The Great American Rorschach Test

World Cup season is upon us with play beginning last Thursday afternoon (the US get its first match later today), which means going on facebook or twitter involves wading through a morass of deeply divided opinions and perspectives.

Some of my friends love soccer and are reveling in the World Cup, and others think it is stupid and they want the world to know!

Playing and loving soccer (as a red-blooded US citizen), for the past 20 years, I’ve learned that soccer is the great American Rorschach test.

People will see in it whatever the want to see: everything from feminine floppers and over-paid divas who undermine traditional concepts of competitiveness to the beautiful game enjoyed by all the world. It is either everything that is right or everything that is wrong with the US, the earth, sports, politics, and people. I would argue that this is part of what makes soccer so special and so popular: people talk about it and they talk about it passionately.

(A quick aside: I cannot for the life of me understand why people love MMA or boxing. But they do. I cast my vote with my eyes: I don’t watch it, and I certainly  don’t tweet about how stupid I think it is. If you think soccer is dumb, I have one piece of advice: do what I do with MMA…DON’T WATCH).

Let me address a couple of common issues with the game, and then I’ll give you my true theory as to why American’s struggle with soccer (and why I don’t think it will ever fully catch on here, even if we produce a Cup champion).

Typically, the first target of derision is focused around flopping. I don’t think people who complain about this truly understand what a flop is. A flop is not any time a player falls on the ground. Put 22 men out on a pitch, running around at full speed, chasing a ball, and they are going to run into each other and fall down. Ninety percent of “flops” are, upon seeing a replay, truly fouls or incidents where a player is knocked over (or stepped on, or kicked…none of which, by the way, feels good).

There are flops, no doubt about it. It is a skill and a strategy, and it can be used to great effectiveness and it can certainly be abused. But, sometimes it is the only strategy a team might have if they have any hope of surviving a match. The reality, though, according to the numbers run in Soccernomics is that penalties have a very low determinant on who wins the game. Talent and home field almost always trump referees and penalties.

Which leads to another common complaint: the referees are terrible, too arbitrary, too subjective, and have too much influence on the outcome of the game. The same article I referenced above makes the case that while there are always those glaring exceptions (as there are in any sport), the referees have little influence on the outcome of the game compared to other factors.

Moreover, what is interesting to me is that many of the same people who complain about soccer refs complain about instant replay in other sports. Especially IR in baseball in which the “human element” and mistakes/subjectivity by umpires is almost held as sacred (so what do you want, the right call or the human element?).

The NFL, NBA, and MLB have all had significant incidents of referees directly influencing the outcome of the game, but this is never held as a criticism of THE SPORT, only as criticism of the referees. In soccer, the failures of refs are always as a failure of the game itself.

Undoubtedly both of these issues are frustrating, and to a casual fan I can understand why they are difficult hurdles to jump over.

But, here’s the real reason I think American’s struggle with soccer. It’s not the refs, it’s not the flops, it’s not even the low scoring.

Soccer is about the process. It is messy and gray and the results don’t always match the process. It is, inherently, the most unjust of all of the major sports. And, quite frankly, the rest of the world is a little more familiar with injustice than Americans are.

I love soccer, but the most frustrating aspect of the game for me, is that a team can posses the ball for 60, 70, even 80 percent of the time, play dominantly, and lose 1-0 because of one perfect counter attack by the other team (by the way this is the strategy the US has used to great effect in it’s strong showings at the World Cup in 2002 and 2010).

In other words, one team can dominate the game and still lose. It’s unjust.

The goal of soccer is not goals, it is creating dangerous, high quality opportunities to score. Create enough opportunities and goals will come. Over time, the team that is able to consistently do that will win many matches. A team can’t control goals, but it can control the process that leads to goals.

This is true of any sport. You will hear batters, in baseball, talk about their swings and trying “square the ball up,” knowing that that’s really all they can control. In football, teams focus on execution: blocks, patterns, reads, etc, but no sport is as fundamentally process oriented as soccer.

