Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Being Called "Indiana Jones"

For serious archaeologists, the relationship to the Indiana Jones mythology is an uncomfortable one. On the one hand, there's a comical quality to "Dr. Jones" that cannot be taken seriously. The fantastical adventures he goes on
and mystical treasures he finds are as divorced from reality as any other action film might be. Thus, the scholar finds it necessary to constantly remind students, readers and visitors to the museum exhibit that "real" archaeology is "nothing like the movies." Therefore, for someone to suggest that an archaeologist is "being like Indiana Jones" is somewhat insulting, as though they are not appearing as "scholarly" as they want to be. The label reveals that the scholar is not to be taken seriously. It can be discouraging.

On the other hand, the Indiana Jones movies and mythology has done much to raise popular awareness regarding the joys and excitement of real discovery. Not unlike how police television dramas inspire young people to grow up to have actual law enforcement careers, they know that reality and film differ, but one inspired the other anyway. Legitimate or not, the film character has inspired many a young researcher to joyfully enter the field or for donors to fund a discovery project. For this reason, Harrison Ford was elected to the board of directors for the Archaeological Institute of America because his legendary character had "played a significant role in stimulating the public's interest in archaeological exploration." Thus archaeologists can unapologetically own "Indiana Jones" as a sort of tongue-in-cheek mascot.

However, this "mascot" has to be utilized within reason. While the fictional character may have inspired young scholars to pursue the thrill of "adventure," they also know that "adventure" is a relative term. The thrill of discovery was no less powerful to them just because they reached their conclusions through hours spent in the lab rather than through car chases with Nazis. Thus, the "Jones" label needs to remain unspoken, lest it rob the scholar's research of some of it's deserved respect. The author that calls themselves "a real life Indiana Jones," is shedding his credibility in academia for the sake of selling more sensationalized books or enjoying the rock star status of a speaking circuit. A scholar that is desiring respect in his field, though secretly enjoys watching Harrison Ford pursue the Holy Grail, likely will cringe if friends and family says he or she seems like "Indiana Jones" (colleagues would know better than to invoke the Jones reference).

Knowing this uneasy interplay of inspiration and embarrassment, I've dangerously waded into that soup by unabashedly keeping the trappings that inspire me (i.e. a brown, felt fedora), all the while pursuing scholarly work that avoids the sensationalism spouted by those claiming to be "a real life Indiana Jones." Thus it can be said I've brought the embarrassing label on myself, and have no grounds for avoiding it. Nevertheless, my beloved spouse sees me donning my "thinking cap" and realizes it simply inspires me to spend that many more hours in the library, the lab and in the field. So the balance is to enjoy my little reminders to myself of how exciting I find "real" archaeology, hoping that people DON'T get around to saying, "Wow! You look just like..." It's an unreasonable expectation, I know. Who can blame those that reference the mythic action hero? They don't know how much I'd like to leave that motivating image from my youth left unspoken in the conversation. Somethings are just for me to know about, reminding myself of the secret thrill of pursuing what I love...but the hat is a little difficult to conceal under the rest of the clothes. If, however, I can make it to the library or the lab without anyone drawing the connection between the hat and a popular film character, the research seems just a little more sweet when I get there.

If I were THAT committed to avoiding being called "Indiana Jones," I'd leave the hat at home. I suppose a less secure man would be highly offended by the seeming loss of respect inherent in having the connection made between them as a scholar and the action star. I, however, simply smile and admit that some myths can inspire people toward real scholarship. I suppose it also helps to prevent me from taking myself too seriously as well. Nevertheless, it's a delicate balance of being inspired by a youthful myth while growing up to do the "real" work.

Inspirations have their place. What inspires you?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jesus in the Stands

Who knew that God picks his favorite NFL football team any given Sunday? I certainly didn't. He must though, to hear sportscasters speak about Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos. Apparently, he's a Christian and makes no effort at hiding it. Outstanding! More power to him. It don't mind a Christian sports player, whose job it is to entertain and inspire us with his competitive efforts, "coming out" and speaking of his faith in the open forum. On the contrary, he may even use the spotlight, if he's a good player, for speaking about how his faith inspires him to honor God and those around him with his integrity and work ethic.

