Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thanks, Coach Wooden: from one who loves sports, yet...

After my hiatus from blogging, I'm jump back with this from the sports world...

The Coach died last night. If you couple the words "basketball" and "The Coach" in the same sentence, for anyone who follows sports in the U.S. most will immediately leap to John Wooden. He died last night at age 99.

If you don't know, he was the legendary coach of UCLA that led to unparalleled success in the 60's and early 70's. Records that will never be broken. Two straight undefeated seasons. 88 wins in a row. Seven straight championships. Get out! I won't list all the stats; check them out for yourself if you're interested.

It wasn't merely that he happened to have some great bb players (Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Walt Hazzard, et. al.) and the talent carried the day. Coaching matters. His wisdom, discipline, and coaching skills was the basis for the championships.

But, it's another dimension that far exceeds the wins, and it put him, dwarfed next to his Walton's and Alcindor's, heads and shoulders above the rest of the field. It's the person, John Wooden. Things like his loyalty to his late wife, who died in 1985 after 53 years of marriage. His devout Christian faith. Character. Integrity.

Things like living in the same, small modest home in L.A. Endeavoring to build character and foster maturity in the young men he coached. Things like his three absolute "rules" for his players: no profanity on the court, no tardiness, and no talking behind any of your teammates' back. Like when, as coach of Indiana Teacher's College (Indiana State), he turned down a tournament invitation because of NAIB's policy of banning African American players; one of his players was an African American.

Things like not throwing chairs onto the court or cursing at the refs when they make a bad call...

I grew up playing sports and loved it. I'm sure, until the day I die, you will find me, early morning, with my nose in the box scores (even if I can catch the scores on my Blackberry last thing at night). I'm looking forward to a Rockies' game at Coors Field Monday night. Every spring, I'll live with endless hope that the Reds and Rockies will make it to the World Series. In the fall, I'll start pulling for new coach Jimbo Fisher and FSU.

But...I've changed over the years. I grew up in the competitive saturated culture of sports in America. It took. But, increasingly, I find some things about the extremely competitive aspects in sports to be inconsistent with my faith as a follower of Jesus. I do not find, anywhere, this win-at-all-costs or winning-is-the-only-thing-that-matters in the person and life of Jesus. So, I'm beginning to reject much of what I see in that world of extreme competition.

I also know that this is not theory or some pious notion: as I am honest with myself, I know this tugs at my own heart and self. I got annoyed at myself on Thursday when I hit some lousy shots from the fairway! Or, I realize how strong the tug is to join a fierce, competitive stance. So, I'm a work in progress.

Interlude: likely, I would not agree with everyone that Wooden would say about this, nor do I believe there is no room for healthy competitiveness. However, that's a much longer discussion.

To come back to Wooden...He stands in sharp contrast to so many players and coaches who, even in the name of "Christian faith," have bought into this extreme competitive culture, with flashes of anger and violence. Screaming, cursing, veins popping out of the neck. You have the feeling they want to destroy the other team/player.

Contrast- The Coach: discipline, hard work, commitment, training, skill development, character development, no yelling, no cursing, no talking behind the back of your teammate, giving your best effort, and...humility. And, even though it wasn't the only thing, i.e. winning, they did win a few games!

There are a ton of coaches I would not want my kids/grand kids/friends in my community to play for. But, you will not hear that from any of Coach Wooden's players. Not one.

Class act.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter: this I believe...

To state decisively what one believes, especially in our current context, is rowing against the stream. I understand some of the objections. In fact, I would agree with some of the reasons for objecting to bold, "truth" proclamations. For one, many who espouse this have funneled the Christian faith into propositional truth statements. Further, these bold statements have, for many, become narrow litmus tests of who is "in" and who is "out."

So, I understand, and I agree with some of the resistance. The Christian faith is anything but essential truth statements- cognitive assertions. And, the heresy police, with their narrow windows of what is orthodox for Christian faith, are causing havoc in some circles. There is "orthodoxy" but it must not be funneled down into one particular stream. There is so much to God that can't be known, and when this prompts us to awaken awe and mystery before God, it is a wondrous and good thing. A very good thing.

With that preamble, here is where I'm headed this Easter morning, 2010. It is also good, even if rejected by much in our cultural context, to say, "This I believe." And, to name what we believe to be true, along with above given that there is much- so much- that we cannot know.

I will say what I believe to be true about Easter. I am not interested, here, in giving a defense for why I believe this to be true; there are a number of reasons. What I will state is that this has been the normative thread from the beginning of Christianity and throughout the generations that have followed, in every stream of orthodox Christian faith. I don't stand alone here, and what others have believed and how they have lived is vital for me. Those "cloud of witnesses" must not be ignored. We are not "making up" or inventing what it means to be a follower of, and believer in, Jesus.

