Last fall, I had the privilege of stepping in to coach the Junior Varsity baseball team at my boys’ school for the off-season program. By rule, the “real” coaches are not allowed to be on the field with the players when they are not officially in season so they recruit others: dads, past players, outside coaches, etc to step in a run the practices and games on their behalf.
Obviously, they asked about 30 others before deciding to call upon me, but in the end, they reached out and afforded me the opportunity.
The fall season was short, just a 6-game league play where — due to a field shortage — we had to play everything away. Also, just to see where our boys stacked up, our head coach of the baseball program signed us up for the JV1 division which means we would be playing against 5A and 6A schools, instead of the 2A and 3A-sized schools that we typically play against. No complaints, we had a great time.
We also got our teeth kicked in most games. Thankfully, we improved every week, ending up pulling out a win in our last game to finish the season with a 1-5 record…
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3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
I have zero claim to the answers. Mostly just questions. People are hurting and I hurt for others. I am very aware that I have privilege based on something completely outside of my control.
There were (and probably are) times when I have failed to recognize my fortunes. And times when I’ve been proud to announce that everybody’s got a shot. And while it’s true that in the country I live in — everybody does have a shot — those shots are not equal by any stretch of the imagination. In basketball terms, I’m shooting from the low block while others may be dealing with three-quarter court heaves. I got layups.
I’m not sure where you sit on the fence. Depending on what media you choose to follow or what social platforms or influencers cross your feed, you are reading/seeing this with a lens on. And frankly, it’s almost a sure bet that somebody else is viewing this exact same thing with an opposite lens. I think we should try and come to an understanding that in almost all cases, neither of you is wrong.
Yes, there are the extreme viewpoints of those that think violence, destruction, or hurting others is the answer, it’s not. If that is your viewpoint, you are wrong.
Seven days ago, a man murdered another man. It was unwarranted and uncalled for. The human life that gets to continue on in this situation now has to live with this fact for as long as he exists on this earth. He will never forget this moment. I have no way of knowing but I am open to the idea that he is completely remorseful and that he may never have the ability to even forgive himself.
On the other side, tragedy was struck in the hearts of many. Another life was needlessly taken. A son, a father, a brother, a community member, a human being. His family too will never forget. They only have the memories now. The good times and bad. The smiles and the tears. The laughs and the mistakes. They didn’t get the opportunity to say goodbye, and frankly, I’m sure they feel like they’ll never have closure in this experience.
I don’t have the answers. Mostly just questions.
What I want is to have conversations.
I see color.
I see people of different color. At 42, I haven’t figured out how not to. I believe in both my head and my heart that even though we are different in color, we are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We have to be. Otherwise, I’m professing to serve a creator that is only a construct of what makes sense to me at any given moment in my life.
I see color. I haven’t figured out how not to. I work very hard though to make it not about color. I fail, as I tend to believe all do. My boys have heard me say throughout their lives that color doesn’t matter. Hopefully they have heard me push back when others may inch towards a line says that it does. It doesn’t. I pray that they are even better than me in their lives; with their words right now they tell me color doesn’t matter and in their actions I’ve thankfully seen it as well.
I see color. I haven’t figured out how not to. I’m torn. On one side, I want to be the voice that says, “your color doesn’t matter, it doesn’t define you.” On the other side, I’m wondering if the voice that says, “you are colorful, you are loved, you are accepted, let it define you,” is the one that needs amplification?
I don’t have the answers. Mostly just questions.
I see the heaviness.
I see the lawlessness of situations. The anarchy. I also see the peace and have respect for those that gather together for a cause in a respectful manner. I believe that one of the opportunities that I have living in a free society, is one to a peaceful demonstration. Whether or not I agree with what you stand for, I will fight to afford you the opportunity to stand for it.
I see police officers who are good. And I’m keenly aware that there are police officers that are bad. In this moment, I want to do my best to start referring to them as peace officers. Officers who promote peace, who long for peace, who choose peace in times of conflict. Peace officers who are bad, no longer deserve to be peace officers. I don’t believe that they deserve extra protection for when they break the law.
