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That’s the Gospel Right There, Folks. (Many thanks to Patrick Wolfkill for providing the photo.)


Thinking about Christianity in Light of Two National Championships and Vice Versa (12)

This past weekend Messiah College’s Men’s and Women’s soccer team won their respective Division III national championships.  This isn’t anything new.  In fact, this is the fourth time they have “done the double” with both teams ending up champs in the same year.  It was the men’s ninth title victory and the women’s fifth.  People around here throw out the word “dynasty” rather frequently.  Others use the word “hate”, as in “I hate Messiah.”

I know this is true because as I watched the game on the NCAA website, there was a Facebook chat room available.  During our game against Loras on Friday a number of people felt free to share their dislike for the MC men’s program.  On Saturday, someone asked a simple question: how does Messiah keep competing at this level with this consistency.  Someone responded: they recruit players who were wanted by Division I schools.  And, yes, that is true.  Coach Brad McCarty even said so in an interview with the Harrisburg Patriot News published on Friday morning.  But, he was quick to mention there is more to the program than that.  Another person typed: “They are psychologically tough, they find a way to win.”  Well, yes, that is true.  Josh Wood came back from two years of injuries to compete in this recent campaign.  His mental outlook was greater than his pain.  Luke Helmuth worked hard to move beyond an injury earlier in the season to play in the finals.  His mental outlook was greater than his pain.  And Mike Kovac played injured on both Friday and Saturday to score the game winner in both contests.  His mental outlook was greater than his pain.  However, there is more.

In the same newspaper article quoting Coach McCarty, the women’s coach, Scott Frey, said, “We’re a christian [sic] college that intertwines faith with soccer and academics….The faith aspect, that’s the key part.”  Coach McCarty echoed his counterpart, “The players are more interested in the culture and environment of the program…we play a great style of soccer.  More, importantly, the guys are mature christian [sic] kids.”

And that line of thinking gets us in trouble.  It causes trouble because Christians have this reputation of being arrogant, self-righteous, hypocrites.  If you don’t believe me read David Kinnaman’s book, UnChristian.  So when the coaches suggest we play well because we are Christians, people are tempted to roll their eyes and exhale loudly.  They have seen this silliness before.  You know what it looks like.  It is those people claiming they do well or are blessed because Jesus is on their side, as if he is some petty tribal deity who can be controlled for our advantage. In fact, in response to my Facebook status pointing out the teams had done the double, a friend wrote, “How can you lose when you have Jesus on your side?”  I wrote back, “If that is the case…why don’t the Jewish colleges win national championships?  Jesus’ Dad is on their side.”

It was meant to be tongue in cheek, but serious as well.  I really don’t like the idea that Christians do well in sports, or any other field of life, simply because they can claim Jesus is on their side.  I don’t know all the guys on our men’s team and very few of the ladies on the women’s side.  But the fellows I know would NEVER claim they do well because Jesus is for them.  Just the opposite would seem to be the case.  They have a sense that they play for Jesus.  Jeremy Payne, the sophomore attacking midfielder, updated his Facebook status writing, “Let us not forget who we play this beautiful game for…” prior to the championship game on Saturday.  And Jake Berry, goalkeeper, wrote, “Win or lose, my identity is found in Christ alone” before the kickoff.

But here is the “real” zinger: even in the midst of a hard fought competition for another national title and honor, our kids don’t forget who they are.  You don’t see the same foolishness you see from other teams.  Sure fouls are committed but not the serious fouls that result in yellow cards.  And red cards are unheard of…at least I can’t remember one of our players ever being red carded.  There is very little intentional tripping, throwing of elbows, and the other teams’ shirts are never torn because they are rarely pulled to hold a person back.

And if that isn’t enough, sometimes one of our guys does something truly bizarre in the middle of a game.  Like what Logan Thompson did Friday.  It was hot in Texas.  And the game with Loras was extremely intense for 90 minutes.  As regulation time drew near, people were beginning to cramp up.  In over time, one of the Loras guys dropped like a rock with a calf cramp.  His trainers were about to come onto the field to assist him.  However, if they did that, according to the rules, he would have to leave the game and would not be allowed to return.  Logan, himself, walked over to the guy in extreme pain lying on the ground, waved the Loras trainers off the field and worked the cramp out of his opponent’s leg.  It struck me as a NCAA Division III contextualization of Jesus’ commandment, “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  It may have been the contextualization of “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”, but good hard competition probably shouldn’t be confused with persecution.  So, yeah.  Jesus isn’t on their side.  That isn’t the reason they win.  The fact that they play FOR Jesus, is another matter. They play as if his name, not theirs, is on the line.  And they play in a different way than many of their peers.

