Three Degrees Of Ric Flair

When I was a kid I hated Ric Flair.

Saturday nights at my house were devoted to wrestling. It started at 6:05 on WTBS and ended at 2 in the morning on channel 36. I saw the Von Erich family of wrestlers from Texas, I heard a young Jim Ross from Oklahoma and I cheered on the Rock and Roll Express in Atlanta. I was there for all of it. I can even remember the lady in charge of the Christmas play at my church coming up to me at one Saturday night practice and saying, “Don’t worry Jay. You’ll be home in time for wrestling.”

And I was.

Most of my childhood was spent hating Ric Flair because he was the loudmouth who beat all of the guys that I liked. As I grew older I started to appreciate and even admire him. The fact that he made me hate him so badly meant that he did his job well. I guess it’s sort of like how we all hated Darth Vader when we were kids but started to like him as adults.

On Tuesday night, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series covered the life of Ric Flair. Watching it didn’t make me hate Ric Flair again nor did it reinforce my appreciation for him. It made me feel sorry for him.

Ric Flair is really Richard Fliehr, a college drop out who figured out a way to turn a fascination with alcohol and women into a moneymaking lifestyle. That lifestyle turned out to be as fake as the wrestling matches Fliehr participated in almost every night during the prime of his career. He had a jet but he wasn’t really jet setting. He wore nice clothes but isn’t as rich as we were all led to believe. He was around a lot of women but didn’t know how to be with just one woman.

Fliehr wasn’t wrestling. He was running. He was running from the shame of disappointing his parents. He was running away from any form of commitment. He was running to an acceptance and satisfaction that could never be found in the places where he was looking.

Many broken lives were left in the wake of the Nature Boy’s lifestyle. There were four broken marriages. There were four broken children, each suffering in their own way because of their father’s absence. Perhaps none of them suffered more than his son Reid. Ric Flair brags about binge drinking in hotels every night for most of his career. His son Reid followed in his father’s footsteps, not just in the wrestling ring but at the hotel bar as well. Only Reid went further. He added pills and heroin to his diet. On March 29, 2013, Reid Fliehr was found dead, in of all places, a hotel room.

In the 30 for 30 documentary, director Rory Karpf asked Ric Flair what he would say to his son if he were here today. A crying Fliehr said that he would apologize for being his son’s friend instead of his father. There was a lot of pain in those words. And wisdom too.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever really hated Ric Flair. I just wanted to be Ric Flair and I knew it wasn’t happening. I dreamed of putting the playground bully in a figure four leg lock or of walking to my desk in a robe while the Space Odyssey theme played. I think that Richard Fliehr wanted to be Ric Flair too. It wasn’t happening for him either.

Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” But rather than trying to be a man, Flair settled for some other version of manhood. And it ended up beating him.

Now, no one wants to be Richard Fliehr.

But if we’re not careful in discerning truth from reality and what’s really important from what feels really good at the time, we could all end up just like him.

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Christmas And A Brief Theology Of Ric Flair

Diamonds are forever.

The first time that I ever heard that phrase was from the famous theologian, Nature Boy Ric Flair. If you don’t know who Ric Flair is, you might be what’s wrong with America. But that’s okay. I’ll forgive you. Those of us with more refined tastes know that Ric Flair was a professional wrestler who hung around a group of other professional wrestlers that liked to call themselves The Four Horsemen. Flair used to say, “Diamonds are forever and so are the Four Horsemen. Woooo!”

Here’s Flair in his prime.

 

The Four Horsemen don’t exist anymore. And Ric Flair isn’t quite what he used to be. Here’s some recent footage of Mr. Flair.

The news isn’t much better for diamonds. Just ask Amber Vinson.

She’s the Dallas nurse who was diagnosed with ebola a while back. While her life was being saved by a medical team at Emory, hazmat crews were going through her Texas apartment and destroying everything that they thought might spread the disease. Everything included Vinson’s diamond engagement ring. It was incinerated.

Nothing, it seems, is forever.

Until you understand what David tells us in Psalm 145.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. Psalm 145:13 (ESV)

The God of the universe is forever. His goodness to his people is forever. His reign as king is forever. And the worship of him by his people will be forever.

Much of what we live for and worship is far from eternal. If you are the parent of small children, you’ll be reminded of that in a few  months when the presents you stressed yourself out over buying are discarded for something newer and shinier.

Christmas is hard on people for a whole lot of different reasons. For some, it’s the stress of making sure that everything is in its proper place. For others, it’s the sting of death that has left another empty space at the table this year.

This Christmas, read Psalm 145. At first, it may not seem like a Christmas passage but it really is. In it we don’t see a god who began in a manger and ended in a tomb. Instead, we see a God whose kingdom is everlasting. And we see a God who, “upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).

In response, we should say with David, “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever” Psalm 145:21 (ESV).

Woooo!

Boiled Peanuts and Professional Wrestling

There are people in this country who have no idea what a boiled peanut is.  None of those people live in the south.