To be a soccer fan is to embrace process over results, mess over order, and injustice over deserved outcomes. Again, the rest of the world is more comfortable with these ideas than we are.

I hope soccer continues to grow in popularity, but I also know that it’s never going to be huge here in the US. This world cup has already been pretty fantastic and it’s only going to get better from here, so if you are ready, now is a great time to jump in and embrace the messy, injustice of the world’s beautiful game.

Summer Reading: Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart  is now my favorite book of all time. It’s not the best book I’ve read, it’s not the best written book I’ve read.

But, it is my favorite.

I dare you to read this book and not be moved: you will laugh, cry, and be disturbed in all the right ways.

Greg Boyle has been working with gang members for over 20 years in east Los Angeles. It is gnarly work. His stories are incredible because he’s been working in incredible conditions. I find, though, that there is a lot of crossover between his work and my work: broken families, father wounds, dependence issues, the search for community and hope.

There are also some critical differences. My students don’t have “F#@! the world” tattooed on their foreheads. They probably aren’t going to be shot by a rival any time soon. Everything they are engaged in is focused on their future, the polar opposite of the gang member.

I’ve been reading some of these stories to our staff and it raised the question: what is harder, ministering to people who are desperate and broken or ministering to people who are privileged and broken?

I’m not going to answer that question here, but I do want to leave you with some of Greg’s words:

“[We are] inching our way closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those who dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.’ Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”

Brene Brown Being Awesome

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically…before we even sit up in bed…we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.

Scarcity is the “never enough’ problem. What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it. Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare ourselves and our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.

The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

Daring Greatly

Getting Used to Joy

Greg Boyle writes: “Delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to.”


A common theme of this blog has turned out to be joy: losing it, finding it, maintaining it.

Some things that rob me of joy:
Car maintenance (and the cost thereof)
Fixing gadgets (and the cost thereof)

Especially the car. I love driving and I appreciate the opportunities a car affords, but I hate affording the car. It makes me grumpy and joyless in no time at all.


We read to our daughter from The Jesus storybook Bible every night. Some would say this is not a “real” Bible, but it is God’s word to us more often than not. I’m not sure how much Marina gets out of it, but I am cut to the heart almost every time we read.

Without fail, it seems, we come across a section called “The Singer” whenever I begin to worry about money, fundraising, our car, something that needs to be fixed, our budget, you name it. Without fail.

The Singer is essentially the sermon on the mount, with a special focus on Jesus’ admonition to “not worry”.

Conviction via the children’s Bible.


I met with a student who graduated recently yesterday and she said, in the middle of pontificating on many things, a sort of off-handed comment: “when was the last time you were really surprised by something? I don’t want to lose my ability to be surprised.”

We got Marina some new silverware and bibs, and she got to try them out a few days ago. Her face lit up like Taylor Swift winning a Grammy.

Pure joy.
Total Surprise.
Joining in God’s delight.

Marina has an ability to be surprised, to not worry about stuff, and to delight that continues to rub the edges off my hard heart.

Those things that rob you of joy: conflict, cars, computer, whatever it might be, name them, but don’t allow them to kill your ability to be surprised, to delight.

We happen to be God’s joy. Get used to it.

Summer Reading: The Art of Non-Conformity

First up off the summer reading list: the Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. Last summer I received my introduction to Chris’s world and the quest for World Domination when I attended the World Domination Summit, and I thought it would be good to revisit some of what I learned through this book.

The essence of Chris’s work is this: live free, be your own boss, and make a difference in the world. More simply stated: live intentionally.

I love Chris’s ideas and agree with almost everything he has to say (who doesn’t want to live a remarkable, unconventional life), and I find a lot of crossover between ministry (especially para-church, fundraised ministry) and entrepreneurship.

However, I also experience a rub with the ethos behind Chris’s ideas. There is an inherent individualism in the quest for “world domination” (read being awesome and doing your own thing instead of working for the man) that runs counter to being married, being a parent, and being a follower of Jesus.