As important, what I believe has changed my life, continues to inform and transform me, and it is why I will give my life for what this means.

So, here is what I believe and state this Easter morning: Jesus, who died, came back to life three days later.

While what the cross and death of Jesus means carries multiple meanings, and while the nuances of it have caused multiple debates and searchings, one basic meaning that has been declared throughout the centuries is vital for me: that evil, death and sin has been disarmed and defeated by Jesus' death on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). And, Jesus being raised from the dead has made all the difference in the meaning of the cross.

I want to borrow the words of two gifted thinkers and writers and use their words to state what, in part, I believe: N.T. Wright and Frederick Buechner.

Why would those early followers of Jesus continue to follow him after he is executed, and not see him as another failed "messiah?" Wright says, “The rule, then, seems clear. If you follow a messiah and he gets killed, you obviously backed the wrong horse….After Jesus was executed, his followers didn’t give up the revolution, nor did they choose another leader…Why?...Why did they think he was the Messiah after all?... The early Christians give one answer, and only one. This is what they said: three days after Jesus’ execution and burial, he was raised to bodily life again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.” (p.71-72- The Original Jesus)

This gave them, and it gives me, a task: "to tell the world that the new creation had begun; that justice and peace were now to be put into operation in all the world; and that all this could happened because the power of evil had been decisively broken.” (p. 74)

There are many ways the "resurrection" is portrayed, and it is much more than just "inspiring the human spirit." Some use that language; it isn't important if Jesus actually came back from the dead; if our "human spirit" is inspired, that's enough. I don't believe so. What happened that first Easter morning? I agree with Buechner, "So, what do I believe actually happened that morning on the third day after he died?...I can tell you this: that what I believe happened and what in faith and with great joy I proclaim, is that he somehow got up, with life in him again…And I speak very plainly here, very unfancifully. He got up.” (The Magnificent Defeat)

I believe the resurrection to be vital to our faith and life. To use others' words one more time, I'm with Wright as he speaks about everything being altered as a result of that empty tomb, “Without it, he remains a total enigma: a wonderful teacher, a great leader, a wise man of prayer- but ultimately a noble failure. With it, he stands at the great turning point of history and beckons. And, to those who see, and come, he points: points to the work he has for them to do;… to take the news of his victory over evil and death to the ends of the earth.” (p.74-75)

This I believe.

But more: this is how I will seek to live- living a new, resurrected life myself. To walk in the resurrection. To live by the power of the risen Jesus.

That both cultivates joy and empowers.

On this Easter: to God be all glory.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Whassup, Glenn Beck?

I don't watch FOX News or the Glenn Beck program. But, it didn't take long before I heard the recent pitch by Beck this week, on his program, blasting the use of "social justice" in churches. Word travels rather quickly.

If you haven't heard, it went something like this: "social justice" is just a "code word" for communism and Nazism. He held up two cards, one with a swastika and the other with a hammer and sickle. He said, if you see the words "social justice" or "economic justice" on the website of your church, "ran as fast as you can." His advice: leave your church if they talk about and use that language.

In an era when it's hard to determine whether the Rush Limbaugh's or Glenn Beck's or Bill Maher's are uber Capitalists selling entertainment, or whether they truly believe what they spew, I wonder if responses like this is exactly what they're hoping for. More business. More book sales. Whatever the case may be, here's another side.

If people in our church took Beck to heart, our church, The Bridge, would fold. We could close the doors this week. (P.S. I'm not worried, Glenn.) One of our four core values"social justice." That core value: a commitment to action- seeking social justice, serving the marginalized, pursuing peace.

This would be true, I imagine: if you believe Beck,, then you will run as fast as you can from our community of faith. And, you will- thank God I can say this now- run from more churches today than you would 20 or even 10 years ago. That will be the case: that some do not want anything to do with the language of social justice and the like. "It's not the Gospel. It's immaterial. It's 'extra.' What really matters is getting your heart 'right with God.'"

So, I'll take the opportunity from the Beck prompt to say the opposite: it is not an appendage to the Gospel, but that the "good news" ("Gospel") is inclusive of God's reconciling work which includes all kinds of fractures and brokenness. It is the good news that Jesus came announcing and proclaiming, living and embodying in his very person. Good news to the poor in spirit; good news to the poor. Freedom from inner captivity; freedom from oppression.

Instead of my own words, I refer to Jesus, his life and his words, for I take him to be central as God in the flesh. Jesus, announcing these words from the prophet Isaiah and taking on that mantle for himself, says: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." (Luke 4:18) Code words? Or, words anchored in the One we, as followers of Jesus, call Lord?