Even in the strife, I know that there is good going on. It doesn’t always get amplified.
More and more, I am starting to understand that if you’re watching the news, you’re being told a narrative. And while you may sit there and agree with me — it doesn’t matter what side you’re on, what channel you’re watching, what website you frequent, or what social media stream keeps your attention — you’re being told a story. It is one that you agree with or otherwise you’d likely turn it off.
I don’t have the answers. Mostly just questions.
If I had the answers, I’d tell you to watch channel X or visit website Y. The problem is, they all have an agenda. Some agendas skew towards what you might see as positive outcomes and some skew the other way.
Agendas. I have an agenda. You have an agenda. A police-brutality protestor has an agenda. The president has an agenda. The “machine” has an agenda. Your church has an agenda. The parks and recreation department in your town has an agenda. Media has an agenda.
They aren’t the same. They aren’t all written down. Many of them aren’t verbalized or even in someone’s conscious state of mind. We all have a way of seeing things and a desire to watch them end up in a form that aligns with that.
My agenda today is trying to find common ground. To gain understanding. To ask questions and listen for the answers. Not to listen with intent to formulate a response.
If there was a peaceful protest in my town today, I would go, sit, and listen. I would ask questions. I would offer hugs. I want to believe that I’m not the shouting type or the type that uses force to get my way and that would shine through even in the tense moments.
I want to learn, listen, and find common ground. I want to be at the center. Extremism is a cancer. I have not found in my life that extremism has solved much of anything. I could be wrong. I don’t have the answers.
If you decide today to put up a solid black image to show your support for the Black Lives Matter movement, I support you. If you choose not to, I support you. I don’t look down on you either way.
What I long for is open conversation with people who have strong emotional feelings about their situation. What I would ask for is that we can hopefully root our conversations in facts. Everyone has a right to have their feelings and words heard. It is my belief that everyone should also desire to have the most factual information as they continue to formulate their views, their plans, their agenda.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the facts. I recognize that I don’t and I will work to gain facts and historical context before speaking out of turn. When I am wrong in my facts, I expect to be corrected. When my opinion doesn’t align with the facts that I am aware of, I will hopefully have the humbleness and attitude of one who is willing to adjust.
I pledge to read. I pledge to ask questions. I pledge to try and amplify marginalized voices who have real things to say. Hopefully when I do so, I can amplify the voices of those who have agendas that push our society forward to one of love and coming together. Not one that is divisive and extreme.
Depending on your lens, the Black Lives Matter movement will strike a chord with you in some way or another. You might be on the side of, “all in.” You also might be on the side of, “I believe all lives matter, not just black ones.”
I believe that black lives matter. I believe that all lives matter. I am working to understand how one statement so often causes strife for the other.
The best analogy I have so far is one where I choose to find my roots in. It comes from the book of Luke in the New Testament.
It’s a parable — a story with a higher meaning — about a shepherd who tends a flock of one hundred sheep. He cares for them. He loves them. He regards their safety.
One day, one of his flock goes missing. He longs for it. He’s likely scared. He’s willing to take a chance that he loses more over this one single sheep. There is unrest in his soul.
He goes after it.
The shepherd wasn’t content that most of his sheep were there. If you had $100 in single dollar bills, would you set 99 of them on the sidewalk to chase the 1 that just blew away? I doubt it.
You and I aren’t the shepherd in the story. But I’m supposed to be. I’m called to be the image bearer of the God that created me. You are too.
I’m called to long for that one. That marginalized. That missing one. That one in danger. That hidden one. That one who got chased when he didn’t deserve it. The one who needlessley lost his physical life. That one who instinctively drives me to cross to the other side of the road or makes the hair on my neck stand. That one who kneels on a football field. That one who waives a rainbow in my face. The one who posts incredibly insensitive memes on Facebook, not understanding the ramifications they may have. The one who holds up a fist. The one who shouts them down. The one who puts his knee on the neck, yep, even that one.
— — —
When the shepherd returns with the missing (and safe) sheep, he rejoices. He calls others into rejoicing. He throws a party.
