Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our Press Releases

An Inkling
Are you as good at fooling yourself as I am?  It’s not just those in Washington who have a knack for rationalization.  We all come by it honestly.  Remember the famous lines from our forebears?  Adam said, “The woman you gave me gave me the fruit.”  Eve added, “The serpent beguiled me.”  And we’ve been at it ever since.  So we do have an excuse for our excuses!
Now we’ve been perfecting the subtleties of the art for eons.  “My schedule won’t allow me....”  “Later, when (choose one) I’m out of school, the children are older, my career is more settled, we’re retired....”  “This (choose again) new office, house, job, boat has really been keeping me busy....”  And we learn so young – “Mom!  My glass fell over again!”
I hear lots of excuses.  Somehow just seeing a minister makes people feel the need to spill forth with excuses.  Usually they’re offering reasons for why they weren’t in worship last Sunday.  Most of their reasons sound fine to me.  It’s hard for me to separate the truth from the half-truth from the baloney.  And actually, it looks to me as if it is equally hard for the person speaking.  We human beings are masters at self-deception.  We really do believe our own press releases. 
So I’d like to suggest an exercise that’s helped me cut through my own baloney.  Whenever you find yourself working hard on a “press release,” try saying the same thing to God.  Whether an excuse stands or falls depends in large part on to whom we are speaking.  For example, we don’t have to trot out our Grade A excuses in order to fool six year olds.  They'll believe almost anything we tell them.  But God wasn’t born just yesterday.  He’s a bit harder to fool.
In my imagination I can see Adam and Eve offering their excuses to God.  They began their sentences with a sure sound and no little volume.  But the very difficulty of lying to God’s face caused their voices to trail off, and their eyes to fall to the ground, so that by the end of their nonsense they were merely mumbling. 
Find a friend who doesn’t mind telling you the truth about yourself.  But do more.  In prayer look God straight in the face, and offer him your thoughts on a particular decision.  If you can do so without gulping, you might well be on the right track. 
No foolin’!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wild Goose Chase

An Inkling
Does God speak to us today?  The testimony of the scripture has been borne out in my own experience:  indeed he does.  Occasionally he bowls us over with a visionary experience or an audible voice.  But most of the time he speaks in a way that only a faith-enlivened attentiveness recognizes.
Chic Silver told me about such an experience earlier this week.  He is preparing to go with our group to Kazakhstan, to visit Interlink, our ministry there with orphans.  As he was praying about what he is to do there, he felt a warm sense of God’s presence, and had the impression that he is to spend his time in Shymkent with Dr. Laurie, one of our ministry partners.  About that time he looked out the window and four geese flew over.
Geese?  And the point is what?...  Several months before Chic had read about how the early Celtic Christians thought of the Holy Spirit not as a dove, but as a wild goose.  Chic said he’d been pondering on how you can’t tame wild geese, but if you listen to their haunting call, they’ll take you on an adventure.  One day, when he had first read about the wild goose image, he was running late to catch a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.  He offered one of those quick prayers that airports inspire, “Lord, please help me make my flight,” and just then he saw a goose fly over his head.  You guessed it, the plane was delayed just enough for him to make his flight.  And he’s had an eye out for wild geese ever since! 
Call it coincidence if you will.  All I know is that God is into coincidences.  The Anglican Archbishop William Temple once said, “When I pray coincidences happen, and when I don’t they don’t.”
I like the image of the wild goose.  The Spirit is anything but tame, and yet he is faithful to give us some signs along the way.  A chase to follow God’s promptings, complete with such signs – that is an adventure worth pursuing.  And it gives a whole new meaning to “wild goose chase” – from a chase with no purpose, to a chase with high purpose.  When our team returns from Kazakhstan, I’ll be eager to hear how the chase played out – and whether there were any “goose” sightings.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blue Devils Bedevil

An Inkling
I was disgusted when I saw the headline – “Blue Devils Beat Butler.”  I had hoped Butler’s David would slay Duke’s Goliath, but such was not to be.  Apparently I was not alone in that sentiment, and not just because Butler was the underdog.  Leading up to the big game several sports commentators described Duke as the team people love to hate.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I knew I didn’t like them, but I didn’t know I had so much company.
All of which has gotten me to thinking about my sports passions.  I hate to admit it, but the Blue Devils have much to admire.  Coach K is a class guy who has produced excellent teams for years.  He’s now led his team to four championships, and he’s done so while enabling his players to graduate – a rare combination.
So when did I begin to scorn Duke?  I don’t know.  And why?  I don’t know.  I’ve told myself that I couldn’t pull for a team supported by the smug, self-important, rich kids that fill their stands.  But that description fit me exactly when I was courtside as a freshman at Vandy as they won the S.E.C. championship.  And I can still be pretty smug and self-important when “my” team wins.
For some of my loyalties I can identify roots:  they were the home teams where I grew up, or they had heroic coaches or players.  Thus I’ve always pulled for the Alabama and Texas football teams, the Dallas Cowboys, UNC basketball, and the Atlanta Braves.  But I have villains to match my heroes – the Yankees, Notre Dame, Duke, and the Oakland Raiders.  And when I ask myself why they’re the villains in my sports dramas, I don’t know for sure.
Hmmm.  I want to think about this some more.  I don’t want to take this too seriously.  Sports should simply be fun.  They’re not made to be platforms for meaning of any import.  So I expect that I’ll continue to indulge myself in most and least favorite teams. 
But I do want to take seriously the Lord’s warnings about holding others in contempt.  (See Mt 5:21-26.)  In some recent sermons I’ve touched upon how such contempt is poisoning our political scene these days.  But I think I’d be well advised to ponder on the roots of a similar contempt in my own heart.  Seeking understanding in an arena that doesn’t really matter might enlighten me in some that do.  So the Blue Devils bedevil me in more than just basketball!
Regardless, congrats Coach K!