Archive for the ‘unity’ Category

People question my insistence that preachers should ditch their points. Points, I have argued, are planted and buried with story, whispers and the inspiring word. People don’t need or want step-by-step directions and we’re not interested in the points. Do you need proof? Just think about the last time you read a “User License Agreement” on a computer program. Oh, wait, you didn’t read it. The reason is simple, you want to get on to engagement. Engagement rarely comes in 1…2…3. Below is perhaps the greatest proof ever.

The Cost of Winning

Posted: September 16, 2009 in life, perspective, speech acts, unity

I love winning. I grew up in Mississippi loving to play both soccer and baseball, but mostly loving to win when I played soccer and baseball. From an early age, the question, “Did you have fun?” never mattered. I wanted to win! And couldn’t understand those kids on my teams that were there to “have fun.”

It was fun to win; it was not fun to lose.

At the same time I was winning and losing, my family and my coaches – which were often the same people – taught me that good sportsmanship was part and parcel of playing sports well. Even when I lost, or while the game was hanging in the balance, I understood that my opponent wasn’t my enemy. At the end of games both teams would shake hands and leave our striving against one another on the field. My father taught me that winning was a good thing, but it wasn’t everything. But sadly, in our world more and more of us are finding winning to be the only thing. If you haven’t noticed, American culture, perhaps more than anything else now, is about winning.

This summer as opposition arose the President Obama’s healthcare goals, undecided on the subject myself, I asked my friend, Kraig, a series of questions about the uproar and the anger (town-halls, birthers, etc…). Kraig and I e-mailed back and forth our thoughts on the subject. Kraig articulated hosts of reasons why some people were so angry. A staunch conservative, Kraig has issues with “Obamacare,” as do many people I know, trust and love. Yet in our exchange, he said, “Some of these people have come to see politics as a kind of sport, and it’s not necessarily about the issues so much as it’s about winning.” That was a new take on politics to me – as naïve as that sounds. For some, there is an opposition and when there is an opposition, the most fundamental thing that can be done is defeat them. In fact, if you’re able to convince yourself that the opposition is inherently evil then you must defeat them – even if that means degrading one’s own self to do so. Don’t mistake me, though naïve, I know there are people of all political persuasions, left and right, who see their primary political motivator not as advocacy of a position, bi-partisanship, or statesmanship, but the elimination of the opponent.

Our political blood-lust for winning bubbled up and spilled over into the President’s address to the nation last week as we saw Joe Wilson embarrass all of us with his ill-advised shout at the President. Shouting in Congress does not produce a useful bill, it’s done in order to hurt the President’s cause. In turn those opposed to Wilson have and are calling for endless apologies, not because the apology will do anything besides weaken Wilson and his chances for reelection. The issue is long past and never really mattered much anyway, now it’s about winning.

Obviously, this kind of behavior isn’t limited to politics. As we’ve seen through Serena Williams’ U.S. Open profanity laced tirade, the winning edge within sports itself can be taken too far. Here a talented athlete, frustrated by the prospect of losing, demeaned herself, her opponent and a lineswoman in view of millions – some of kids. Why? Because winning was the most important thing. Worse than that, even, has been the treatment of South African runner, Caster Semanya. This poor woman has been made to undergo a public testing of her gender. There is very little else that strikes so closely to who we are than our gender. And why has she faced this wholly embarrassing testing? She was winning and other runners weren’t. As a father of two daughters, I can’t imagine the pain, hurt, discomfort and mortification Caster’s family must feel.

I have to ask: How much are we willing to lose for the sake of winning?

Too many of us have forgotten that Jesus calls not for the defeat of our enemies but for us to love them. And Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that love for our enemies entails, “refusing to defeat them.” Of course, on the ball field, someone has to win or lose, but there is a way, both on and off the field of play to treat others in ways where everyone wins, or at least is not about defeating. In the end, Christ followers believe that love wins, and because it does all words and actions should be done in love.