I am tempted to think the world would look a lot different if everyone who called themselves Christian went about their lives as if they were living for Jesus.  I know my little section of the world would improve, if I improved in this area.

By the way, Logan Thompson was named the tournament’s Defensive MVP.  Knowing Logan, he would probably be a little embarrassed I put the spot light on him. All I can say is, “Sorry, it is my blog.  And beside, I am not convinced me tooting your horn is wrong…so long as God gets the glory.”


It may be high brow art, but it is still the stoning of St. Stephen

It may be high brow art, but it is still the stoning of St. Stephen

The Church Calendar (11)

The following piece was written a long time ago (at least five years).  At the time I was Brethren in Christ, but torn between the appeal of the liturgical tradition(s) and unprogrammed worship practiced by Quakers.  At some level I am still torn; there is a lot to learn from our liturgically oriented brothers and sisters, as the paragraphs below show.

 The Church Calendar

 I cannot recall my first observation of Advent. I suspect it was without frills: five candles surrounded by evergreen sprigs, accompanied by hopeful sermons about divine love. Recently Advent has become more elaborate: five drip-less candles, well-ordered evergreen all around the sanctuary, a Christmas tree, dozens of poinsettias, and sermons focusing on hope, divine love, and the incarnation. For weeks, I am encouraged to prepare for the Lord’s advent. The church looks, smells, and sounds good.   Preparation is the watch word.

Imagine my shock upon learning the “church calendar” celebrates the life and death of St. Stephen on December 26. In 24 hours, we rush from loving and innocent images of a new born child to the bloody fatal stoning of the first Christian martyr. And there is more: December 27 celebrates the life of St. John the Evangelist who was exiled and imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos. In 48 hours, “high church” Christian worship focuses on birth, death, and imprisonment. Unfortunately, the calendar doesn’t take a break from this litany of suffering. The Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children murdered by Herod the Great in his zeal to kill baby Jesus, is held on December 28. A birth, a martyrdom, an imprisonment, and a massacre within 72 hours. I still haven’t found anything to prepare me for that.

I often ponder these four “holidays,” asking, “What were they thinking when they compiled the liturgical calendar?” I don’t know. But I think they were insightful. Just because God appeared as an infant and lived among us doesn’t mean evil disappeared. We have, and always will have, to contend with the likes of King Herod. But Advent tells us we aren’t alone in this world where evil also exists. And St. John the Evangelist’s inclusion reminds us that we have an important role: we are witnesses to the fact that God’s chosen is the source of life, even in the midst of pain, suffering, and exile. That was John’s message in his gospel (John 20:31). Finally, St. Stephen’s day reminds us that the baby born yesterday grew up. And when he learned to speak, he said, “Take up your cross, and follow me” – a call to imitate him in our pained, yet loved, world.

Back to the Homeland (10)

A little over eleven years ago my family and I were preparing for a sabbatical year in Clydebank, Scotland.  My employer had very generously arranged for me to have the entire year off to write and pastor a small congregation.  (There you go Helena: something nice about my employer.)

Years before I had opened a Royal Bank of Scotland account.  Part of our preparation for the year was to contact the bank to learn how to best reactivate the account so we could use it upon our arrival.  So, I rang the bank, and spoke to the branch manager’s administrative assistant.  What I thought would be a quick conversation was not.  I would ask her a question, she would ask the manager, then she would give me the manager’s answer.  This process was repeated for about 15 minutes.  I would later learn that such a long drawn out process was par for the cultural norm in Scotland.

Once all my questions had been answered and I was about to say a final thank you and hang up, the strangest thing happened.  The young administrative assistant said, “So, you’re coming home then?”  I was confused.  We had conversed for 15 or more minutes.  I didn’t pretend to be a Scot, and I certainly didn’t use a lame Scottish accent to impress my banker.  I mumbled, “Pardon?”  “You are coming home, Mr. McDermond.”  I explained I was an American and my father’s family left Scotland well over two hundred years ago.  Her matter-of-fact response: “Yes.  I understand, but you are coming home now.”

And then it hit me.  Because of the highland clearances, a very dark period in Scotland’s history, there are more people of Scots ancestry living outside of Scotland than those living in Scotland.  And the general thinking of those in Scotland is that once you were a Scot you are always a Scot…no matter how long you have been away.  And so I responded, “Yes. Yes, indeed, I am.”

