Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A League of Their Own

The Highland Church spent parts of two Presidential administrations exploring ways in which the roles of women could and should be expanded within the congregation. Here's my question: did we decide if it's biblical for a woman to play third base? 'Cause we need one.

The Highland softball team (nickname: "Flings") fell to 0-2 Tuesday night with a 35-8 setback to our brethren from Hillcrest. No, not the church football team. Or basketball or bunko. No, it was softball. Sort of. In fact, to say that game was a setback is like saying Reagan edged Mondale. We had more torn muscles than runs.

A quick recap: The interim coach - okay, me - arrives seven minutes before game time and finds a total of eight martyrs, which happens to be the minimum number required to field a team. Game on! Our ninth stumbles in as the lineup card is being turned in. Another player - let's call him "Phil Schubert" to protect his identity - apparates five minutes, no outs, and four runs into the game as a substitute for regular outfielder Steve Shewmaker, who was serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules: specifically, hitting the occasional cut-off man and routinely advancing runners into scoring position.

The 'Crest Fallen (as someone - okay, me - names them) jump on our beleaguered pitcher - okay, me - early, plating six in the opening frame. We respond with two quick outs, an infield single, and a weak pop-up. Obviously staggered by our rope-a-dope style offense, they score but twice in the top of the second. Our third baseman answers in the bottom of the inning by pulling not one but two groins - both of which, thankfully, were his own - while legging out a routine grounder. We're scrappy, if not limber. We're also still scoreless.

In the top of the third, we see our last legitimate chance of winning go by the boards and, not coincidentally, we see our 270-pound shortstop's right hamstring for the last time. (Anyone finding it is encouraged to please return it to the league office.) If they ever do a remake of that cult classic "Seven Faces of Death," they've got to use the look that poor Hillcrest baserunner makes when he sees Joel airborne and heading right for him. It could be worse. The runner survives; Joel's hammy, however, does not. So he moves to pitcher where his batterymate is our bandy-legged third baseman-turned-catcher. More like an assault-and-battery.

Heading to the bottom of the third, it's now 15-nil and the only thing left to play for is the opportunity to fire off a couple of winning one-liners at the expense of our opponent. In the third, we stage what, by comparision, amounts to a rally - a couple of seeing-eye singles and three infield errors, leading to our first three tallies of the night. During this offensive explosion, the other team begins complaining to the lone umpire about one of our guys leading off second base - a no-no according to the rules, to be sure, but an understandable gaffe I think considering we'd never gotten that far before. That leads one of our players - okay, me - to shout, "Pharisees 15, Publicans 3." Everyone cracked up - okay, me.

Top 4, our new shortstop - okay, me - and second baseman graciously give way to the other on a sharp grounder up the middle. It goes through for a hit, upon which one of those two - okay, me - announces, "The top of the fourth is brought to you by Ephesians 5: 'Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.'" I believe Eugene Peterson's "The Message" translates that passage, "Let the other guy have his way, especially if you don't have the energy to move to your left and get a glove on it." Or something like that.

In the top of the fifth, the 'Crest - nervously nursing a 12-run lead - starts up again with the bellyaching over alleged "rules violations." Apparently it's not okay for our jailer-by-day/first-baseman-by-night Paul Mc Burney to handcuff opposing players while on the basepaths. Go figure. So this one guy on their team won't let it go, and it turns out he's still hot over the "Pharisee" remark. It probably doesn't help that one of our guys - okay, me - mutters, "Why would that bother you? You go to Hillcrest." Everyone understands it's meant in jest - okay, me.

After five innings, we've somehow crept to within a touchdown at 15-8, with one inning to go. Hillcrest - making the most of their three outs and several more that we generously supply them - ekes out an insurance run, then another, then another. They wind up with more insurance than an oral surgeon with Carpal-Tunnel. It's the first 20-run top of the sixth in Nelson Park Church League Softball history. All in attendance - okay, me - agree this moment in time is what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 when he warned, "Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak (which in Aramaic reads "groin")."