What would our world look like if all of us held deeply to the truth that loving our enemies, rather than defeating them, was the ONLY way to win? Hopefully the millions of us who darken the doors of churches every Sunday would be the last people to shout out in anger, regardless of the venue, and the first to know why and how to speak out about the heinous behavior that places winning above all else in sports, politics and the workplace.

At root, we should live as though the most significant victory in the world has already been won, and indeed, with Christ’s salvific act on the cross, it has.

I want to join the ranks of the unchurched!

A lot has been written and said about unchurched people over the last 10-15 years, but there may be something significant to being “unchurched.” The technical definition of “unchurched” is someone who has not participated in a worship service in 6 months or more. I’ve never spent 6 days away from a church, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse — mostly blessing. However, there are simply some things about the way I was churched that I would like to undo. In these ways, I’d like to be unchurched. So here’s my new definition of what it means to be unchurched.

Unchurched – a person who has not allowed someone else’s airtight, locked-down, unquestionable convictions regarding age old and often irrelevant conclusions about systematic theology to drain their zeal to seek and search for an unsytemitizable God and explore the mystery of faith.

Unchurched – a person who chooses to live the radical reconciliation and love of Jesus, and does not allow that pursuit to be lessoned by the fact that more people in the church care more about domination than reconciliation.

Unchurched – a person who knows that true worship is serving the widow, orphan and stranger, not singing songs you like, while hanging out with people you like and listening to the preacher you like.

Unchurched – a person who knows that Bible studies are about humbly searching for God, not lying about your Bible reading and prayer life to impress other people who are also lying about Bible reading and prayer.

Unchurched – a person who leads spiritually by the Spirit of God not the latest budget report or head count.

Unchurched – a person who realizes that the people are more important than the church because the church IS the people, and how we treat one person reflects how we will treat all persons. 

Unchurched – a person who honors ALL people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or anything else, because all people are made in the image of God–even Muslims.

Unchurched – a person who knows that the point of church is not to get more people in the church building, but to get more of the people in the church building OUT of the church building and into the community.

Unchurched – a person who walks, talks, votes and seeks justice and life for all people, in all forms, at all times, even when it means personal sacrifice.

Unchurched – a person who will not baptize any decision made by their community, state, or nation that does not align with  Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God just because the decision was made by their community, state, or nation.

Unchurched – a person who realizes that Jesus did not come to earth and die on a cross so that everything would be “family-friendly.”

These are a few of the ways I want to become unchurched. A better way to say it may be de-churched. Please join me in the ranks of the unchurched.

I just finished reading Rowan Williams’ book, Why Study the Past: The Quest for the Historical Church. I’m typically resistant to theological books that are on a “quest” for something. Usually they are an experiment in heresy and essential put forth some line of reasoning or argument that has long been debunked — think “The Da Vinci Code”. However, Williams work is different. At once it is boring, thoughtful challenging and inspiring.

Here are some of the more interesting quotes:

“The inspiration of Scripture, as some modern writers have said, is not a matter of the Holy Spirit holding a writer’s hand as a book is written; it is the present reality of a divine mediation that makes recognition possible as we now encounter the strangeness of the story. Abraham isn’t ‘one of us’; yet we and Abraham do make up an ‘us’ in relation to God, a shared reality before God which will take a lifetime to fathom.”

“God is free to do what He wills, and his freedom takes the form of acting so as to change us. It is a mistake to think that Luther (or any other classical Protestant) believed that ‘justification’ meant only a change in God’s attitude without effect in us. On the contrary, what changes is that we become the locus of God’s free activity. Unprovoked, unconditioned, and unconstrained by any other agent. God steps into the void and chaos of created existence and establishes himself there as God.”

“The challenge posed by the Reformation era is whether it is possible to conceive the question about unity and communion in the Church as bound to a witness to the priority of God’s act rather than to issues around visible structures…In other words, baptism already encodes the theology elaborated by the doctrinal disputes of the early church.”

“If it (unity) is most clearly done in worship, then when we sing canticles, psalms and classical hymnody we express a unity across time as well as a unity in space.”