Chris would argue, and I’d mostly agree, that all too often we are encouraged to step in line and live conventional lives because it is the responsible thing to do. We, as a family, have chosen to live unconventionally, so I totally understand that it is possible.

But, I cannot make the same radical commitment to personal autonomy that he has made without sacrificing some of my relationship to my wife, daughter, or the ministry I lead.

The more important point here, though, is the call to live intentionally, and this can, and should be done, no matter what stage of life we are in.

Far too many of us drift through life, expecting other people to give us a shot, hoping that we might, maybe get what we want. Few of us take matters into our own hands, and go for it.

To quote Chris Martin (of Coldplay): “We can’t dance like Usher, we can’t sing like Beyonce, we don’t write songs like Elton John, we just do what we can and go for it.”

And that is Guillebeau’s point: stop worrying about not being Usher, and instead know who you are and go for it!

Chris does a great job of laying out some important areas of life where intentional choices matter: work, money, time, travel, passions, interests, and leaving a legacy.

The book is inspiring, but practical; challenging, but quickly applicable.

I’d highly recommend it for anyone needing a reset, trying to get some clarity on life goals, or for recent college graduates.

Reality, Grace, Obedience [part 2]

I have a friend who has a daughter a few months older than Marina. He told me recently that they have started spanking. I know this day is coming for us, and so I asked how it was going.

My friend told me spanking is hard, but, in a strange way, his daughter draws closer to him afterwards. It might take a few moments, but post-spanking there is more affection, hugs, and snuggling than before.



Our community group spent some time in conversation around the story in I Samuel 15 where King Saul blows it and essentially loses his Kingdom (which will eventually be turned over to David).

Saul is supposed to defeat an enemy and keep nothing (no slaves, no cattle, no good stuff). Saul does go on a rampage but he decides to take the enemy king alive and bring back all that is good (cattle and sheep and whatever else he liked).

The prophet Samuel shows up after this and asks Saul how it went. Saul tells Samuel everything went really well. And Samuel, brilliantly, asks “What is this bleating of sheep in my ears?”

I love this question. It is a reminder to me that I need Samuel’s in my life to ask the obvious question.

Sometimes we need people around us to just say: “Hey, I know you keep saying everything is fine and you are handling it, but I see this and this (I hear sheep bleating) and it doesn’t add up to ‘doing great.’ What’s the real story?”


Grace is fundamental to the Christian worldview. Without God’s grace the world ceases to exist.

But, I find that many, many people misunderstand grace. Grace is not opposed to making wise decisions, maturity, or doing hard, unpleasant things.

Grace is actually what makes wisdom and maturity possible.

Back to Saul. After he realizes he screws up, he begs Samuel to come with him, make a sacrifice for him, and essentially bail him out of his trouble.

Samuel says, “No.”

God says, through Samuel: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

My very human interpretation of this is: “Hey dude, if you had just done the right thing, the first time, we wouldn’t need to do all this work to make up for it.”

Grace is the fundamental reality that we don’t need to live in anxiety. That our identity and destiny are set.

But grace is not opposed to saying: “There is something better. You can do better.”


Reality, obedience, grace.

I understand these words so much more as a parent. I don’t want to punish my daughter. But she has to learn, grow, and mature. It’s vital to her survival, and, more importantly, to her ability to thrive and excel at life.

So, is climbing the bookshelf the biggest deal in the world? Not really at one level (although if she continues to climb, she will fall and she will get hurt).

On another level, though, this is part of the process: learning what is in bounds and out-of-bounds, and, here’s the main point, learning the importance of obedience. Learning to trust.

When she screws up I want her to know that she is forgiven, and nothing about my love for her or her identity is ever in question.

But, I also don’t want her stuck in an endless cycle of “sacrifice.” I want her to mature and make decisions that are wise.

Because there are consequences to the choices we make. Grace certainly covers our sin, but it doesn’t eliminate the consequences of our decisions.

Grace calls us to be better, to grow, to mature.

So, a couple of questions:

  1. Are you stuck in a cycle of sacrifice?
  2. Who is your Samuel?
  3. Are you living in reality?