Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Lesson in Discipleship

Here’s a quote from Michael Lewis’ book, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life. Lewis it talking about his high school baseball coach:

“Most kids don’t get it” . . . By “it” he did not mean the importance of winning or even, exactly, of trying hard. What he meant was neatly captured on a sheet of paper he held in his hand, which he intended to photocopy and hand out to his players, as the keynote of one of his sermons. The paper contained a quote from Lou Piniella, the legendary baseball manager: HE WILL NEVER BE A TOUGH COMPETITOR. HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE. “It” was the importance of battling one’s way through all the easy excuses life offered for giving up.”

I look for truth wherever I can find it. What is true and good is not confined to Christian sources; it can break out anywhere. I love this quote from Piniella. It’s true, not just in athletics, but in life; it’s basic to a healthy spirituality. I’m not talking about the “tough competitor” part, but the part about being "comfortable with being uncomfortable."

I think much of American Christianity is preaching a religion of comfort. Christ is offered as the answer to all our questions and the solution to all our problems. The Gospels, however, present Christ as one who creates as many problems for his followers as he solves. The call to die to our ego/self and take up our cross in obedience to Christ is a call to relinquish certain comforts. It involves learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Until we learn this lesson as disciples of Jesus we will mostly dabble in the faith. We will splash around in the shallows with the crawfish and water bugs, afraid to venture out into the deep water where the big fish live.

(The above article first appeared in "Connections" (Oct. 25, 2009); the bi-weekly newsletter of Immanuel Baptist Church (ibcfrankfort.com).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reimagining God

Imagine a tight-knit community where people share joys, sufferings, concerns, and gossip. An outsider to this community listening in on their conversations and observing their life together would pick up rather quickly on their references and allusions to “Uncle George,” who seems to bind the community together.

Uncle George appears to be lurking behind all their interactions. A beautiful sunset prompts one community member to exclaim, “Isn’t Uncle George awesome?” Good news and celebrative events inspire feelings of gratitude toward Uncle George. Even in tragedy, the community turns toward Uncle George for help.

At the beginning of each week the community assembles at the Community Center. There is animated conversation and fellowship as they discuss the past week’s events and upcoming plans. When a bell sounds, the conversation ceases. Everyone descends down a stairway into the basement where a giant man in dark clothes stands with his back turned toward them, facing an enormous furnace.

When all are assembled he turns around. His look is stern and somber. His voice deep, he says, “Am I good?” They all respond in unison, “Yes, Uncle George, you are good.” He then asks, “Am I worthy of praise?” “Yes,” they all proclaim. “Do you love me more than anyone or anything else?” “We love you and you alone,” they reply.

His face is contorted and in a frightening voice he thunders, “You better love me or I’m going to put you . . . in here!” He opens the furnace door to reveal a gaping darkness. Out of the darkness can be heard cries of anguish and misery. Then he closes the door as they sit in silence.

After a time of reflection on what they just heard they leave and return to their life together in community. They talk about the wonders of Uncle George and they speak of his love for them as they live their lives the best they can.

But while they mention Uncle George’s love, there is beneath all the talk and interaction an underlying fear and confusion—sometimes conscious, sometimes repressed—but always present. This inner fear limits their relationships, preventing them from talking about their doubts and questions, and keeping them from expressing to one another their inner anguish and uncertainties. It diminishes their lives in myriads of ways.

Sound familiar? Sometimes it is necessary “to lose one’s religion” as a necessary step in nurturing a healthier spirituality. Reconstruction presumes some form of deconstruction. We may need to relinquish not only our sin, but our small, unhealthy, fearful images of God in order to cultivate and grow a more transformational faith—a faith that drives out fear and inspires real love of God and neighbor (1 John 4:16-18).

(Several versions of the above story are in print;  the story above was adapted from David Dark's book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything).