Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Christian Response to Cadillac and Snowboard Cross

Deut 30: 15-20         15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish…..I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God…
I don’t know why I care so much about snowboard cross or a woman flinging her body down an icy slop on something called a skeleton...but I do.  I really do. I watch the Olympics and I worry and wonder along with the athletes and their mothers as men and women fly down ski slops and spin in the air over a sheet of thin ice.  My personal experience of winter sport is limited to ice skating on the pond at my childhood home and one trip to an Iowa hill called “Mount Crescent.”  But I watch anyway.  

I think the best part of the Olympics happens off the ice and before the snow.  I think the best part of the Olympics is really the athletes themselves.  Their dedication and discipline, their hours of daily practice for most of the years of their lives, their falls from grace and their recoveries, their blood and sweat and tears.  Perhaps that is what draws me in.  I can only imagine what it is like to reach such a level of perfection at a discipline that it is judged within tenths and hundredths of a second.  I can only imagine what is is like to have a lifetime of work culminate before the world in a two minute 30 second program.  

It is easy for us to imagine these young athletes finding their gifts within and then finding the right coaches to nurture their talents.  We can imagine them working out before the sun rises and long after it sets.  We can imagine the lonely pursuit, driven by a personal discipline and courageous will that surly makes each deserving of something much more than a participation ribbon.  Young athletes can image themselves on the podium.  They can imagine the moment where their hard work matched the right conditions and they came away with a gold medal around their neck. 

What would it look like for us to take our faith with such discipline?  What  would it look like for a young person to look up and say I want to live a life of faith like she did or he does?  What would it take for us to put our whole hearts and whole selves into the life of faith?  Maybe that is a hard question because the goal might seem unclear.  I mean what does a life of faith well lived look like?  What are the rewards?  Perhaps some of the struggle rests in the fact that for many the goal is more of an afterlife goal, that doesn’t push us too much in this life.  Or maybe for those that explore faith in the here and now, the goal is foggy...does it look like showing up to church every Sunday?  Does it look like giving everything away?  Does it look like Mother Teresa or Moses or Dr. King?  And if that is the goal...then maybe that participation ribbon isn’t so bad after all.  

In Deuteronomy, Moses is reaching the end of his road and getting a little philosophical.  Moses, a man, raised in privilege by a family bent on the genocide of his people, didn’t have an easy path.  He ran away, he killed a man, he found refuge and created a new family in the wilderness and then he found his way home.  And that didn’t mean he got to stay there it just meant he stood with his people in the hardest struggle of their history...leaving bondage in Egypt.  Moses lead a band of escape slaves through the desert for 40 years and now he is thinking back on his life.  And he tells us, choose life.  Choosing life meant choosing to live as God would have you live.  Choosing life meant once you are free from bondage you don’t put other people into bondage.  Choosing life meant honoring the wisdom of your mothers and fathers, it meant loving God and neighbor, it mean not harming but emaciating.  Choosing life wasn’t just an occasional thing on the big moments but it was a every-moment choice.  

For us choosing life isn’t always easy.  We get it on the big things like murder and theft.  But the everyday choices are filled with shades of gray and the supermarket doesn’t put a sign on the bananas that says these are life-giving bananas because all the workers were treated fairly, the earth was nurtured in their making and the carbon to ship them was off-set by new trees planted in the rainforest.  The choices before us are filled with gray from the t-shirt on your back to the coffee in your cup.  Every choice is one that gives life or deals death in some way.  Our time and our money show our choices.  And most of the time it is hard to know if they are getting us to the goal of a life well lived.  

The world is filled with images of a life well lived.  You can pin what you want on pinterest or you can see it on tv.  Magazines will sell you images of the goal and commercials will tell the story of how to get there.  The recent commercial from Cadillac points to working hard and taking less vacation as the way to reach the goal of a nice house, a nice wife, a nice suit and a nice car.  But I don’t think that is what Moses intended as choosing life.  

Perhaps the easiest way to imagine this is to start from the goal.  Once at a leadership gathering I was asked to write my obituary.  What would I like people to say about me?  What do I want my my life to mean?  Why did it matter?  I invite you to consider those questions too.  Do we want people to say he worked hard and had a lot of toys or he worked hard and was generous and his community is better for his gifts.  Do we want people to say her friends and family could count on her and she gave her time to take care of others or she was proud of having watched every episode of Sex in the City...four times.  He was kind, understanding and always made room for more people at the table.  She worked for justice, laughed hard and tried new adventures.  He loved his family and friends with the deepest devotion.  My guess is almost no one wants to be remembered for having a great car. 

Discipleship is a life of generosity and abundance.  It means making different choices, choices that give life.  And like any goal it is work.  A lot of work.  And just like the athletes we see on TV.  We don’t have to do it alone.  There are teammates and coaches all along the way.  I mean isn’t that why we gather every Sunday, cheer each other on and pick ourselves up when we stumble along the way.

May it be so.  Amen

Rev. Debra McKnight
New Start Associate Pastor
Urban Abbey, 1026 Jackson St.
First United Methodist Church, 7020 Cass St.
Omaha, Nebraska