Thursday, June 26, 2014

defense and depth

I've been trying to free the Holy Spirit to loosen the control which the love of sports can have on my heart. Targeting the compulsive aspect. Enjoy it, without being addicted to it. Increasingly I feel the contradiction of following sports with such obscene salaries - and thereby feeling a little bit complicit - in a world where the great inequities remain a great iniquity. It becomes evil and I want to keep my distance from it a little bit more.

But sometimes I console myself with the spiritual principles that emerge in a life of following sports - from a greater distance now, of course.

I played basketball (as the photo demonstrates - back in my hey day, almost 40 years ago). I enjoy following the Chicago Bulls in the NBA, having lived in that great city in early 1980s.

Later today it is the NBA Draft where college players are selected by professional teams. What a show they put on! In the NBA today there are two ways to build a championship-winning team:

(a) The Big Three model. Pour your entire salary provision into securing three stars. Fill out the roster with 'role players' and people willing to take pay cuts in order to win a championship. The Miami Heat has done this. It has worked to a certain extent. The Big Three are LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosch ... and then the 5-7 role players who are part-time spectators of the Big Three doing their spectacular work. Everything inside me revolts against this model. And it seems that the Chicago Bulls are considering it - UGH?!

(b) The Play-as-a-Team model. Duh?! Afterall basketball is a team game, isn't it? Miami has made it to the finals four years in a row (that is amazing) - but twice they have been beaten by this model. Dallas (in 2011) and San Antonio (in 2014). I love journalism and the weekly columns from a guy called Sam Smith, covering the Chicago Bulls, tend to be a weekly read. Here are some extracts from a recent column:
In four seasons, the Big Three stars of the Miami Heat lost twice in the NBA Finals, and both times to teams without transcendent stars as much as high quality veteran players and depth ... Didn’t the Spurs and Mavericks beat the star Heat - and the Spurs were exceptionally close in 2013 - with defense and depth? ... These are the difficult questions the Bulls - and other teams chasing All-Stars - will be asking themselves this week with the NBA draft Thursday. If it’s so important to have a multiple star team, then how come teams with defense, size and depth won two of the last four Finals and were within one free throw or rebound of winning a third? 
Exegete that paragraph for the secrets of San Antonio's success - because it was pretty sweet. 'Defense and depth' is the phrase that stands out for me. Have a good defensive game. Play deep into your bench. Become reliant on lesser players who are intelligent, disciplined - and well-coached. Can't you overhear the application for functional leadership and healthy community?

Can I add a couple more things to the mix which is true of San Antonio, but omitted here by the Great Sam himself. San Antionio are exquisite passers of the ball. They will always give up their own shot, if someone has a higher percentage shot - no matter who it is on the team. Serving others. Making others look good. That is what it is about. It is bee-u-tiful to watch. There is a bit of this around on the internet at the moment. Here is one example, narrated a bit by Magic Johnson.

I have a son who coaches a basketball team. I urged him to start by establishing an unflashy, tight defensive game. It is a great way to get everyone involved. Then on offense have players target two statistics above all else: (a) assists, making the final pass that leads to someone else getting an easier shot - it is called servanthood; and (b) offensive rebounds, following up your shot and those of others and if the shot misses, getting the (offensive) rebound - it is called redemption. What? Why? It creates a second chance for the team. The missed shot, even the mistake, becomes lost in the redemptive action of an offensive rebound. A great team celebrates not points so much, but assists and offensive rebounds.

Defense. Depth. Assists. Offensive rebounds.
The key to effective team basketball ... and effective team leadership.

Over the years of working with students and young adults I have become convinced of the value of the unspectacular. Doing simple things well - attached to right convictions and right character and for the long haul. Unspectacular preaching. Unspectacular care. Unspectacular leadership. Unspectacular mission initiatives. We are too starstruck. We are too impatient. The trouble with flash is that it often comes packaged with dash. Nah - that is not the answer.

There is a lot to learn from San Antonio. I hope the Chicago Bulls are watching and I hope you are listening. Focus your leadership on building teams with defense and depth. Then within those teams focus on being the leader both in assists and offensive rebounds. Don't worry about point-scoring - it'll happen.

Now where was I?
Oh yes, the Holy Spirit loosening the control which the love of sports has on my heart...

nice chatting


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

great graffiti

As I travel and find myself in and out of peoples' homes in different countries, I've noticed something...

Generally speaking, Christian homes in 'the West' (for example, NZ, Australia, UK, and the USA) seem reluctant to adorn their walls with promises and texts from the Bible, or anything that is overtly Christian in its message.

