Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poker and the Tax Man

Contributed by Nelson

Luke 18:9-14 (MSG)

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'

Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"

Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."


For Lent this year, I'm fasting from online poker. It may come as a surprise to some that I even play it at all. But I admit I enjoy playing a game or two on evenings when I'm relaxing at home. Now, to clear the air: I'm not obsessed with it like some. But that's not the point. In fact, if I tried to make that the point, I'd fall right into the category of Mr. P in the above passage. Can you hear my Phari-phrased prayer? ('Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other poker guys -- the ones who couldn't give up playing for one DAY, let alone FORTY.') So why do I even feel compelled to mention that I'm not as bad as some?

Hmm. Good question. 'God, give mercy.'

Regardless of how much I play, the fact is I have a level of attachment to it that I am feeling would be healthy to let go of for a season. So, what I've been reflecting on is WHY I enjoy playing poker online.

Well, for starters, it can be relaxing. Truly. And I can still multi-task. I can play while watching the news, The Office or The Amazing Race. I can sit out a few hands when it's time to fold a load of laundry. But if I'm honest, the relaxation aspect begins to wane if I'm not doing so well. If I can't get good cards and start making dumb plays, I become frustrated. That leads to more games because I think, "I'll for sure do better on the next table." Sometimes I do, but other times I don't. Enter more frustration.

Another reason I enjoy it is that when I AM doing well, I like the feeling of beating other players. Of being smarter, wiser, luckier, a better liar (which is what bluffing is all about, let's face it). It's a rush when you've played well, caught a few breaks, and come out on top. Who doesn't like winning?

But at what cost? And what does winning do to the way I view 'me'? If it's true that I have an easier time accepting myself as a "winner", then I will give myself to habits that put me onto the podium of more favorable self-perception. If, on the other hand, I have a harder time living with my "loser" self, I will be prone to negative self-talk and condemnation (also NOT the point of Lent, I might add).

And here's the real rub: my self-perception often tends to be linked to the way I think God sees me. Just like the characters in the story Jesus told, we can get real messed up if we think God likes us only when we win, and doesn't like us when we lose.

So that's why I'm laying down my virtual poker cards and cashing in my chips for Lent. Instead, I'm taking up the prayer of the tax man: 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Nelson. I appreciate the honesty of this reflection.