Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Integrity of the Game

On Thursday Major League Baseball released the results of "The Mitchell Report" detailing steroid use in baseball. Don't worry, this isn't another Barry Bonds rant. Instead, what catches my attention is how strongly and quickly the players deny every detail. Honestly, I don't care who did or who didn't use, I just want someone, anyone, to stand up and say, "I did it, and I take responsibility." And I really don't care about any records or asterisks, either. I just care about the "integrity of the game." That phrase is tossed around a lot, but what does that mean, anyway?

Well, The American Heritage Dictionary defines integrity as "Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code." And follows that definition up with "honesty." I like this definition from Proverbs myself, "A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies." (Pr 12:17) To me, integrity is letting your "yes be yes and your no, no." (Mt 5:37, Js 5:12)

In this case, it means that all those players who do the Sign of the Cross, thank God for their accomplishments, and face the world when a microphone is shoved in their faces tell the honest to God truth. And athletes aren't the only ones I wish this for. How many religious leaders who claim to speak for God have been brought low by scandal that was denied for who knows how long before the truth could no longer be hidden. I think of the Catholic priests, the Ted Haggards, the Bob Jones Jrs, and on and on. Why is it so hard in this world to find someone who you can trust to tell the truth?

But instead we live in a fallen world being led by sinners just like you and me. I know I'm not honest all the time. We've all told that "white lie" to protect our self interest. But at the same time, I'm not thanking God for something I should really be thanking a chemist for. It's one thing to lie to save face or to stay out of trouble (not that I'm excusing that either), but it's another thing to credit God for your accomplishments that you attained by any and every means necessary.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jesus, the Savior of the rejected

So I'm still grappling with what happened in Colorado and what would motivate someone to do such a thing. And I think about the kid in Omaha too and many, many others who turned their personal demons into another's hell. Quite common with nonsensical shootings like these are that the shooter is overwhelmed with a feeling of rejection.

Sunday morning, before seeing the news, I taught Sunday School to a group of 3rd graders. My lesson juxtaposed the sinful woman caught in adultery in John 8 with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7. When I present lessons from the Bible to this age group, I need to emphasize why the story I'm telling them is important. In this case, the lesson was how Jesus accepts anyone and everyone despite their sin and despite what religious leaders might say about it. A lesson certainly applicable today. There are a lot of religious leaders, Pharisees of this day and age, who are quick to condemn, quick to judge. But not Jesus. Jesus accepts. Jesus forgives.

I think about the modern parable (an oft-forwarded email, actually) of a young man in ratty clothes, long hair, piercings and tattoos who walks late into a Catholic Mass. The church is full and he can't find a seat and even where there is a seat available the looks from the parishioners made it clear he wasn't welcome. So without any other seats, he sat down right in the middle of the center isle. Of course, the priest had yet to come down the isle himself and everyone in the church was breathless with anticipation to see what he would do when he came to the young man. The organ stated the opening hymn as the priest and altar boys began down the isle. But no one sang along. All eyes were on the priest to see what he would do next. Noticing everyone's stares, the priest looked at the young man and...

sat down with him.

Maybe the young men involved in these shootings could relate to this young man. Maybe they could relate to the women described in the Gospels above. Maybe they never understood that Jesus would sit right down next to them, even if no one else would.

What makes this even more sad is that I know of ministries in and around Denver whose sole purpose is to reach out to the unaccepted, the rejected. The one that I think of first is Scum of the Earth. Yeah, you read that right. The name comes from 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, "To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." They say Matthew Murray came from a very religious family, so maybe he had no interest in finding a community that would accept him. But sources also say that he was once part of Youth with a Mission and was looking at enrolling in Colorado Christian College. So somewhere in his heart and soul there was a desire to reach out to God.

