An Inconvenient Truth

The Gospel lesson for Sunday, July 16, is what Jesus called “the Parable of the Sower.” (The parable appears in Mt. 13:1-9 and Jesus’ own interpretation appears in 18-23.) To the extent it is a parable about the Sower, then it is a defense of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t particularly successful at this moment. (For instance, no one had a clue what he was talking about when he spoke in parables.) This parable is an emphatic reminder that the incarnation wasn’t about Jesus’ ministry and its success, it was all about the Kingdom.

As we turn our focus to our contemporary situation, it might be helpful to reframe this parable, as Lloyd Ogilvie did in his book Autobiography of God, and think of this as the Parable of the Soils. There is “rocky ground.” This person receives the Gospel with joy, but when “troubles or persecution” comes, they do not endure. There is “thorny ground.” This person hears the word but “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth” distract them. But there is also “good soil.” This person “hears,” “understands,” and “bears fruit.”

This parable does not speak of repentance directly. In fact, a facile reading may lead us in a different direction completely, because Jesus says that the person who “hears” and “understands” is the one who bears fruit. Being a culture that holds reason and science as the highest ideal, we tend to conflate “understanding” with reason. But when we speak of understanding the message of the kingdom, something rather different is at work.

John the Baptist went about preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In the parts of last week’s Gospel lesson that were scandalously left out, Jesus condemned the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting (Mt. 11:21). The Kingdom of Heaven life is not compatible with life as we normally live it and so to “hear” and “recieve” the Kingdom, at the most fundamental level, requires us to repent of our current life and way of doing things. Understanding is not an intellectual item but an action item.

I am friends with a Roman Catholic priest and Missouri Synod pastor. We often see each other at the local cigar lounge where they smoke cigars and I smoke my pipe. It is friendship that is becoming increasingly strained because we view ministry/kingdom quite differently. This week my pastor friend showed us a meme that is currently floating around religious leaders circles. The author claimed that if the men in his congregation knew as much about the Bible as they did about football stats, he would have a great congregation. Both priest and pastor chuckled and agreed wholeheartedly. Both then turned to me for the obligatory chuckle and affirmation that, yes, this is why ministry is so difficult today.

But I wasn’t amused. I simply arched my eyebrow and said, “Really? You think that’s what you want?” In the following silence it was clear that they were waiting for me to explain why I was being such a buzzkill. So I pondered out loud just what sort of people seemed to know every football stat in the last twenty years: out of shape men who are somewhat bitter about how life has turned out for them, so they sit around Buffalo Wild Wings, commiserating and trying to outdo each other with their trivial knowledge. I concluded by saying that I would far rather have people who were committed to playing the game than those who replaced that sort of discipline with information about how others play the game.

Paul, uses that very analogy in his letters. We should train like athletes, be disciplined like soldiers (2 Tim 4, et. al.). He warned Timothy, “Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” (1 Tim 6:20-21).

The church fathers used the Greek word askesis (“athletics” in English) to describe kingdom life. With this word they encapsulated what it means to be good soil. Repentance involves rigorous training (according to Paul) so that the rocky soil can be broken up and the thorns and weeds removed. Then, the Gospel can produce great fruit.

My friendship with the priest and pastor are strained because we live in a time when repentance and askesis are not celebrated. Our church leaders, falling sway to the spirit of this age, leave verses out of the lectionary that clearly emphasize the consequences of not repenting. Our church leaders, falling sway to the spirit of this age, think that if their congregations have Bible knowledge, their pastoral ministries will be improved.

But I’m here to tell you that the church, at its core, is not a place to transmit knowledge. The church, at its core, is not a place to serve the world. At its core, the church is a place to repent so that the vibrant life of the kingdom can begin to seep into, and eventually pour into our broken and dried up souls.

Ah, but isn’t it both? Isn’t the church both a place of knowledge and repentance? Isn’t the church both a place of service and repentance?

Repentance is not pleasant. It’s not hard, but we will avoid it if we can. This is why Jesus called the kingdom an “easy yoke.” A yoke is something you put around an animal’s neck. We need a yoke so that we don’t throw it off when it is inconvenient. But it is not a terrible yoke, it is an easy yoke (see the previous essay on last week’s lectionary readings).