One of my first memories involves boiled peanuts.  And professional wrestling.  You know that you grew up in the south if your childhood memories are of boiled peanuts and professional wrestling.

I couldn’t have been any more than five-years-old.  My older sister was eating a bowl of boiled peanuts while watching Wildfire Tommy Rich wrestle Stan the Lariat Hansen.  But this was no ordinary wrestling match.  No, if Tommy Rich lost this match he would have to shave his head.  Tommy Rich lost the match.  I watched in disbelief as Tommy Rich’s bleach blonde mullet, newly removed from his scalp, lay lifeless on the wrestling mat.

My sister wasn’t so passive.

She threw her bowl of boiled peanuts at the television.  In the south, if you throw something at the TV you get a spanking.  But if you throw boiled peanuts at the TV, you get a whoopin’.  My mom gave my sister a whoopin’.  And she didn’t let her watch wrestling for another month.  A month!  One time Elvis shot his TV and he didn’t get in that much trouble.

Most people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or when we landed on the moon.  I remember where I was when Stan the Lariat Hansen shaved Tommy Rich’s head.  I like to think that that makes me unique.

A few years later there was another big wrestling match scheduled to come on TV.  This time it was The Nature Boy Ric Flair wrestling Hands of Stone Ron Garvin.  I had been looking forward to it all week.  In fact, I was looking forward to it so much that I stopped paying attention in school.  At the end of each week we had to bring our work home and have it singed by our parents.  On that particular week, I had failed almost every assignment.  My mom was furious and she knew just the right punishment.

No wrestling.

My mother was really good at hitting us where it hurts.

In the north, parents punish their children by making them shovel snow off of the sidewalk. In the south they just don’t let you watch wrestling.  I was devastated but I painfully accepted my punishment.

My sister wasn’t so passive.

She sat outside on our tiny porch and had a talk with my mom.  I’m not sure what she said.  Maybe she finally apologized for the time when she threw a bowl of boiled peanuts at Stan the Lariat Hansen.  Whatever she said, it worked to my advantage.

My mom came inside and told me that I could watch Ric Flair wrestle Ron Garvin.

All because of my sister.

I think that I was somewhere around 30-years-old when I found out that wrestling was fake.  I haven’t watched it since.  From what I understand, it’s nothing like what I grew up watching.  And I can’t remember the last time that I ate a boiled peanut.  Do you realize how much sodium is in those things?

But maybe this fall, just for old time’s sake, when the Atlanta Falcons fumble the football on their own goal line or one of the Georgia Bulldogs gets arrested for driving drunk on a stolen scooter, I’ll throw my turkey burger and green tea at the television.

I just hope that my wife and kids understand.

The True Southerner

If you’ve never been to a professional wrestling match with your mother, you’re not a true southerner.

I became a true southerner in the sixth grade.

My sister and I decided that the perfect Mother’s Day gift would be tickets to see Ric Flair wrestle at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia.  As if that wasn’t good enough, two wrestlers who called themselves The Rock and Roll Express would be giving out free roses to the first few hundred moms who came through the door.

What mother wouldn’t want to spend the one day of the year devoted to her by watching old, flabby men pretend to fight one another?  What mother wouldn’t want a very special rose given to her by two young men wearing tights and mullets?

My mother.

Giving her wrestling tickets for Mother’s Day was sort of like a husband buying his wife a Home Depot gift card for Christmas.

But my mom went anyway, got her rose and saw The Nature Boy Ric Flair get fake beat up by Hands of Stone Ron Garvin.

She never complained.

That was a long time ago.  My mom would only live for about another 15 years after that Mother’s Day.  The Omni wouldn’t even make it that long before being torn down and replaced by Philips Arena.

A lot has changed.

Sort of.

A few years ago a friend invited me to come with him to watch his cousin wrestle.   I quit watching professional wrestling a long time ago but I jumped at the opportunity and brought my two-year-old son along with me.

The matches were in an old building that looked like it used to function as an auto body shop or furniture store.  The wrestling ring seemed to barely fit in the tiny building.  My son was a little scared.

I, on the other hand, felt like a kid again.

The first wrestling match started about 30 minutes late because Dr. Demento and his sidekick, The Masked Mauler, got caught in traffic.

I’m a college graduate with a Masters of Divinity from a prestigious seminary and I am a Southern Baptist pastor but by the time the first match started, all of that went away.  I was in the sixth grade again.  But this time, while I was yelling at wrestlers and pointing at them with one arm, I was holding my two-year-old son with my other arm.

If you’ve never been to a professional wrestling match in an old furniture store and yelled at the professional wrestlers while holding your infant son, you’re not a true southerner.  All that was missing was the Mountain Dew.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I think it’s this.  If you live in the south and you really love someone, you take them to professional wrestling matches, even if that someone who you love doesn’t like professional wrestling.

So guess what my wife and I will be doing next year for our tenth anniversary.