Generally speaking, Christian homes 'in the rest' (around Asia, Africa, and Latin America) seem eager to adorn their walls with promises and texts from the Bible. It seems to be seen as an opportunity to make a statement that 'this is a Christian home'.

Why is this? Why this difference? What do you think?

Last month I was in a home in Indonesia. In the living area, where the traffic is greatest, my eye settled on these two verses. Beautiful. My heart was stirred by these reminders. What a simple little way to have a testimony as people from other faiths come and go.

My mind is often drawn to these sorts of issues. Other examples? Why are Christians so unwilling to say grace together in cafes and restaurants? Why are church-based, community-bridging ministries so persistently resistant to having a moment during their meetings where the gospel is spoken and shared? I don't get it - and I never have.

Too much salt; not enough light... Yes, I reckon it has something to do with an approach to mission that assumes that the strategy should be to go with the flow (ie minimise any differences), rather than to adopt the model more commonly found in the New Testament (and countries 'in the rest') where the strategy is go against the flow (ie maximise the differences) and do it with such grace and wisdom and courage and faithfulness to the gospel ... that people are intrigued. And then at that very moment comes the best opportunity to bear witness to Christ. Why don't we do it more like this? I don't get it.

As readers of this blog will recognise, I consider this area to be a gigantic blindspot in the way the church 'in the West' tends to be and do mission. It is where we most need the church 'in the rest' to help us.

I don't always get this one right. For years Barby and I committed to having birthday parties for our kids right through until they finished school. Do the maths. Five kids?! Throw in a 21st party and you are nibbling at 100 birthday parties. It was a time when we welcomed into our home lots of kids unfamiliar with Christian stuff. Often we'd see them every year on that same date! And yes, there was great graffiti on the walls for them to read. But it was also our tradition to pray for our child in the company of their friends. Sometimes this felt so awkward and it didn't fit the tone of the gathering. So when my youngest turned 18, I suggested that we not have the prayer this time. The response? My son's non-Christian friends would have none of it. They wanted to hear the prayer. Go figure. I'll never forget learning that lesson.

Plenty of salt and light, mixing in and being different, is what it takes.

nice chatting


Thursday, June 19, 2014

football headlines

Every week I shall add my favourite World Cup headlines from one single newspaper here in India - The Times of India. Nobody does a headline better. Masters of their craft. To add a little Olympian flavour, I shall award a gold medal winner each week.


The gold medal winner in Week One is:


The gold medal winner in Week Two is:


The gold medal winner in Week Three is:


The gold medal winner in Week Four+ is:

Now that it is all over, the poignancy of 'Genius is a Messi business' would have to be my favourite headline. Plus I wanted him to win the Cup...

nice chatting


Friday, June 13, 2014

bigger than 6.8

I have lived in the book of Amos for years.

Sparked by having a grandson of the same name, it is the ripe time to encounter Amos' contemporary - Micah. I have been reading and rereading this little book. No commentaries. Just reading it for myself. What have I been discovering?

The verse everybody seems to know is a good place to begin.
He has shown you, O people, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (6.8).

But go back up into the context. As with Amos, Micah is full of harsh words about a coming judgement of God. We live at a time when people who so readily embrace the justice of God can be the very ones who are so readily embarrassed by the judgement of God. How is that even possible?! And it gets trickier because in the Bible, judgement tends to begin, as it does here, with the people of God.
For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel (6.2).
Zion will be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble (3.12).
At that time he will hide his face from them because of the evil they have done (5.4).
After this the eye settled quickly on the second most familiar verse in Micah. It appears each year at Christmas (5.2; seen again in Matthew 2.6). It is the prophecy about Bethlehem being the place where the coming Messiah will be born. But go further down into the context. [NB: Matthew must have been impressed by this as well, because he skips down to this thought with his quotation in 2.6!]. Of this Coming One, Micah writes:
He will stand and shepherd his flock
      in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach the ends of the earth.
And he will be their peace (5.4-5a).
I cannot speak for you, but that is just exquisite. It was on my second morning in Latin America when I discovered this verse. The father of my close colleague had died suddenly overnight. I was asked to speak at the funeral later that very day. How could I reach for anything else?!

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the God of Micah is the judge and the shepherd. He is about both justice and mercy. Both visions of God are equally true, equally necessary. The prophecy may begin with 'the mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart' (1.4) as an image of his sovereignty and justice, but look how it finishes.
Who is God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression...
You do not stay angry for ever but delight to show mercy.
You will have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot
     and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (7.18-19).
As I kept reading Micah, my memory roared back to life. During my theological training at TEDS (Deerfield, Illinois - 30 years ago), I had a teacher who confirmed my faltering call to be a pastor and a preacher (David Larsen). I had been so nervous about preaching that I had saved the three required preaching courses for the final three quarters in the academic programme. But he laid on the affirmation thickly at the time and then sent me the same verse every year, for years. It sticks with the shepherd theme (which appears 3x in the book - 2.13; 5.4; 7.14)
One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out (2.13).
I have forwarded that verse on to so many other people. A little gem on guidance.

But there are more memories - from that same time of training. In Hebrew Exegesis class (with Thomas McComiskey) I completed an assignment on 7.1-7. As I read again, it all came flooding back. Ohh, the softness and sensitivity of Micah. At the first sound of judgement, what is Micah's response?
Because of this I will weep and wail (2.8).
Micah feels things so deeply. He is so wired for emotion. In chapter 7 he is just miserable. He is longing for the friendship of a kindred spirit, as Anne of Green Gables would express it. Outside, the world is full of corruption. Inside, the family is empty of trust - yet his confidence in God is unshiftable.
What misery is mine!
I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard;
      there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs I crave.
The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains.
Everyone lies in wait to shed blood; they hunt each other with nets.
Both hands are skilled at doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes,
       the powerful dictate what they desire - they all conspire together...
Now is the time of their confusion.
Do not trust a neighbour; put no confidence in a friend.
Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words.
For a son dishonours his father, a daughter rises up against her mother,
      a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
      - your enemies are the members of your own household.
But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord.                                                                         I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me (7.1-7).
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light                                                             ... He will bring me out into the light (7.8-9). 
During my time in Latin America, the preaching of Jorge Atiencia impacted me - even as it came to me through a translator. From 2 Peter 2, he asked us, "what is it that shatters your soul?". For me, it is when the people of God do not show a commitment to the peoples of the world. It guts me, particularly when the Bible is so full of it. The vision of Micah encourages me.
Many nations will come and say... (4.2).
What will these peoples of the world 'come and say'?
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord;
(to worship)
He will teach us his ways, so that we walk in his paths. 
(to listen, to obey)
He will judge between many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no-one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken (4.2-4).
(to seek peace)
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Bring it on.

nice chatting


Sunday, June 08, 2014

tarata (bolivia)

I have just returned from my first ever visit to Latin America.

The 43hr trip included a touchdown in La Paz (remaining on the plane). Within 10min of the plane door being open I could tell we were at 14,000 feet. Then as we took off, just before dawn, I could see Lake Titicaca (look carefully, right on the horizon) in the distance.

The week brought together the next generation of trainers from throughout Latin America - 35 people from the Dominican Republic in the north, to Chile in the south. We met in a Franciscan friary in little Tarata, one hour south of Cochabamba. It was my first time in a Spanish speaking country. Much drier than I expected - and much more poor too.

I loved the way the stained glass windows coloured the room. I don't have a picture of Igor, our leader in Latin America. But after the much-anticipated joy-filled hug with him at the airport one day - it was a grief-filled hug the next day at the funeral for his father who had died suddenly overnight. So, on my second day in Latin America I was bringing 'a few words' at a funeral.

Back to the stained glass windows and one sight that caught my imagination. It is the way the windows opened up to the outside world where we could see a man on a ladder, busy in his vocation - while Christian from Chile looks like his inspired Bible has been touched with a special illumination. The sacred:secular dichotomy dissolved to create an enlightened reading of the text...

We spent the week engaging with Paolo Friere's theories - respecting the learner, aiming at dialogue and interactivity etc. Very different assumptions from Asia where it is difficult for auditors to become participants, accustomed as they are to rote learning. This interaction was modelled so well by Alex who facilitated learning using a variety of methodologies. Here a whiteboard captures small group ideas on key principles in the formation of preachers.

Not just dialogue... The man in the center of this small group, Jorge, brought a series of messages from 2 Peter. It was some of the most compelling preaching you could possibly hear - and further evidence of the ongoing place of monologue within any total communication strategy. Slow. Urgent. Weighty. Appealing. Yes, we experienced dialogical and monological learning at their best.

The Bolivians know how to market their tea. Clearly they have done their market research carefully and selected a name that will provide the rich resonance that makes people reach deep within their pockets.

Speaking of Windsors, my next stop is London and staying at Kensington Palace with my friends, Andrew and Miranda - just over a fence (or two) from Kate and William.

nice chatting


PS: After losing my bag for the fourth time in 15 months, I have just had word that it has arrived down at the security post - so I am off. Catch you later.