Saturday, July 29, 2006

What Would You Spend A Week on a Roof For?

What REALLY matters in life? For what are you willing to suffer? Anything or anyone you'd pay dearly to nurture or protect? Is it a person? A dream? What would you spend a day on a roof for?

I was reminded what commitment costs this week in a couple of places.

The first was a survey of married/divorced couples. I can't remember who did the study so I'm not able to site the source (but if you're reading this on the internet, YOU KNOW IT MUST BE TRUE!!) The study said that married couples did NOT have fewer troubles, problems or fights than divorced couples. Their troubles, problems and fights were not any smaller, either.

So what allowed married couples to stay together? The researcher concluded it was 1 thing...

"Stubbornness" (if you want to call it what it is), or "Commitment" (if you want to put a little perfume on it and make it sound all rosy). Their attitude seems to be, "I've invested in this, I've made this promise, I'M not leaving!"

Call it what you will, they were more determined, as a whole, than those who became divorced. (I know there are always exceptions to this rule, but on the whole, I think this is probably true.)

Speaking of determined, read this story I came across this week:

Nashville children's pastor takes to roof to raise money for sports ministryNashville-(Nashville Tennessean)

Those at Nashville's Grace Church of the Nazarene believe a new youth soccer program for the community was worth a few days on the roof. On July 9, Children's Pastor Dustin Bilbrey went up to the Grace Church of the Nazarene roof until the $3,000 (U.S.) needed for sets of soccer goals and other equipment for the soccer program was raised. The total went to just more than $3,000 on July 12 toward the conclusion of that evening's service and Bilbrey came down about 8 p.m.

"I told somebody I'd do whatever it took,'' Bilbrey said. "It was really hot, but it was worth it because we can buy the goals and reach out to the community. If I had to sweat a little …''

Bilbrey had a tent for shelter, as well as a sleeping bag, some electric fans, an ice cooler, and study materials to work on the master's degree he's seeking from Trevecca Nazarene University.

Read More --Nashville Tennessean

Now is it just me or is this guy stubborn and committed? He has this thing stuck in his mind that this is the most important thing in the world at this moment. And he's willing to turn his life upside down to accomplish his goal.

I wonder if this is the type of stubbornness or commitment Jesus was talking about when he nearly tries to discourage people from becoming his followers when he says, "If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me." (Could it be that if this question were asked more often, the church would be filled with fewer hypocrites, making it more difficult on those living authentic, Christ-like lives?)

If you are like me, that sort of statement leaves you scratching your head and asking, "Do I REALLY want to do this?" Most days I answer "YES!" Some days it's more of a whisper "yeah, i guess so" or a barely audible "uh-huh".

May you find (or be found) by something (or Someone) that is worthy of such commitment (stubborness!)

Grace & peace.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Baseball & God: Love &...Not

I think it's time to break it off. I have a mistress. I've loved her for years. I knew her before I met my wife. I kept on seeing her even when we got married. Now, here I am, airing my laundry in public, just like one of those losers on Jerry Springer.

My mistress is baseball. It has been a part of my life for years. I remember playing in the backyard with neighborhood kids. I remember riding up to the school field with 1 other kid and we'd hit each other flyballs. I remember taking a tennis ball and a bat and playing 2 on 2 at the junior high school parking lot, throwing up against the wall where we had drawn a chalk outline of a strikezone. And I remember playing whiffle ball with my neighbor.

I remember listening to the local radio station 2 times a week to hear a local sports broadcaster give the final score to our games and see if he'd mention my 4 rbi's or my stellar pitching performance. (I think we actually recorded some of those broadcasts on cassette tapes. They must be great quality.)

Occasionally I pull out the local press clippings of my "career". I wowed my wife and kids with what a great athlete I was.

But my body and my skills and my opportunities went by the wayside. So I turned to SOFTBALL. It was the best I could do. It wasn't fastpitch. Then I went from playing the best around to "church leagues" (codeword for "lesser competition").

(When I admit playing softball, I think of Jim Rome's "softball guy". An overcompetitive, takes this thing way too seriously stereotype. I'm not THAT guy...usually.)

Monday night I was pitching for my church team and this gorilla sent a line-drive-rocket back at me on the pitcher's mound. Now, I know that I should be in a defensive stance after releasing the ball. (Your feet should be spread about shoulder-width, two hands up, ready to react.) I KNOW this, but I wasn't in the stance, nor was I ready for the rocket. So...

The gorilla bounces his rocket-shot off of my left thigh. It reached our thirdbasewoman (did I mention the league is co-ed?) on a hop. Two days and several ice packs later, the bruise is the size of a soccer ball (football for the non-Americans). But I think more bruised than my thigh is my sense of pride. And now I wonder: is it time to let this softball, the last vestige of baseball, go?

I LOVE baseball. I've accepted underhand, slow-pitch, softball, a watered down version of the real thing, in my estimation. But maybe it has served its purpose in my life.