Now some will say it's arrogant for a Christian to say, "well, he just needed Jesus and this would've never happened." To that I can respond based on experience in ministering to addicts, that while Jesus forgives us there's no promise that he'll heal us. No doubt he can, but there will always be scars. We need to face and deal with the baggage we carry and lay it at the foot of the cross. If he "had Jesus" would this have been prevented? There's really no way of knowing. Did he "need Jesus"? Well, only Jesus knows the answer to that.

Instead of worrying about the arrogance of us Christians having all the answers, or of the eternal fate of the shooter, the focus should be on the victims. And to follow Jesus' example and forgive.

Monday, December 10, 2007

making sense of tragedy

There are a lot of headlines that I wanted to tackle over the weekend but didn’t get to. They’ll be up here eventually, but I can’t post another word without acknowledging the tragedies that happened over the weekend in Colorado. First and foremost, I want to echo the prayer of Michael Sheridan, Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

This hits pretty close to home as it wasn’t far from the first shooting that I took some very early steps in my Christian walk. And although it’s been years since I lived in an apartment a few miles north on Wads, I still have the feeling of, “I can’t believe it happened here.” I feel the same way about the other recent shooting in Omaha. That one hit close too as I was there just the day before. So it’s hard to sort out all these feelings and try to form a coherent thought.

As of the time I’m writing this, the shooter has been identified although no motive as yet been disclosed. I fully plan to update this if/when that happens. It also looks like both the shooting in Arvada and in Colorado Springs are related. (Update: It’s been confirmed the shootings are related and that the shooter, “hated Christians” and was thrown out of Youth with a Mission three years ago.)

There is a lot of speculation as to why and how something like this could happen. As expected there are many messages posted on the Denver Post website placing the blame on the churches themselves or even Christianity as a whole. I prayed at length about this this morning and I still can’t comprehend how anyone can equate a doctrine or polity to the murder of the innocent. Regardless of any single person’s belief on any of the hot topics of the day, or what that person might hear from the pulpit, or the name above the door to the church they attend, no one deserves to be killed indiscriminately. Yet there are many (I hope and pray, only a very vocal minority) who flat out hate anyone who claims Jesus as their savior without knowing their personal creed.

But this is a very broad brush used to paint a very narrow (singular, really) issue. Let me state as clearly as I can, the Jesus I follow does not condone hate. The Good News is that he died for the forgiveness of our sins, no matter what sins those may be. And that the greatest love anyone can have is to lay down our life for another.

Now, I can’t think of any Christian who would disagree with any of those. Can anyone find any fault in what I just wrote that could excuse senseless killing? Yes, there are churches that emphasize some sins as being worse than others. But, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) Does it matter what our sin is if we all fall short? Don’t we all need to repent of the sins that keep us from having a fulfilling relationship with God? At the same time, we cannot excuse sin. And it doesn’t matter what that sin is. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Rom 6:1-2)

But there are some that believe that since the Bible condemns their lifestyle that Christians “hate” them. That they can’t follow a God who is so arrogant to condemn anyone who disagrees with him. If we preach that Jesus is the only way to salvation, then that means we hate anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. The thing is, the exact opposite is true. If we really hated someone and thought we had the only golden ticket to heaven, would we bother telling them? Would we, really? For someone to say that they’re not surprised someone opened fire at a church because of current-event politics is absurd, it insults my faith and is contrary to everything Jesus lived and taught.

One more thing before I get off my soapbox. When I first read the AP version of this story yesterday, there weren’t a lot of details yet. So I guess to fill column length, they felt the need to point out that New Life Church was started by Ted Haggard and then proceeded to spend a couple of paragraphs reminding us of his scandal. As if that has anything to do with this. I don’t know though. As sick and twisted as the hate that some people have towards Christians, maybe it does. (Update: the updated AP story still references Haggard, but doesn’t describe his personal scandal. And while the shooter has a link to the Youth with a Mission school, there doesn’t yet appear to be any connection between the shooter and New Life. So the motive for targeting that specific church is still unknown.)