Saturday, February 22, 2014

Loud Music and Guns: Another Ending

Who knows what is true.  Who knows what words were really said, what sights were really seen, what thoughts were really thought.  Truth is elusive when humans tell their own story of tragic events.  But, let’s imagine one set of alleged facts and then let’s imagine another ending.

Michael Dunn, 47, drives onto the lot of a Jacksonville, Florida convenience store.  Jordan Davis, 17, pulls his Dodge Durango into the neighboring parking stall.  Jordan and his buddies are playing loud music. You can feel the bass.  Michael is not a fan of rap music to begin with.  In fact, he thinks this is  “thug music”, played by  thugs. So, Michael yells (he had to yell to be heard), “Turn down the music!”.  At first the music is turned off,  but then Jordan, curses and says to turn it way up.  Michael yells again.  He hears someone call him a “cracker”.  The yelling escalates. Michael fears for his safety, thinking he sees Jordan with a gun.  Michael has his gun in hand. He knows that in Florida the law allows him to “Stand Your Ground”, meaning that, in Florida, in the right setting,  self-defense is pretty much a license to kill someone first and ask questions later.

 Michael raises his weapon toward Jordan to defend himself, and it appears that nothing good can happen in the next 10 seconds.  Except that Michael knew that while he could shoot to kill Jordan, he could also turn the other cheek.  So, recalling some sermon or Bible lesson he heard somewhere, sometime, Michael started praying for Jordan.  In that moment he loved his enemy; he prayed for his persecutor.  And he put down his gun; rolled up the window, backed up and drove away.  Jordan and his buddies laughed, like teenagers do when adults “cave” to their shenanigans, and the beat went on.  Little did they know what might have happened. Thankfully.

It takes a lot to imagine that ending, right? Sounds like  some syrup-laced religious movie written by some evangelism group.  Yeah, I know. I mean, really, no one expects that someone would risk taking a beating, much less dying, when you have the option of standing your ground. I mean, we have rights, right?  What kind of person would love a Durango full of teenagers blaring music?  Oh, sure we all know God teaches us to turn the other cheek, to let God exact vengeance, but, I mean, that was before Florida said we could stand our ground.  If God was writing the Bible today, why certainly it would read, “Stand your ground and then pray for your victim.” Right? 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Remember, It's a Love Story

When your faith is most tested. When you wonder whether you have faith.

When you wonder if you really do love. God. Someone. Anyone.

When you wonder if you really are loved. By anyone. By someone. By God.

Remember that God’s story, which is your story too, is at its most basic level about love.

What kind of love story?  

A Love Like That
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens
with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.   Hafiz (Source: translated by Daniel Ladinsky; discovered at inward/

Do you see the sunshine?

Did the sun ask if you wanted to be embraced by its rays; its warmth? 

That, my dear friends, is how God loves you. 

And how we are to love.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Super Pilgrims

What do you suppose it is which makes a professional football championship game the most-watched television event of the year? Not just of this year, but every year.  It seems like it doesn’t matter which teams are playing, or what the narrative (the current in vogue word for “story”) is; more televisions are tuned to that program than any other single television program, year after year after year.  Seattle beat Denver in a blowout, but people kept watching right to the end.  Why?

I think the marketing people for an adult beverage company sum it up best.  Stay with me on this one.  You know all the old sayings: “Life is a journey”; “Enjoy the Journey”; and so forth.  They all pick up on a theme older than the Bible, but contained there, in words like this, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV)  The theme of pilgrims on a pilgrimage is a powerful narrative (there’s that word again), which draws our minds and stirs our hearts, but the church has a hard time getting the word out in the midst of all of the noise.  Words like “Pilgrim” and “pilgrimage” have lost their meaning for so much of the English-speaking world.  But leave it to the folks in marketing to give us a better way of saying it.  Consider this copyrighted print ad content, printed side by side on a page in a national sports magazine:



You see why that is true, for the losers and the winners both, right?

Why do we watch? Because we identify with contestants striving for a prize; with people who keep walking, win or lose; because we are all Pilgrims walking toward a Prize.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Peyton's Super Lesson

Peyton is quite the football player.  He body fills out his Tennessee orange outfits just like you’d expect from someone who has the makings of the small percentage of human beings who can “make it” in big time football.  Peyton not only has the body, but he also has the spirit, the mental toughness to play sports at the highest level.  But, mostly what he has is something anyone can have, if they want it.  He takes personal responsibility for seeing his way through a challenge. Peyton perseveres. That’s what the real mark of a champion is; what separates the best from the rest in any field of endeavor is that they are deadly serious about personal perseverance in the face of odds which most of the world backs away from. Peyton grew up in Lewisburg, Tennessee, a small town in a rural area.  He took advantage of the local strength-conditioning equipment, flipping tire tractors.  He played youth football at seven and was an All-American as an eight-grader.  He received, as you might imagine, lots of big-time college recruiting letters, with coaches dreaming of having Peyton change their program around or keeping it going at a high level.  But, then he was seriously injured. Surgery and the painful rehabilitation are inevitable.  The “career” could be over before it starts due to one injury.  But, the way Peyton sees it, “It’s on you to do the therapy. It’s on you to do the work. You decide how you turn out.”  Now that is a super lesson for anyone, that the high school sophomore, Peyton Williams learned from his hero. (SI, 12.23.13)

You see, when your name is Peyton and you become, first a state legend, and then a national legend, lots of mommas and papas choose your name for their children. After Peyton Manning became famous, directing Tennessee to a win over arch-rival Alabama in 1995,  the name Peyton shot way up the list of most popular baby names. And for good reason. “Peyton” took on its own definition: hard-worker; attentive to detail; perseveres; winner.  It wasn’t necessarily going to be so.  In 2011 the career of Payton Manning almost ended, when after his fourth neck surgery in two years, the nerve in his right arm was no longer working properly.  As Peyton puts it, “I was down, because I wasn’t able to do what I love and I didn’t know where I was headed. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to perform again. I had those thoughts. They were real.” (SI 12.23.13) But Peyton persevered, through injury, through being rejected by his team, all the way back to the pinnacle of his profession. And that is the super lesson that inspires boys and girls like Peyton Williams.  You can quit in the face of adversity, or you can choose to do what it takes to come all the way back, to become a winner in life.

May God grant all of us, whatever our name, the wisdom to know that most of the time, “you decide how you turn out.”  Lesson learned?