Jesus' life, is consistent with this very proclamation. These words are not an isolated proof text; nor does his life, which we are called to follow, lead another way.

This is also in the prophetic tradition, where God calls us to seek...justice- socially. "Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of let the oppressed go free?..." (Isaiah 58:6-14) Code words? Or, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

Code words? Or, words rooted in Scripture?

My reading of Scripture, and where it comes to completeness and fullness in Jesus, is that this good news will include saving us from narcissism and pride, to surrendering to God and a relationship with God, to helping the poor in Nicaragua run their own business, to helping eradicate malaria in Africa, to seeing the walls of Apartheid dismantled in South Africa, to helping others have a decent meal during the week, to...well, you see.

To wherever there is a need for reconciliation with God and with others, and wherever there is need for healing of the fractures and injustice.

I'll turn the tables on Beck's statement: if your church does not have the words "social justice" or the like in its vision, go ask why not.

I am under no illusion that people will leave the Glenn Beck program as a result of his statements. He might even sell more books. But, if statements like his this week will prompt a few more to scratch under the surface, and look in the Biblical story for evidence of social justice, and actually read the words and life of Jesus, then, I am convinced, a few more will experience this transforming good news.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

If you had to bet everything on...

During Lent this year, I'm throwing out a question each week that I found from Frederick Buechner. I'm passing this on to our church community, The Bridge, with the encouragement to ponder, pray and even write about each week.

So, here's the question from this past week:

If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

No fair using any "Sunday School" cliches if you grew up in that environment...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's the "self" you present to others- to the world?

I might as well say it up-front: what follows is not about self-absorption or the pursuit of self-knowledge as the end.

Now, with that being said, I want to think about this concept of the "false self" and the "true self." That can mean various things to different ones of us, and I'll say shortly how I am using it. I am going back to some "saints" and spiritual writers that I was introduced to many years ago, and two of these, in particular, have had massive impact on the spiritual landscape in the last century: Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

In a short book by a Jesuit, James Martin, the focus was on these two men who have had such major impact, and I was prompted by this idea of false and true selves. The false self, as I'm using it here is the self we want to present to the world. It may come from what we others think we are, or should be. It might come from expectations of others. Or, it can come from something we may want to be or someone else we may want to be. But, it ain't me!

I've been a preacher for almost all of my adult years. (Actually, how I normally identify my role is as a pastor and part of that role is preacher, but that's another story.) I'll bet there isn't a preacher around who hasn't thought-whether they said it or kept it to themselves: "I wish I could preach like ____________. Maybe, if I work at it and mimic some of his/her preaching style, I could preach nearly like __________."

False-self confession: I heard Walter Wangerin (you may not know him but he's a wordsmith and gifted communicator) speak at a conference, and that's just what I tried to do for a time: preach like Walter. That was short-lived and that was a joke! I'm not Wangerin; I can't preach like Wangerin. Further, I shouldn't try to preach like him, as it just isn't me, besides the fact that I don't have those innate gifts he has.

This false self gets played out in things like this, but also in all kinds of other ways related to what we want to convey to others- to the world.

On the other hand, and the search we ought to be on, is living out our true self. It's more than a cheesy quip: to be who we are. To be the person God crafted us to be. To let go of trying to be anybody else, or to pursue a false trek just because society/culture/family has defined what "success" looks like, or what one should be.

And, the point of this is not to end up navel-gazing. As Martin commented on both Merton and Nouwen, with respect to this process of self-examination, he said " was not simply a narcissistic quest for self-knowledge. Rather, it was a discipline undertaken to allow them to become more loving and more centered on God." That's part of the point: to love- love God and love others, and not end up absorbed in the self with little ability to love others.

I'm drawn to listen to the Merton's and Nouwen's of the world, both modern and ancient. I'm inspired, not by some flawless folks (far from it!), but by those seeking to live authentic lives (true self) in our families, friendships, on the job, among the poor, seeking justice, pursuing peace.

This life-long journey for authenticity is anything but a quest for self-knowledge and then stopping there. It is to live and love more fully!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The enemies of "oughts" and "ifs"

It's been awhile- a long while-since I stepped inside a "Christian" bookstore. I don't tend to find the books that I'm interested reading in that spot. And, there are plaques and posters with pithy sayings, like: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift- that's why they call it the present." I think I'll pass on the mug.

You can find this stuff at Hallmark stores, thrift stores, and, somewhere in Boulder, there has to be a store with these trinkets. Not just Christian bookstores. One of the quips, whether it is a ditty on a Hallmark card or in some self-help book or in a conversation, is that living in the present moment is what we aim for. Not in the past or in the future, but now. Here and now.

"Here and now." Ahh, that's the title of a book I just finished. By the late Henri Nouwen. This idea of living fully in the present is not a new concept, and it sounds rather simple; it's not a complex idea. It's not like some of my college philosophy textbooks where, after reading the same page five times, I was still scratching my head! But, just because it is a simple notion doesn't mean it is easy to live this out in my life. Far from it.

Here's the way Nouwen put it, "The real enemies of our life are the 'oughts' and the 'ifs.' They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future." (p.18) I messed up and ought to have done it differently. Or, I had an opportunity to take positive action and I didn't; I should have. The other end is the enemy of the "what if." What if I never get married? What if the economy doesn't clear up and I can never get a job with security? What if something happens to my health?

Now, there is a positive dimension to looking into our past and learning from either mistakes (or, I'll use the "sin" word) or hurtful experiences, and taking time to consider goals, dreams or visions for one's future. That is quite different from the "oughts" and "ifs."

I'm inclined to think we gravitate, for any number of reasons, more toward the "ought" or "if" side. The catch, if it toward the "oughts," is the drain of guilt. If you are prone to the "what ifs," you will get snagged with anxiety or worry. I land on the side of the "ifs" when I am not operating out of living in the present.

What is it for you? "Oughts"- and then, guilt? Or, "ifs"- and then, anxiety?

What I hear in Jesus' words, and see in his life, and the good news of the Kingdom he came announcing, is clearly about the present. "The Kingdom is here among you!" Enter this abundant life- now! Love God. Love others. Share your life, especially, with the poor, outsider, broken, and people who are marginalized.

It is far too simplistic to suggest that we can always live in the present, and avoid the "oughts" and "ifs," and the corresponding and crippling guilt or worry. But, it is realistic to propose that we can live more and more in the present, rather than focused on the past or future.

I need reminders; that's why I read such books. Why I read scripture daily. That's why community is important for me.

Here and Now. Good reminder. Let's keep reminding each- both in words and action.

Anyone have a pithy slogan for this to put on a plaque, mug and t-shirt?... No; forget it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Focus outward even builds community- I saw it this week

I experienced community when the clothing closet was open on Tuesday night. I'll explain in a minute....

If the sole purpose, or the primary purpose, of a church is to preserve or save itself, it will not be fully alive. Further, if it is absorbed in seeking to build community, the irony is that it will not have community at a deeper level. It's one of those Kingdom "reversals."

Two things I read early this morning stated this very thing. Frederick Buechner explains it this way, "To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only journeying for the world's sake- even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death- that little by little we start to come alive" (p. 22, Listening to Your Life).

The community-building piece came in a note by Henri Nouwen about caring together for others in his meditation on dying and caring in Our Greatest Gift, "I have always been impressed with the thought that people are only ready to commit themselves to each other when they no longer focus on each other but rather focus together on the larger world beyond themselves." (p. 64)

I hear the longing for community continually. It is something that is important for our community- our church- The Bridge. To love, know and be known, laugh, build relationships. We were not meant to walk through life in the type of individualism that has been prominent in much of Western culture.

So, saying this on the positive side of the equation: when we see the world beyond ourselves, when we engage together for the world's sake, and when we care together for others, especially the poor and marginalized, community is built at new levels. We are more fully alive!

I can point to that very thing on Tuesday night. There are all kinds of stories out there that would tell a similar story, but here is a recent one. Simple. Nothing fancy....

Tuesday nights: our church is staffing a clothing closet on Tuesday nights, and we are in the process of organizing and expanding this service. There's a warm meal each Tuesday night for 75-100 homeless, or near homeless, folks at the church building we rent, and then a clothing closet is open after the meal for about an hour. Six of us were there this past week to not only help find a pair of jeans, coat, socks, underwear, soap, razor, or other items for those lining up in the basement. But, we also chat and joke with, listen to and begin to learn the names of the "regulars."

It's dangerous to try and speak for others, but I'll risk it. I think the six of us felt a bit more "alive" that night chatting with someone who needs a tube of toothpaste. Some of our own personal struggles might be put into perspective. Our world gets expanded another notch. We move a tiny step further away from the illusion that the world is about "me."

And, community was being built, and it was from the very act of caring about others, and engaging in the world beyond ourselves. Laughing with George and his puns. Knowing that the same older guy always asks for a bar of soap "because I don't want to be stinky!" Getting in on two guys ribbing each other. Hearing a slice of the stories (each one of our stories matter!) of those who come each week.

Another layer of community was built on Tuesday night as a result of caring together, for the world's sake.

Funny, and fun, how that works.