Tag Team Theology Vol. 3: Sons of Thunder and the Legion of Doom and the Divide

Longevity is the enemy of Tag Team wrestling because like anything in life, when two people are working together, disagreements are bound to happen. Even during times of wild success, two parties may split ways because they feel they can do more on their own or by linking up with someone else. Although certain dynamics do keep people together. In every list of great Tag Teams, the Road Warriors otherwise known as the Legion of Doom are bound to appear.

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A few teams have been together longer: the Rock N Roll Express, the Dudley Boyz and now after their resurgence the Hardy Boys/Men. And as great as those other teams are, the Road Warriors displayed a dominance over Tag Team divisions like those other teams did not. I can honestly say, I was surprised whenever they lost.

Between their size and seeming inability or stubborn refusal to sell, it just didn’t make sense for them to lose clean. Their music was loud, they were loud, they had war paint, and their finishing move, the Doomsday Device, sometimes looked like it decapitated people.

Boanerges

Two of Jesus’ disciples, were fishermen brothers James and John, whose father was a man named Zebedee. Together they were referred to as the Sons of Thunder. That title sounds like a wrestling Tag Team. James was one of the first Christian martyrs, who died by the sword and John was the last living of the 12 apostles. They were competitive, wanted to be great, walked closely with Jesus and were willing by their own admonition to see some people smote.

In the Gospel According to Luke Chapter 9 verse 54, a village in the region of Samaria were unwelcoming towards Jesus and his stable of disciples. So James and John decide to come to a drastic conclusion by asking Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” Jesus corrects them suggesting that perhaps mercy is better than striking a whole town with a meteoroid. The Sons of Thunder were bold, loved Jesus, but also apparently, didn’t care much about the livelihood of those who did not welcome them.

James was put to death at the order of King Herod, John carried the gospel and in many ways would not or could not be put to death. Church tradition says he survived being burned in a vat of oil and eventually died of old age on an island in jail. These men lived and died in a life of radical faith and obedience, devoted to their cause.

For a team that was as popular and formidable as the Legion of Doom, they only had 2 WWF Tag Team Title reigns 5-years apart.  Somehow they tagged for a good stretch over the course of 15 years. Hawk was the more charismatic of the two but clearly struggled with his demons and died of a heart attack at age 46. Animal for his part just was not good enough to work a wrestling match on his own. He was too flat on his own but had a 30 year career. He won a 3rd Tag Title as the Legion of Doom teaming with Heidenreich, a man even more uninspiring on his own than Animal, but they made it work.

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The Divide

If there is one place that Theology and Tag Team wrestling definitely part ways, it is in the area of longevity. Longevity and faithfulness over the long haul in Christian faith is valuable and becomes more formidable as time goes on. Ideally love, faith, and impact increase as one remains faithful. Tag Team wrestling is typically characterized by initial success without a long term investment in Tag Teams themselves in a division that is regarded as secondary. A Tag Team feud has not main-evented a WWE PPV arguably ever. In the Kingdom of God however, Jesus thought there was something to be said in sending his followers out in pairs. They were more effective together and prevented the stories in Scripture from being about one personality other than Jesus himself.

I look forward to the day when the Tag Team division of wrestling gets a program that can sustain a Main Event run worth fans attention. I believe it’s possible, I also believe in the furtherance of the Kingdom of God through team efforts. Neither are doomed.

Tag Team Theology Vol. 2: Demolition and Dissolving

My favorite wrestling tag team ever was Demolition, you know the 2 guys with the metal stud outfits with face paint managed by Mr Fuji. They eventually brought in a third guy, Crush, for a short time and then faded out of existence. I liked them because my first memory as a child was seeing them at Survivor Series 1990 teaming with Mr. Perfect. The event was free around Thanksgiving time because of the US involvement in the Gulf War. My dad held me and I remember them walking out ot their rocking entrance music. I was almost 3 at the time so the rest is a blur, but I became a fan.