I leave for Glasgow in three hours.   My traveling companion is Duncan, our youngest son.  He claims he can’t recall very much from our year in Clydebank.  I think this is a cleaver ploy to visit the UK.  I hope the people in the homeland haven’t changed their minds.  I will be out of touch for nine days, but taking notes on the trip as fodder for a couple of future blogs.  Until then…

I Think Yesterday was a Sign I am Getting Old…and Starting to Mellow (9)

Yesterday left me so unbelievably confused.  There were points where I was beginning to think I was losing my mind.  I simply couldn’t grasp what was happening.  As you recall, on Thursday, June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court announced their decision on the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), as it is legally known, or ObamaCare, as it is politically known.

My initial confusion came while watching the news services.  They were all telling me that SCOTUS had upheld the Act’s legality…well, all except Fox.  At first Fox reported the law was struck down.  But I digress.  I could not, for the life of me, figure out who the “h-e-double hockey sticks”, SCOTUS was.  The only Scotus I knew was John Duns Scotus, O.F.M.  Duns Scotus was one of the most important theologians of the high middle ages and a Scotsman.  He died in 1308.  I was fairly confident he didn’t give a rip about ACA let alone have the authority to uphold or overturn the law.  Then it dawned on me: Supreme Court of the United States.  I get it.  Unfortunately, things didn’t improve.

There was a bunch of spleen venting on Facebook.  I seriously considered turning off the computer, but I didn’t.  While what ensued was confusing, I also thought it was delightfully amusing as well.  In the past, when I was younger, I would have been irate.  Not yesterday.  I was amused.  And confused.  My favorite was a collection of FB postings from people who hated the decision and wanted to move to a country that fell more in line with their worldview: Canada.  The problem is many, if not all, of these folks seemed really, really conservative.  Canada, if you didn’t know, isn’t.  For example, Canada has “socialized medicine”.  The great irony is that many of those who despised SCOTUS’ decision thought the USA had just hit socialist rock bottom.  Their solution to avoid American socialism was to voluntarily accept Canadian socialism.  Confused.

By the way, everyone who glibly announces Obama is a socialist and dragging us down into the vortex of socialist horror really confuses me.  I admit I was not a political science major in college.  I have read neither The Communist Manifesto nor The Wealth of Nations, but I am fairly confident that the good old US of A is firmly in the capitalist camp and not about to switch allegiances anytime soon.  The reason I know this: I lived in England from 1982 to 1987.  This, of course, was in the dark period of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. (That sentence is a big hint as to my political leanings.) The Labour Party that opposed her and the Tories were, for the most part, REAL socialists.  Trust me.  Tony Benn, Michael Foot, and Neil Kinnock make President Obama look like Orin Hatch…relatively speaking.  Confused.

I was also confused by the fact that in addition to not fully grasping what Canada or real socialists are “about”, some of my fellow Americans don’t even get what WE are “about”.  I fully understand how one might misunderstand Canada.  It is, after all, that remote, exotic and mysterious place to our north. (Note to any Canadians who read this: that previous sentence was meant as a compliment.)  But at least try to grasp the basics of your own nation, please.  One guy wrote on FB that he was going to Canada and coming back “in four months when he (Obama) was out of office.”  Ahhhh.  Four months from June 28 would be roughly October 28 or nine days before the election which will determine if Obama continues or ends his presidency in January, 2013.  If that guy carries through on his wishes, he is gonna waste a lot gas driving back and forth to Canada.  Confused…but seemingly not as confused as that guy.

I am most confused by the assumption by many people that yesterday’s SCOTUS decision is evidence that the American system is hopelessly broken.  I thought it showed the system works pretty darn well.  Certainly it works as well as the founding fathers had hoped.  ACA was passed by BOTH the Senate and House of Representatives, and then signed by the President.  Admittedly, the process was partisan, but that doesn’t mean the overall system is flawed.  It simply means it is time for our elected officials to start working together for the common good and stop working to get their party re-elected.  The real evidence that the system works beautifully was clear yesterday.  People who didn’t like it had the right to challenge it.  They did.  The neutral SCOTUS ruled that the “rules” were followed and ACA was valid.  Whether you like it or hate it, it was the product of a system which was followed.  It is the product of a system that works.  Even better, and not at all confusing in my mind, is the fact that the SCOTUS was evenhanded in its decision.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan, moderate Republican, voted against it.  Kennedy is widely viewed as a moderate on the court.  He is often the “swing vote.”  And Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, conservative Republican, voted for it.  Roberts is clearly viewed as a conservative.

Ultimately, we should be grateful we live in a country that is guided by the rule of law and has a system which fairly determines the validity of new laws as well as any human beings can.  We could, on the other hand, live in Syria or Somalia or Burma.  That would be very confusing.

The following post is not about this guy: