What’s the purpose?


The importance of remembering why

I have always liked sports, but I’ve never gotten overly obsessed with any particular team or activity. Well, almost never. There was a summer in my early 20s when I decided to get serious about golf. I figured with more practice and playing time, I could lower my score for 18 holes from the 80s to the 70s.With lots of effort and dedication, I achieved my goal. Once. Late in August I carded a 79. After that I quit practicing, cut out the extra playing time and resumed my once-a-week quest to shoot 85.

At some point I realized getting “serious” about golf defeated my purpose for playing. I just wanted to stroll through the woodsy landscape and enjoy a peaceful round. Mumbling insults at myself and slamming clubs into the ground kind of ruined it.

I still play golf and a few other sports, but I try to keep them casual. Being competitive by nature, I do get frustrated when I play poorly. But then I remember that stressful Summer of Serious Golf. And I lighten up. Since my athletic endeavors are purely recreational, what’s the point in getting all worked up?

It’s the same for watching sports. Though I like watching games, I don’t get into them as much as I used to. Sports have become so overblown in our culture, it’s sucked a lot of the fun out. Athletes make too much money, games are taken too seriously and the media coverage goes on about 23 hours a day longer than the subject deserves. For me all the extraneous stuff obscures the basic purpose of sports broadcasting, which is, you know, to show the games.

I can think of other things in our culture that have lost their meaning in flurries of hype and trendiness.

Communication, for example. I saw a great comic strip depicting a teenager who complained that his cell phone wasn’t working right. His mom asked if he could still make calls with the phone. The teen replied, “Why would I want to do that?”

Indeed, it’s tempting to wonder if the new music-playing, movie-showing, web-connected cell phones can still make actual phone calls. And if not, maybe someone should come up with a handheld device that just lets you punch in numbers and talk to someone. Hey, it might catch on!

Another thing that has undergone a transformation of purpose is entertainment media. I have this childhood memory of a study being done on grade-schoolers’ TV watching habits. The alarming conclusion reached was that schoolchildren at that time were watching television an average of two hours a day. Two hours a day! If today’s parents could manage to keep their kids’ media usage down to a measly two hours, they’d be dancing in the streets.

The point is, entertainment long ago ceased to be a minor diversion engaged in after a full day of work or study. Now it’s all entertainment, all the time. Or at least a lot of entertainment, a lot of the time. Which is still too much.

Something else that has lost meaning amid our cultural obsession is sex. The other day I was checking a news Web site and came across a photo of one of those teen starlets who gets a lot of attention. She was wearing a surprisingly inappropriate outfit for a 16-year-old, something way too revealing and suggestive for her age. Wait a minute. The clothes were actually too revealing for any woman, not just a teenager. 

See how it is in our culture? We’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing these sexually suggestive images, we’re hardly phased by them anymore. Sex has been appropriated for use in advertising, entertainment, self-promotion, personal gratification and more. Its original purpose for intimacy and procreation in the marriage bond has come to be viewed as quaint and archaic.

I think the spiritual environment in our society has also been suffering from a vagueness of purpose. We Christians get worked up about the wrong things. There are all kinds of arguments going on about politics, worship styles, ministry trends and whether my church is cooler than your church. But do these really have much to do with our basic calling to love God and serve the people around us?

Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If we’re trying to be “relevant” by doing the right things and presenting ourselves correctly in a cultural sense, then what’s the purpose of that? But if we’re letting ourselves get filled up with God’s love so much that it naturally spills out to others, then there’s no need to be relevant. We’re just giving people what they need.


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