I learned later that Demolition was the WWF’s demolitionversion of the Road Warriors/Legion of Doom, and comparatively Demolition had a pretty short run. But while they were there I believed they lived up to their name most of the time. Their rivalries with the Powers of Pain and the Hart Foundation were great during the late 80’s into 1990. Even though the twosome turned threesome were great, but as individual performers they weren’t worth much.

ambassadorsIn ancient Israel, the most famous king of Israel was David, a shepherd boy who wrote songs, slayed a giant, and became king. He grew an army, more or less led by three brothers one of which, Joab clearly stood out among the 3. They were collaboratively known as the Sons of Zeruiah (Zeruiah means Pain or the tribulation of the Lord). Zeruiah’s sons distributed a lot of pain because they were warriors and usually merciless.

Rather than giving an all-inclusive summary of how these 3 brothers did King David’s bidding, I’d like to put forth a character study of these 3 brothers as compared to the 3-members of Demolition, starting with the least relevant.

Ax and Asahel.

Ax was a 3-time WWF Tag Team Champion with his partner Smash. He was at the height of his popularity in wrestling from 1987-1990. For the remainder of his career, he wrestled on the independent-scene in relative obscurity. Asahel was the youngest son of Zeruiah, was swift-footed and a valiant fighter. In the book of 2 Samuel chapter 2, he gets his five minutes of fame when he chases down Abner, the commander of a rival army. During the chase they have a shouting match reminiscent of a movie fight scene. It ends with Abner thrusting a spear backwards during the chase, which dealt a death blow to Asahel. Into Asahel’s stomach and out his back, he’s written out of the Bible. It’s a sad way to go out after achieving such heights.

Little did I know, my first memory and the first wrestling event I ever watched would be the last of Ax’s WWF television career.

Smash and Abishai

                Smash, likewise a 3-time WWF champion, had a slightly longer stint as part of Demolition teaming with Crush, but that didn’t work out well. So Smash went missing and came back repackaged as the Repo Man, a gimmick that fit in with the 1991-1993 era. His gimmick granted some decent moments of comedy, but he was usually not very entertaining in the ring. Repo Man was however, a character more motivated than his gimmicks in rival promotion WCW where he aimlessly worked as the Blacktop Bully and “Hole in One” Barry Darsow (this might work as a gimmick in 2017 though). Needless to say, outside of Demolition he was forgettable.

Abishai, the oldest brother of the Sons of Zeruiah, I wouldn’t say is forgettable. He was certainly famous among the army of Israel. He ventured closely with King David and achieved promotion in the ranks of Israel’s army, but he was not as polarizing of a figure as his brother Joab. Abishai was loyal but still violent. He avenged his brother Asahel with Joab by killing Abner. He with Joab killed King David’s son Absalom, when Absalom tried to usurp the kingdom. He was with David when the previous king Saul was trying to kill David. But he fades out of Scirpture, unlike his brothers whose deaths are recorded. Abishai stops being relevant for no real reason.

Irrelevance plagued Smash or Barry Darsow after Demolition, but he was still my favorite of the 3.

Crush and Joab

                Crush was the late comer to Demolition but had better size and a better look than Ax and Smash, which is likely why his career gained mileage through the 90’s. He was repackaged as Crush of Demolition, to Crush, the Hawaiian surfer face, to Crush, a heel version Hawaiian, to Crush, in the Nation of Domination, to Crush, the leader of Disciples of Apocalypse. Then he left for WCW to wrestle as Brian Adams joining the NWO, then wrestled in a tag team known as Kronik, where he was a Tag Team Champion on 2 occasions. He wrestled in the spotlight for the better part of decade, but never really made it, nor can I think of a single match of his that was entertaining enough to be remembered. He died at 43 years old which is tragic.

Joab, the middle brother, and the most violent and scheming of anyone close to King David gets a lot of time in the Scriptures. In 2 Samuel, he is always with David, responding to his orders and then manipulating circumstances to shake David out of his depression. Joab was a shaker, he kept moving and kept things moving even when not for the better. As David is crowning the next king, Joab lands on the wrong side of the coin by siding with Adonijah, the son not chosen to carry the kingdom foward. David gives Solomon, the chosen son, a warning regarding Joab’s violence and scheming. He instructs him to take Joab out when the opportunity arises. In 1 Kings Chapter 2 Benaiah, another military officicer strikes down Joab at an altar for the guilt of the innocent blood Joab had shed throughout his lifetime.

Dissolve

Demoltion-1Demolition like the Sons of Zeruiah suffered a dissolving. At first glance it appears Demolition dissolved a lot more abruptly after their last title reign in 1990, but really their careers as great professional wrestlers suffered in some ways from drudgery. They may never see the WWE Hall of Fame, though I hope they do. But I also understand if they don’t because some things even if they seem good for a while should not be enshrined forever. The Sons of Zeruiah were sons of pain in the end they dissolved into dust but I would not say they were demolished. In fact, they helped build something that was good. Sometimes you helped build a legacy, and sometimes you are the legacy. These pairings were builders.

Tag Team Theology: The Brood and Bloodbaths

Ezekiel 35

Every tag team has to start somewhere, but there are few tag teams whose gimmicks whose start and end look entirely different. For Edge and Christian, the duo was introduced within 4 months of each other as brothers. Edge was a matrix-esque loner and Christian was a gothic vampire’s disciple. Edge feuded with and then joined Christian and his mentor Gangrel, the actual vampire, to form The Brood, a group best known for their lights-out blood baths and cool entrances rising up from a circle surrounded by fire in the WWF’s Titan Tron stage.

Brother verse brother always make for a popular feud. This is how the WWF introduced Kane to feud with Undertaker. It is the plot line of the 2011 MMA movie Warrior. Sibling rivalry is money and dates back to the first brothers Cain (not to be confused with Kane) and Abel. Unlike Cain and Abel, the three examples above also illustrate the entertainment value of sibling reconciliation.

The_Brood.2The team of Edge and Christian were far better as a tandem than they were with Gangrel, but I will admit that the bloodbath and their entrance were so darn cool at the time. Which brings me to my point, Biblical texts and theological positions inspire professional wrestling storytellers.

You see, after Cain and Abel, there were two more brothers, Jacob and Esau. They competed too, over position in the family and inheritance, trying to earn their push. Jacob tricks Esau but has to flee for his life, leading to the eventual reconciling of the brothers many years later. Fast forward 600 163f1575aad51821f503462321a27d53years or so and their offspring turned cities that bear their names, have heat again. Even more-so, Edom the city named after Esau, home to Mt. Seir, is out for blood against Israel, the city of Jacob who himself was repackaged as Israel.

A scriptural reference might be nice: Ezekiel 35:6 “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, since you show no distaste for blood, I will give you a bloodbath of your own. Your turn has come!” This verse sums up the entire chapter in that the evil brothers’/territories love for blood has led to vengeance from God.

The reasoning for this vengeance is not so God can let out some arbitrary anger as an evil divinity, it is what is required due to the blood that was shed by the evil brother. The bloodbath vengeance will allow the good brother to live in safety and victory, allows God to remain famous and for the rest of the world to rejoice at the prospect of peace. Save the face (good guy), save the company, is the job of the creator.

In 1998, the Brood was not the threat to the company that the Ministry of Darkness (a faction led by the Undertaker) appeared to be, until Vince McMahon revealed that he was aligned with them. In fact the Brood, for how cool their entrance was and how cool their bloodbaths were, weren’t meant to last. After they ineffectively hung the Big Boss Man from a cell at WrestleMania XV, it was only a matter of time before one realized this group’s shelf life was seasonal.

Because one thing that is true in wrestling, as is true in reality is that villains or heels don’t last. They may supply the conflict for the story and are involved in the climax, but they exist to make room for the hero.

Where Did the Good Shepherd Go?

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If you’ve ever read Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd,” this passage in Ezekiel should feel very familiar. In some ways this passage displays the mind and heart of God prior to the reflection David offers about his Shepherd God. The imagery of God going on a seeking mission to find his scattered sheep is reassuring. God seeks and rescues His sheep during dark times. Furthermore God offers to sustain his sheep with provision of food and safety.

“I will feed them with good pasture… they shall lie down in good grazing land… I myself will make them lie down.”(v.14-15) I feel like rest for the weary is one of the most neglected benefits of being a child of God in western Christianity. While it seems we have no problem partaking in excesses, we have trouble with rest. It’s easy to develop and buy into patterns of long hours = successful labor = optimum output. We work excessively so we can spend excessively with the hope that people will notice excessively, how hard we have worked.

Let me ask you something: if God supernaturally blessed you with the ability to get your work done in the quarter of the time it normally takes you, what would you do with that time? Would you spend it on more opportunity to work? I think this question is more important than we realize. Is it that we don’t have time? Or is it that if we had time, we wouldn’t know how to rightly spend it anyway?

This is how God spent his time as a shepherd: Seeking (the lost) bringing back (the strayed), binding up (the injured), and strengthening (the weak). To be faithful to the context of the scripture it goes on to say destroying (the fat and strong) by feeding them justice. I wish so badly that those in the Kingdom of God including myself would reject with all our being when “strength” is used to exploit others and when excess is hoarded and idolized instead of excellent stewardship.

We do not serve a God who is into exploitation. We serve a God who is bold enough with his finances to pay a laborer a day’s wage who works for 1 hour. (Matthew 20:13-15) I’d critique that financial decision too, if God didn’t have everything God needed. We serve a generous God. We serve a God who likewise expects generosity.

We also serve a conscientious God, a God who is watching how sheep treat sheep. In verses 18-20 God asks powerful questions if we are willing to stay with the metaphor. “Is it not enough for you to feed on good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?”

the_lost_sheepYo, look around, you’re not the only one looking to drink, looking to eat. I forget that. I forget that we are all sheep in the same flock. I forget that the kingdom is built on patience, not on pushing others out-of-the-way, that our place in the kingdom is elevated based on serving not stepping on.

This is why we need Jesus as Shepherd and Savior. He saves us from our competition and determination to be saved on our own and he leads us in away that gives us security in knowing we are cared for. Jesus the Good Shepherd, where did he go? Wherever there are lost sheep, that’s where He goes.

“And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God,” declares the Lord.

Where Did All the Pastor’s Go?

Ezekiel 34:1-10

                I feel like pastoral ministry oriented jobs are easily and often subject to criticism. While criticism may range from well-founded to unreasonable, it’s easy to critique someone who is expected in their vocation to respond to a call and to care, and to care specifically for hurting people. Critiquing someone’s level of care though, can be subjective in the same way comedy is subjective. Because of this, pastors might be tempted to create clearer objective goals and tasks that usually are not preeminent to the job description.

Job descriptions are not fun to write, thankfully God wrote both the goal and mission statement for ministers. A pastor or shepherd exists to equip God’s people for works of service to build up the body, for unity and maturity’s sake (Eph. 4:11-12). How one goes about doing that is more expansive but it requires disciple-making (getting people to follow an example of living), baptism, and teaching or preaching. Oh yeah and a pastor cares about people, caring for and about people is important.

In Ezekiel 34, God gives a message to the shepherds, the leaders of the flock, a warning, a critique:

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flock starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal…..”

                In other words, you live off the sheep not for the sheep. You neglected your commission for your comfort. But God doesn’t tolerate that because God is The Good Shepherd. cows

             The heartbeat of Jesus in being a pastor/shepherd does not view people or “sheep” as the means or even the end. Rather, they are more than a livelihood; they are a major part of life, expression and even a reflection of our love. The easy solution when pastors are prone to fail is to take away the responsibility and the sheep, which is what God threatens in Ezekiel 34:10.

            However, Jesus, in reconciling Peter, rather than taking away Peter’s responsibility after a denial is to reconcile him to the task of feeding and tending to the sheep. God’s solution always involves reconciliation and it’s up to us to determine what side of the coin of reconciliation we end up on.

           When Jesus asks Peter in essence, “Peter, where have you, a shepherd of my choosing gone? Where is your love?” Peter responds in essence and perhaps in tears, “It is here, my Lord, my love is here with you.” Then Jesus affirms, “Feed them, Care for them, See them.”