Archive for the 'Light' Category

“’Unique Humility’–In the NBA???”

We often perceive top-tier professional athletes as overpaid, over-adored hyper-inflated egos. But during the broadcast of Game 3 in the LA Clippers-San Antonio Spurs playoff series, commentator Jeff Van Gundy began preaching about the “unique humility of the San Antonio Spurs”. The commentary that followed opened a window through which deeper truth could enter. That’s a function of preaching, especially in a secular context. If you aren’t a fan, bear with me a moment. Maybe you’ll see the surprising Light I saw shining where I hadn’t looked before. Maybe you’ll sense the fresh Spirit-breeze blowing from a welcome but unexpected direction!

The San Antonio Spurs are the National Basketball Association’s defending champions. They’ve become a sports dynasty. Late in 1996 Coach Greg Popovich took over a team that had won only 3 of its first 18 games. That injury-riddled team finished 20-62 and failed to make the playoffs.  The Spurs have made the playoffs every season since and won 5 NBA championships. In February 2015, Popovich became only the second NBA coach ever to win 1000 games with the same team. The Spurs’ opponents, the LA Clippers, are a strong young team. Under coach Doc Rivers they finished one game ahead of San Antonio in the regular season. Clippers faithful think/hope/pray their team might be at the start of a run like the Spurs have enjoyed for eighteen years.

The Spurs and Clippers began their best-of-seven-games series last Monday night in LA. LA won 107-92. San Antonio was clearly outplayed. They played again in LA Wednesday night. San Antonio led by five points at halftime. The score was tied at the end of regulation play. San Antonio won in overtime 111-107. Friday night the series moved to San Antonio for two games. The Spurs led 46-38 at halftime, by 21 points after three quarters, and eventually won 100-73. Night-and-day difference from that first-game defeat in LA.

In a very one-sided game broadcasters scramble to find something besides the game itself to hold our attention (and theirs!). Late in the third quarter Van Gundy realized the game had reached that point. He commented that folks would say the Spurs’ experience was asserting itself. That’s true as far as it goes, he said. But the key is not the amount of experience. It’s the way players use and learn from experience. Van Gundy said the Spurs display a “unique humility”. If something’s not working, it gets changed. If a player’s not performing, he’ll be coached through it. If a coach (including Popovich) lets the team down, they’ll own up and make a change. The Spurs have minimal ego investment in personal success and absolute commitment to maximizing the contribution of every member of the organization and focusing all available resources on the ultimate goal of becoming the best possible basketball team. According to Van Gundy,  San Antonio’s “unique humility” had helped them move beyond that Game 1 defeat to a hard-fought victory in Game 2 and a one-sided victory in Game 3.

Can you see the Light (John 8:12 ) yet? Can you feel the Breeze (Acts 2:1-11)? Can you hear God speak softly (1 Kings 19)over the roar of the crowd? Yes, history matters—because whoever doesn’t learn from it is doomed to repeat it. So the point isn’t merely our two thousand years of  Christian tradition. (That number’s too small, incidentally. It omits more than a thousand years of heritage we share with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors.) The point isn’t our years and even centuries of history as a congregation or a denomination. It’s the difference we’ve made. It’s the mid-course corrections that have kept us vitally connected to our changing world. The point isn’t my 40+ years of experience as a local church pastor. It’s the constant adjustments and learning along the way. The world in which I began in 1968 looked very little like the world of 2011 in which I retired from active service.

As I listened to Van Gundy talk about the Spurs’ “unique humility”, I thought: Popular Christianity loves to tell stories of “growth”, “success”, “happiness”, and “vitality”. But I hear far fewer stories of the “unique humility” of followers of Jesus. Here are a few:

  • Dr. Kent Brantly and nurse Nancy Writebol are just two of hundreds, perhaps thousands whose “unique humility” kept last year’s Ebola disaster in Africa from becoming far worse than it was.
  • The recent renewed interest in this country’s Civil Rights movement highlighted many people’s “unique humility” as followers of Jesus. We know only a fraction of these people’s names. That’s how “unique humility” wants it.
  • In the late 1970’s-‘80’s, a gifted theologian named Dr. Henri Nouwen taught at both Yale and Harvard Divinity Schools. Then he moved to Toronto, Canada, to spend the last ten years of his life as pastor to L’Arche. In this unique residential community, …people with and without disabilities…share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. Community members are transformed through relationships of mutuality, respect, and companionship as they live, work, pray, and play together.”
  • In the early and middle-20th century, Dr. Albert Schweitzer focused his skills as a physician, world-class organist, and world-class New Testament scholar on improving the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet through the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon).

The renewal of the church doesn’t lie in the right music, the right organizational paradigm, the right beliefs, the right way of interpreting the Bible, or any other “magic bullet” fix that’s sold more books than it’s changed lives. Renewal (resurrection!) lies in a resurgence of “unique humility” in the individual and collective life of followers of Jesus. “Unique humility” means “It’s not about me” is our starting point for every plan, every prayer, every event–everything . “Unique humility”affirms the church exists more for its neighborhood than its members. It exists for those who hear and see Jesus more clearly through different language, music, and ways of praying and sharing than my friends and I prefer. “Unique humility” is “church people” embracing the most unlikely folks as brothers and sisters in Christ. “Unique humility” looks like Jesus’ followers embodying his definition of true greatness: “Whoever wants to become great must become a servant.” (Mark 10:43 MSG) 

Have you seen the “unique humility” of followers of Jesus alive where you live? How about sharing  some of those stories in your comments?