As they bat around for the eleventh time, one of their batters jokingly fires a verbal salvo. Paul, "The Flippant Jailer," suggests we charge the plate. Their guy says, "You better not. I've got the bat!" To which one of our smart alecks - okay, me - retorts, "We're not scared. We've seen you swing."

The inning mercifully ends when the umpire - after an unsuccessful attempt at committing harikari with his home plate mini-broom - calls a runner out who arrives at the bag roughly two revolutions of the moon prior to the tag. That prompts one of our players - okay, me - to yell, "Dr. Kevorkian, moonlighting as a church league umpire." That brings what's left of the house down - okay, me.

Down 35-8 and only three outs to play with, what we need is baserunners...and several tubes of analgesic cream. There may indeed be a balm in Gilead, but at the moment we're more interested in finding Ben-Gay in Abilene. Alas, the inning and game ends when our wobbly backstop is tagged after wandering off second base, perhaps having spotted one of the muscles he'd misplaced earlier. Final score: Hillcrest 35, Highland 8.

So as I was saying, it's time to expand women's roles at Highland. Tryouts start Sunday between services. I can assure you this has been approved by the elders - okay, me.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Turn the Other Cheek...That Way They'll Never See the Left Hook

Don't ask my sons a question if you're not interested in honest answers. Last week at preschool, 5-year-old Nicholas got into a couple of scrapes with the only appropriate opponent - his best friend, Kyler.

At this point you need to know the difference in my two sons, which is best summed up thusly: Nicholas is our publican, Andrew our Pharisee. Nicholas would prefer to confess his sin, accept the punishment, then get on with the business of loving us in a restored relationship. Andrew, on the other hand, has a preternatural passion for knowledge, a passion I believe God will powerfully use to draw people to Him. But the desire to be right creates such angst during those very rare occasions in which he's wrong that his first reaction is to concoct some complex, trigonometric equation that will either justify his iniquity or wear you down trying to figure out what in the world he's talking about.

Back to last week's pugnacious preschoolers. Nicholas walked in after being dropped off by none other than Kyler and Kyler's dad - imagine Tyson giving Holyfield a ride home..."Sorry again about your ear. It really doesn't look that bad..." - and immediately told my wife in great detail the truth and nothing but. The missus, not wanting to discourage his openness and confession, reserved judgment for later. That's when the fun began.

Later that afternoon in the car, my wife asked the boys what they think they should do if someone hit them. Andrew said, "You should go find a grown-up and tell them what happened." Nicholas was having none of that: "I think you should hit 'em back." He didn't say that in a mean-spirited or emotional way. It was more like, "What other option is there?"

Andrew (with his wide phylacteries and long tassels dangling) was quick to counter, "Nicholas! That's not what God wants us to do!" To which Nicholas replied quietly but matter-of-factly, "I still think you should hit 'em."

God bless those boys. They have way too much of me in them to be predisposed to perfection. But how can you not love these guys? I have such appreciation for Andrew's desire to act justly. I adore the way Nicholas loves mercy. And what a challenge for us to teach and model what it means to walk humbly with our God.

I can already see how the kingdom will come into their lives in powerful but very different ways. For Andrew, it will mean eventually embracing grace instead of his own righteousness. I suspect he will live a more holy life than most but ultimately have to accept that it's little more than filthy rags in light of a perfect God. Meanwhile, Nicholas will need victory over the visceral. I can see him waging a lifetime war against his human nature when it comes to personal temptation and the sin of others.

Different behavior, same Savior. Andrew may struggle to be part of a kingdom that eagerly welcomes people who act like, well, his brother. Nicholas could very well struggle with feeling so fallible and witnessing how holy living seems to come more easily to Andrew. But what's wonderful to watch is how beautifully the boys model unity. These opposite ends of the personality spectrum are utterly inseparable. Best friends by a mile, warts and all. And they don't have a single test of fellowship between them. All they have is the same blood coarsing through their veins, and that's plenty good enough for them.