What has come to seem more and more odd to me is the phenomenon of players pointing upward and thanking God for a successful play that scored points for their team. I have no doubt that they were praying for victory for their team prior to the game (and perhaps even during the game on one knee; i.e. random "Tebow-ing"). However, when the player points skyward and thanks God for the touchdown or kick that split the uprights, what in hell are they assuming? That God granted their prayer and guided the ball into the receiver's hands in that acrobatic artistry that would make Lynn Swann weep sentiment tears? Do they honestly suppose that the LORD blew his wind to nudge the pigskin away from the defenders swatting palm? What about the defensive end's prayer that he successfully stop the offense's advance?

If Tim Tebow's pastor is to be believed, God chooses NFL favorites not unlike how he chose ancient Israel from among all the other nations. But Wayne Hanson is not the only offender. The assumption of "God's favor" on a football team is communicated every time a player points upward as his endzone celebration and the fans in the living room dutifully offer the "amen" in the form of turning to the guest next to them sharing the popcorn bowl and musing, "That's good to see...a believer that gives God glory." Of course, the question "Glory for what?!" never gets asked. It's just assumed that God has something (ANYTHING!) to do with results in a football game, that he's chosen (for reasons that seem good to him) to answer the prayers of one team for victory instead of the other team's (perhaps no one on the other team prays...heathens).

You know what? That makes total sense. I think I saw Jesus sitting up in the stands during a game recently. He was the guy in section 117, row N, seat 12 with the rainbow hair and a cowbell. Clearly Jesus is an NFL fan. Heck, he MUST be. Why else would so many assume he's picked a side? I mean...THINK about it. Considering how many pastors make sure that church is out in time to watch the game, they must have gotten the memo: "Dismiss by 11:50 sharp. Jesus has sweet tickets on the 50 yard line and will NOT be in your service after the cutoff time." I like to think of Jesus painting his face and shaking his signed jersey in front of the FOX camera as it pans by.

"Absurd," you say? No more than assuming that the Holy Spirit miraculously helped the receiver drag that second toe in the back corner of the end zone while maintaining control of the ball all the way to the ground. If the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control, perhaps the praise could be offered that he inspired a little less excessive celebration, less unnecessary roughness, fewer prima donnas, more honest players admitting, "Yep. My knee was down on contact. I admit it." These things might be actually important to God, certainly more so than something as comparatively trivial as a touchdown.

The next time a player is tempted to thank God above for winning the game, perhaps they might stop and think of what their photo op says to the believer on the opposing team who was also praying for victory on the Lord's Day (not sure how the schedule of an NFL player allows for ANY church attendance for half the year anyway). I doubt very much God was interested in the outcome of the game, even less whether the kick was good. That dude I saw in the stand that I though was Jesus, was probably just a enthusiastic, mortal fan after all.

Besides, if indeed it's true that Jesus was a "friend to sinners," he's a hockey fan anyway.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Screw the Shopping...Give me Christ

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas each year. I absolutely love the trappings of celebrating Christ's birth that manifest in sights, sounds and smells all associated with this grand holiday. The Christmas music airing 24/7 over the local radio station adds considerably to the feeling of peace, contentment and anticipation. The decorations come out and get hung around the house, contributing to a sense of serenity in the home, anticipating a peaceful time reflecting on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, when God chose to "pitch his tent" among us. When the Texas weather finally starts to cool down, the sweaters can come out of storage and help us cozy up on the sofa with hot cocoa and peppermint candies. It's a joy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in the Christmas "spirit," telling people, "Merry Christmas," as you come upon them is my goings about. I love side of Christmas that is a celebration.

I hate the side of Christmas that is consumerism. Basically, it's that time of year when the shame of having so little extra money beyond that amount necessary to cover daily necessities becomes particularly acute. Black Friday is of no consequence. Holiday deals must be ignored. Any trip to the mall is mainly to simply "people watch." Seemingly all Christmas films highlight the presents purchased for the occasion ("You'll shoot your eye out!"). The great hope is that relatives send gift checks that the parents can use shop for the kids, because nothing in the household budget allows for that activity. The question from friends, "What did you get you kids for Christmas?" are awkward, and sometimes skillfully, avoided. The spend-fest serves as an annual thermometer revealing the low "temperatures" in the bank account, driving family members to think more "deeply" about the "true meaning of Christmas" (as though this could not also be accomplished while simultaneously striking the mother load).

I'd love to split this holiday into two separate events: one that celebrates the birth of Christ and another that brings retailers "into the black" each year. The evolution of how these two very divergent concepts came to be intertwined must be interesting to study. Nevertheless, I wish they could be separated. The shopping frenzy be damned, I'm still going to try to "get into the Christmas spirit."