I am not given instruction or example to be one that ignores the sheep. I am also not called drive out evil by physical force or the threat of it. I am called to long for, to search for, to love enough to chase down missing sheep.
One last analogy… If I invited you to my house because you were hungry and allowed you to sit at my table but did not feed you while I ate, are you not still hungry? You will tell me, “I am hungry!” but if I say back to you, “we are all hungry!” and offer you nothing to eat; I have not done anything to understand or help your situation. We are all hungry. And I believe we all have an opportunity to chase those others who are hungry and offer them food to eat.
This is an open letter — a response in one of the few ways I know how. It’s mostly just going to be a stream of consciousness that could ultimately turn into a longer conversation.
Dear 1950’s style church member, thank you.
I used to be you. My “theology” matched your theology. Our “doctrines” aligned. The “church,” as I believed it, was the most important thing. When the doors were open, we knew we were supposed to be in the “church.”
I wasn’t there this week but the funny thing is, as much as ever, I believe we’re supposed to be in the church. I want to teach my boys this. I want to set this example for others. I want the world to know the Jesus that I know.
I think (mostly because I don’t know your internal motives), in that regard, we’re one and the same.
Except for the fact that we’re miles apart. In sports terms, we’re so far apart, we’re not even playing the same game.
What’s changed? The church? Nope.
What has changed for me is the simple fact that I missed the boat for so long. For entirely too long, I viewed those four walls, those padded pews, those hard-bound song books, that air conditioning, those vaulted ceilings, and the 9:00am once-per-week 45-minute dive into scripture as the Church. Here’s some examples of my previous ways of thinking:
“Hurry and finish your breakfast, we’ve got to get to church.”
“Nah, sorry, we can’t do that on Wednesday night; we’ve got church.”
“What time does church start?”
“Can you run up to the church and grab X?”
“Hey friend, (I know it’s a little awkward but) are you interested in going to church with me?”
Sound familiar? I promise I can go on.
You know what changed? Me. When I realized a little while back that our “theology” — as you might be inclined to passively throw in my face on Facebook — doesn’t line up nearly as much as it used to.
What amazes me is that you truly think that your take on doctrine is the only Truth there is. The simple fact you emphasize your one building; in your one-horse town; of your one denomination (even when you say you’re not a denomination) as the “Church” is completely opposite of what the Bible you stand on teaches.
My seat was empty on Sunday
My kids play sports and I get that back in your day things looked a little different. You had Blue Laws, I’ve heard all about them. And you just knew that if Christ returned on a Sunday or Wednesday night and you weren’t in your assigned seat at church, you lost your place in line. I totally understand your thinking, that crap is hard to shake.
And look, I’m probably the last guy you want offering up Jesus returns prophesies to you but I’m fairly certain you can count on a couple of things:
1. Jesus doesn’t care about what your building looks like.
2. If he showed up on a Sunday and upon his return He just luckily sauntered into your place of worship, He’d be disheartened at what He saw. I don’t think He’d be turning-tables mad but I do think He’d be sad that you shot-your-shot at creating His perfect church and you missed so badly.
You wanna know why I know this?
Cause Jesus didn’t ever once call a building the “Church.” And in his years of ministry, never once did He set aside two days a week to go to “church.” And never did He say, ‘those who enter this building with the wood-paneling and temperature-controlled baptistry will be called my Church.’
Nope. He pretty much said the opposite. For his entire ministry. Until the day he died and he called out in agonizing pain: “Father, forgive them, because they still have no idea what they’re doing.” (paraphrasing, mine)
You’re probably gonna read this and think, “we don’t read the same book.” You’re wrong.
I think if you’ll take a look back through that Book you read with honest and fresh eyes, you might see something a little different. I did.
What you probably won’t see is that point where Jesus laid out the scriptural times of worship of 10:00am, 6:00pm, and Wednesday night at 7:00pm. Adjusted accordingly for time change, of course.
As I point out above, He never actually calls a building the church. Nor does He call it, “going to church”; “going to the church”; “worshiping at the church”; “running by the church”; or any other mis-verbification you can come up with.