So if you slap my boys in the face, beware: you're just as likely to get a fat lip as a turned cheek. But whatever happens, you can bet they'll ride home together.

Psalm 133:1 - "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Sects Education

Hangin' ten on the web the other night looking for a Christianity Today article about Max Lucado, I found everything but. What I did happen upon was a reservoir vast in its vitriol and possibly hatred toward Max, Rubel Shelly, John York, even Royce Money - heresy makes for strange bedfellows, no? - dished out in heaping portions onto endless web pages by people I've never heard of implicitly declaring themselves defenders of the one true church. Makes for a rather pretentious business card.

This discovery came on the heels of an historic ACU Lectureship and my viewing of "The Passion of the Christ," both of which served to reinforce to me the centrality and singularity of Jesus. Thankfully, I had these Grand Pew-bahs to remind me it's not about Jesus at all; it's about preserving what's already been decided as the way things are done in church. Campbell saved future generations from eternal damnation by restoring the New Testament church...with the minor exception of those things which don't translate well to 19th century America. Holy kissing, deaconesses, et Alexander. And there's no need for us to reinvent what Campbell's already saved us from. Think of it as "once saved, always saved..." Just don't tell them that.

But a funny thing happened as I was saddling up my own high hermeneutic horse. A friend came to visit fired up about the most amazing week he'd ever experienced. His church in central Texas whose attendance only occasionally tops 300 baptized 60 people in one week - 60! - matching their total baptisms dating back to the Coolidge administration. And here's what's amazing. The doctrine didn't change. Nor did the worship style. Or the color of the bulletin. Instead, they got this crazy idea that their community of roughly 8,000 might need something - perhaps material, perhaps spiritual. So they asked. In person. They set off in pairs, knocking doors and offering Christ. And a frightening thing happened: people said yes. Now they face the always unwieldy proposition of assimiliating 60 unchurched and unschooled-in-Restoration-Movement-tradition babes into their previously-moribund body of 300. God bless them.

I hope I'm never guilty of the very thing of which I accuse the aforementioned attack dogs. I still believe we're not saved by being right. But if being right about not being saved by being right doesn't compel me to deliver Christ to my neighbor's doorstep, well that's just not right either.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Leading Man

I've now seen "The Passion of the Christ" twice. You could say I'm a glutton for punishment, but you'd be wrong. That phrase fits Jesus and him alone. Our insatiable appetite for sin left him no choice but to endure the unthinkable.

The second viewing left me with a few different impressions than the first. I now believe the film is unequivocally anti-Semitic. It's also anti-Roman, anti-Satanic, and anti-human. A God-man who can forgive in the face of such unspeakable cruelty puts everyone to shame by default. And his passivity-in-action serves as a stark reminder that merely trying to do good is ultimately impossible. Without what amounts to a spirit transplant -- his for ours -- Jesus-following is futile. For that matter, it's also nonsensical. If you're merely trying to be a good person rather than forfeit your life for his, why would you bother forgiving the guilty, especially those who not only don't beg your forgiveness but rub their wrongdoing in your face.

Here's how the movie's motivated me: I'm now having trouble mustering any energy for anything other than this titular star. Not clean living. Not morality. Not theology. Not even church. Nothing matters anymore except him. And him crucified.

I don't even know what this means or where it will lead. I'm sure at some point I'll have to make practical decisions about some of the aforementioned items I suddenly don't care about. But for now, all I can see is him. Full of pain; empty of self. Caked in a concoction of his own life-giving blood and our own damned sin. I hate me for what I did to him. I love him for what he did to me.

Even as this film continues to make Hollywood history, the sequel is already being seen around the world with those of us who've given our lives to him playing the part of Jesus. When the final credits roll, may the Great Reviewer say of our portrayal of Christ, "Well done."