Sometimes I feel that way about faith. I am currently reading through the Bible. (By the way, how many people who reject the Bible have NEVER READ IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH?? I mean, can you really dismiss a whole religion, with thousands of years of history, without investigating it for yourself.)

Anyway, I'm in the book of Joshua. Not a place for the pacifists among us. There is significant violence. The Hebrew people take the city of Jericho. They take the people in the surrounding cities.

But in chapter 8 they stone a guy to death and set "his sons, daughters, oxen, donkeys, sheep, and his tent, all that he had...on fire."

Now, this guy, his name is Achan, had caused trouble for the community and all the nation. Achan had stolen stuff and then hid it from the group. We can agree that he deserved to be punished and that he had brought trouble on everyone else in his group. But stoning? And setting everyone/thing else in his home on fire? Really??

So what are we to make of this?

Well, let me start out by saying that I'm not the Answer Man. I don't have all the answers. I don't think that faith can be all wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow and ribbon on it. I think faith is often messy and unruly, kind of like trying to get the extension cords separated that my kids put away last time. You untangle and untangle and get it untangled enough to use it, though maybe not all the way straightened out.

Now if that sounds like a probably is.

I think Joshua 8 teaches us that God is not simply a God of love. That God is also a God of justice. A God who sets up particular laws and then says, "there are consequences for messing them up." Or "mess up here and you mess up your world too." We could talk about big picture items like the environment or social structures (families, marriages or the poor and prejudice and discrimination).

But none of that helps out poor Achan.

Well, I'd like to give it a little more time and thought, but I've got a softball game.

Grace & peace.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Grease, Summer, Slavery, and Sabbath

Have you seen the musical/movie "Grease"?

I have to confess that I'm not an expert on the subject. But I HAVE watched more of it than I'd care to admit, though never having seen the movie all the way through. (My wife and daughters think it is "the ginchiest" and have occasionally been watching it as I walk in and out of the room.)

One thing I DO remember about the movie is the way an encounter between Olivia Newton John and John Travolta over the summer break, is retold once they get back to school. If I remember correctly, Travolta is too cool to tell his friends exactly the way that it happened. Getting back to school makes him remember his reputation, and he has to reinterpret the story to maintain the cool factor.

I find summer does the same to me. It messes up my life, or more specifically, my routine.

During the other nine months of the year, I keep a pretty regular schedule (though for a minister, "regular" is often still quite fluid with trips to the hospital, impromptu counseling sessions, funerals, and other unexpected activities). But that aside, I get to particular tasks with some regularity.

One of the worst hits my routine takes during the summer is the computer. The blog and the e-mail are the most severe casulaties. During the fall/winter/spring I'm at the computer regularly. (Not at "addict level", mind you.) But a couple of times a day, Mon.-Thur. And once or so on Sat./Sun. I get to the computer. (Fri. is my day off. And with the exception of fantasy football [yes, I'm one of those geeks, {but not at an "addict level", mind you}], I don't turn on the computer.)

But the summer is crazy. I have little or no set schedule. I go days without communicating with people on e-mail, without checking in at my blog, without seeing who's doing what. (Mamacita, thanks for forwarding the Wittenburg Door e-mail!)

Now here's the weird thing. With the exception of my blog readership being down, NO ONE SEEMS TO MIND. I haven't had ONE PERSON complain, give me an inquisitive, "Where have you been?" or an indignant "I've been waiting for you to respond!!"

So here's what I'm wondering. Are we all too closely tied to our communication devices? Are we slaves of our cell phones, pagers, PDA's, e-mail, etc.? Are we too concerned about getting that message or answering that call? How often is it really life-or-death? How often is it much less significant?

In Exodus, God seems to anticipate this sort of thing when doling out the Ten Commandments. #4 reads: "Remember to observe the Sabbath to keep it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God."

Now if you grew up in a tradition like mine, they liked to make lists of things you can't do. And the whole Sabbath thing becomes a bit of a drag, a giant wag-of-the-finger exercise. (I remember one friend of mine saying he'd given up playing tennis with the family on Sun. afternoons because the minister frowned upon it.)

Anyway, my recent experience reminded me that the intent of Sabbath was maybe much more beneficial to me than a mere prohibition. Maybe it is the intent of Sabbath to remind me, as Eugene Peterson writes, that the world can go on without me...without me answering my e-mails and blogging for ONE DAY. That the world was here before I came and will most likely be here after I'm gone. That me and my tasks aren't nearly as irreplaceable as I'm duped into believing. That the world is not so fragile as to fall apart when I take an extra 24 hrs. to see what spam I've rec'd about the latest male anhancement formula, mortgage deal, or gambling-online opportunity.

So take a Sabbath. Use 1/7 of your week to cease from work, labor, honey-do lists, and chores. Take 1 day out of 7 and use it to recreate your mind, body, and spirit. Could be the best thing you've done all week. You could even use it to watch "Grease".

Grace & peace.