Living Toward the Light (Flood Journal 2)

The house we’re living in while our “water incident”-damaged home is repaired is only about three miles away. But it feels much farther. We’re a little higher up the mountain. The neighborhood is more densely wooded. The houses are farther apart. It gets much darker much more quickly.

That’s why Carson and I walk less at night. Neither my aging eyes (yes, I admit it!) nor his nine-year-old dog eyes work well in the dark. Our eyes need light to see! I have no desire to run into four-legged strangers larger than a rabbit, especially a coyote or javelina with a temper—and an appetite for a 17-pound Shih Tzu. Carson’s self-image is “Fierce Invincible 100-lb. Rottweiler Lap-Dog”. But four-legged strangers don’t always see that side of him.

Our ritual morning walks continue. Lately, however, they’ve started in “deep darkness” as the days have grown shorter. We walk east the length of our quarter-mile driveway to the road. Our “light” as we set out is at most a very faint hint in the east. By the time we’ve followed Carson’s meandering route and turned back toward the house, the light has begun to grow. As we turn around and walk west, the light is rising behind and around us. The light reveals the true identity of menacing shadows. They are rocks or bushes—just as they were yesterday, last week, and last year! Now, ten days past the winter solstice, we celebrate the light’s growth each day.

We longed for the light this past Advent season. Many people honestly wondered whether it would come. On a personal level The Flood dislocated us literally and spiritually. Newtown shocked the nation, even more so because it was the week’s second mass shooting, following the previous Tuesday’s incident in a Portland, OR mall. Congress again displayed its dysfunction as it failed to solve the “fiscal cliff” issue and left other critical legislation untouched. [I give our legislators minimal credit for today’s Band- Aid, assuming the House has sense enough to add its consent.] Syria and Egypt continued to be unstable in the Middle East with little hope for peace on that patch of earth. Extreme weather hammered much of our country while climate-change denial continued unabated. You can write the next verse as well as I.

But “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NRSV)  The Sunday after that horrific Friday our Methodist choir joined with Catholic and LDS singers in a community Christmas concert. It’s a long-standing annual tradition here in Chino Valley, Arizona. Some Christians in the community don’t care to associate with such a doctrinally-diverse group, but we just keep on singing. The young LDS missionary from Ogden, Utah who sang next to me struggled to fit this unique gathering into his worldview. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on the joy of Christmas. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” After the concert, Dianna and I watched the Newtown Memorial service we’d DVR’d. Again we saw people transcending deep divisions to share comfort and hope. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” TV journalist Ann Curry invited us to do “26 Acts of Kindness”, one for each Newtown victim. Thousands of people responded. (I’m among those who count 28 victims, including Adam Lanza and his mother.)  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Serious conversations around the issues of guns, mental health, and the pervasive violence in American culture are happening and will continue. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  It’s early, but some politicians show signs of growing enough backbone to confront ideological extremists with common sense. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Recently my colleague Rob Rynders posted a blog titled “Why the UMC Needs an Era of Innovation.” It‘s so boldly visionary that I hear “realists” refusing to believe, mumbling, “It’ll never happen”. But Rob’s next post, “Innovative United Methodist Ministries”, lists eleven innovative ministries already in progress. That’s by no means all the newness blossoming in the wilderness, United Methodist or otherwise (cf. Isaiah 35). “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

I started writing this nearly two weeks ago, before Dec. 21 and the Winter Solstice. Shortly after Christmas, we experienced a period of extended moonlight. Carson and I really appreciate moonlight in the “deep darkness” of this land we now call home. The moonlight can be nearly as bright as the sun. But that brightness never lasts. That brilliant light happens because the earth, moon, and sun are aligned so that the maximum surface of the moon catches the sun’s light and reflects it to earth. But as the heavenly bodies move, that alignment shifts. Eventually we have moonless nights and “deep darkness”. (That’s more than I know about astronomy, so no follow-ups, please!)

On a recent morning walk (Carson calls it “Dawn Patrol”), I thought about how our lives of faith reflect Christ, the Light of the World. When we’re aligned with Christ, the light is as brilliant as that full moon that turns darkness to daylight. Folks see Christ in and through us with laser clarity. But when things get out of alignment, the darkness deepens. “Christ-in-us” is anything but clear and inviting. “Deep darkness” covers everything.

If I were a resolution-maker, 2013’s one resolution would be: “I will do all in my power, and be open to God doing all in God’s power, to keep my life aligned with Christ, the Light of the World, so that Light may shine through my life for all to see and live by”. We who follow Jesus are “The people walking in darkness [who] have seen a great light”. We know on this side of Christmas and Easter that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Never. Not ever. Thanks be to God!


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