What does He say then? Well, He does tell Peter (in Matthew’s account) that on him, He will build His church. So we’ve got that. But I’m fairly certain that statement alone doesn’t mean Jesus hired Peter as a general contractor to go out and get a bunch of sub-contractors and an architect to build a physical building with a steeple and a pulpit. (But again, I don’t have a Masters in Theology.)
Wanna know what Jesus talked about more than a church? Like 100 times more? A Kingdom. And not one far away. Not one down the road in the future. And definitely not one that was made for the humans of this world to rule over each other with.
“The kingdom of God is near” is kind of a weird thing to hear, right? I’m like, “hey Jesus, what’chu mean by that?”
Since you asked, here’s my measly, human interpretation…
“I’m Jesus. I’m here. I’m building something far better than you can ever imagine. It ain’t a building. It doesn’t need a time slot. It doesn’t leave people out. It doesn’t require a great (or terrible) speaker each week. All I ask is that you love me and take care of my people. I’m the kingdom and I’m right here. Near you. Bueno?”
also (and equally as important)…
“Don’t forget something… the people. The ones who are lost. The ones who have walked away. The ones who have never heard. The ones who are broken. The ones who are misguided. The ones who want nothing to do with me or with you. The ones who say the most filthy, vile, and vulgar things about me (and you). They’re really freaking important to me.
And you know what? Now maybe you should write this one down… I’m kind of partial to this one… love them. Go after them. Please go after them. With all of your heart, soul, mind, and might. They’re not always going to be in the places you are. In fact, they’re rarely going to be in the place you feel the safest. Please, please, please, go after them and love them. Just as they are. You do that and I’ll work my magic as well, together we can bring them home. To the church. Not the building. To my church; my kingdom; my place of rest.
I was at a baseball game on Sunday (six, actually)
Look, my kids play sports. On Sunday. And I know that annoys the hell out of you. And we post pictures about it. And we celebrate it.
You know what else we celebrate? The fact that we are with the church. My boys know it. They know they’re called to such a higher standard than the world sets. They know Christ comes first. They know the Love of the Lord. They know the songs. They know we long for times to sit in and worship with like-minded believers to be refreshed and encourage each other.
They also know they’re called to so much more.
Those 10 other kids on the team? The 10-15 families associated with those kids? Holy moly, who better to teach them about Jesus, His love for them, and their place in the Kingdom than us? Than my wife? Than my boys? That’s a church. That’s a mission.
You know what we have no ambitions of? That .0296% chance of becoming a professional athlete that you post about on social media. We don’t talk about it. We don’t encourage it. We also don’t shoot it down when our kids say, “dad, I wanna be a baseball player when I grow up!” You want to know why? Cause I wanted to play baseball when I grew up too and you know who didn’t shoot that down? Every adult ever. Let the kids dream and play. (It’s scientifically-proven good for their brains.)
I get that you don’t get it. I get that this will stir so many of the wrong and unintended emotions in you but you’ve gotta understand that the “Church” as you know it is on the decline and part of that — from my simple estimation — is simply due to the fact that you’ve thumbed your nose at both believers and non-believers alike who do not exactly align with your doctrine. Different doesn’t equal wrong.
Love God and love your neighbor. I can’t do the second without the first and if I don’t do the second, I’ve failed this test miserably.
On any given Sunday I might be at a baseball field, but hopefully someday you’ll come to the realization that my family and I are as much or more a part of His church than you’ve ever taken the leap of faith to be.
So, Thank you. Thank you for outing yourself once again. Thank you for setting the stage for me to finally put something down on paper (this has been a few years coming). Thank you for giving me material to once again reinforce the teachings of Jesus with my kids. Thank you for reminding me that Jesus is really important. His teachings should be heard, especially by the lost — those who need it most.
What I hope my boys never inherit is a short-sided view of what Christians — followers of Christ — are supposed to be. Your “church” will likely continue down a slow path of attrition and death but Christ’s Church will endure forever. I hope they choose the latter.
And I don’t always get it right. Even when I’m attempting to do the right thing, I’m prone to fail. To err is human and I’m thankful for grace and forgiveness.
It wasn’t with kids that Paul struggled but I think he had a similar mindset:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.