society that can be examined at a later time, but to the degree that they conjure the human impulses of ancient Rome they sail on dangerous waters. "Win the crowd" may be the driving market force, but that doesn't mean that it wins me.