If we emphasize that the church is both a place of knowledge and repentance, the effect will be to avoid the repentance (which is inconvenient at best) and settle for the knowledge. And we will end up with a Buffalo Wild Wings sort of congregation where we keep statistics on other Christians while sitting around being entertained. This is why we must insist that the church is a place of repentance, period. Once that actually happens, then knowledge and service and prayer will grow out of the repentance itself. Knowledge and service will be the fruit of repentance. This is the good soil. Any other path will inevitably lead to hard rocky soil and weeds.

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It’s Not That I’m Rooting Against Him …

Over at ESPN the reporters are gushy about Oscar Pistorius, the sprinter with artificial legs. ESPN asks (rhetorically, I will add), “Who can’t be rooting for Pistorius in the quarter finals?”

Well, me for one.

Pistorius races with a huge disadvantage (no natural legs) and a huge advantage (the highly unnatural spring in his blades) which makes his feats incomparable to any other sprinter. He’s unique.

This is not the MIT-sponsored “scientific creativity Olympics.” I wish Oscar Pistorius all the best in his life, but the Olympics is no place to pit metallurgical engineering against pure athletic prowess.

Do You Hate LeBron?

Now that I’m a real college student again I feel it’s incumbent upon me to watch inane sports shows on television. What I learned this week is that everyone hates LeBron James. At least that seems to be the universal opinion on ESPN (that would include, Kornheiser, Wilbon, Paige, Plashke, Beadle, Cowherd, Smith ad nauseum). All these “journalists” are quick to point out that they don’t hate LeBron but that everyone else in America hates LeBron.

Oddly, I’ve never met a soul who hates LeBron, just people who say everyone else hates LeBron.

So my question is, does anyone actually hate LeBron? And if so, who are they? If you hate LeBron, let me know.

I myself really like him. I put the Miami Heat in the same category as the New York Yankees … not a real sports team, just a high paid collection of superstars put together by a mega-millionaire. (Although Micky Arison is really fascinating and probably quite likable.) I actually do dislike Dwayne Wade because of his appalling sportsmanship and in any other circumstances would probably dislike the Heat as much as dislike the Yankees in a disembodied and theoretical sort of way. But I find LeBron so likable that I just can’t help myself and I’m rooting for the Heat to beat the Seattle Sonics (who were kidnapped and are being held prisoner under an assumed name in the state of Oklahoma).

What Can Possibly Be Better than the Kentucky Derby?

(And this post is written by somebody who used to live in Louisville!!!)

This summer a horse named Arrrrr! is running at Saratoga Race Track and listening to the announcer is hilarious. (The links are to YouTube videos, by the way.)

I first heard this first one on the Dan LeBatard radio show (and laughed until I had tears running). I replayed it for Brenda and she too laughed ’til she cried.

Here’s another one, which isn’t quite as funny (imo), but also includes “Blazing Buddha” and “Golden Goose Gut” running side by side with “Arrrrr!,” which is sort of amusing in and of itself.

 

It’s EXACTLY the Same … Except for the Sleet, Snow, and ICE!

The Sioux City Journal reports that Sioux City is in for sleet, ice, snow, rain, and even a thunderstorm, pretty much all at the same time. Columnist Earl Horlyk calls it a day of “weather’s greatest hits.”

We’re getting exactly the same stuff down here in Mississippi … except for the sleet, snow, and ice. That’s probably because the overnight low was 60 and it’s supposed to get into the 70s today.

In related news, the Sioux City Muskateers … that’s the local hockey team … there’s really no need to add the adjective ice hockey because in the land of snow, sleet, and ice it’s pretty easy to figure out that we’re not talking about field hockey … but I digress … refer to the previous post for how this relates to field hockey … The Sioux City Muskateers lost a game to Des Moines.

At least the Muskies didn’t lose to the Ice Rebels … or Slush Rebels, or Luke-Warm-Water-Flooding-an-Arena-Rebels, or whatever they call that ice hockey squad up in Oxford, MS, where, by the way, they too are getting exactly the same weather as Sioux City … except for the sleet, snow, and ice.

When Hell Freezes Over

Ever been to Mississippi in July? We were in Mississippi last July, and I suspect that, other than the humidity (something Mississippi no doubt has more of) and the smell of sulphur (something Hell no doubt has more of) there is a remarkable similarity between Hell and Mississippi in July. (By the way, Mississippi is quite pleasant in February. Today the temp here in Port Gibson (that would be Mississippi, not Hell) was 69 and I was sitting outside in the sun beside a lovely camellia tree which actually blooms in February.

But I digress.

Let me review. If one compares and contrasts Hell and Mississipi in July, we suspect that the humidity is much higher in Mississippi but the smell of sulphur is not as pronounced … oh yes, and we also suspect hell doesn’t boast camellias.

Anyway, the image of hell freezing over came to mind last Friday at lunch when a woman who works at Chamberlain-Hunt informed me that both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have ice hockey teams. (This also brought to mind a whole new level to the concept of “penalty box,” but I am probably digressing yet again.)

O.K. Here’s a clue, if you have to add the adjective “ice” to hockey on the jersey, chances are you should probably stick to field hockey at your college. The only thing weirder is that the Florida Gators are not only ahead of Ole Miss, but are leading the division.

Let’s see, would that be the “Ice Gators”? That’s just so wrong. Of course, they’ll never beat the “big dogs” up in Michigan, or Boston College, or Minnesota-Duluth …

… at least not until hell freezes over.

Self-Control

I can’t say that I was rooting for South Carolina, but by the fourth quarter I was glad that Nebraska was going to lose their bowl game, which they certainly didn’t deserve to win. The coach has become an embarrassment, and as the coach goes, so goes the team. One cannot ultimately be a winner without self-control. If you can goad your opponent into losing his cool, your chances of success increase dramatically.

Over the last few years I have watched Bo Pelini, coach of the football Huskers, with increasing distress. As he stalks and fumes along the sidelines, he demonstrates week after week that he is a man with little self-control. And he has passed this gift on to his players. One thing you can count on with the Huskers of the last few years is that when the going gets tough, the pressure will get to them and they will melt down with penalties and turnovers. That’s a problem of self-control.

This fundamental flaw was even more pronounced as I watched the contrast between Pelini and Steve Spurrier, coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. I haven’t followed his career closely, but from what I have seen, he appears to be a class act. Both teams received some bad calls, and while Pelini went nuclear on the officiating staff and then pouted the rest of the game, Spurrier seemed to understand it’s part of the game – human officials that make human mistakes.

I became an ardent fan of Husker football back in the day when Coach Osborne produced young men who were for the most part good citizens, good sportsmen, and as a result, good winners and honorable losers, when they did lose. I became an ardent fan when I realized that Husker fans were of the same stock as Coach Osborne and his student athletes. Pelini, on the other hand, has every appearance of being the caricature of a jock: full of himself, and no patience (complete with a little temper tantrum) when he doesn’t get his own way. I have watched with increasing distress the childish antics of a selfish and seemingly out-of-control coach. I’ve watched as he has taught his players to act in much the same way.

I hope Tom Osborne, the Athletic Director, was watching with the same alarm. And I sincerely hope that the Huskers can find a coach who is an honorable man. Whether that comes about through a conversion of character with Bo Pelini or a new coach who actually respects sportsmanship, it doesn’t matter. Until then, I will continue to watch with muted and embarrassed support.

The Disadvantage of a Boarding School

Brenda and I went to a soccer game today. Being a boarding school, all the parents and friends of the kids live a long way away. Besides, it was frigid today. (About 50° and very damp at game time — brrr!!!! — [I know, but it’s best to play along with the locals when it comes to the weather.])

So here is a photo of all (not some … all) the home team fans.

Reminiscent of the 12th Man at a Texas Aggies football games, isn’t it?

The “C” Is Silent

Last night Brenda walked through the room and asked me who was playing. Trying to answer the “What does TCU stand for?” question before it was asked, I said Texas Christian was beating Wisconsin.

A half hour later I’m watching the sports desk chatter between games and it occurs to me that I don’t ever remember TCU being called Texas Christian University on ESPN.

I smell a conspiracy.