Saturday, December 03, 2011

OSU should Play LSU for BCS National Championship

I am a die hard Sooner fan. My great grandmother ran the OU dormitory for the football team in the early 1900s. My grandfather was recruited to play for Bud Wilkinson. I was born Crimson & Cream. What I am about to say does not come easy.[stick to the end for some spiritual thoughts] OSU deserves to play to the championship.

LSU does not want anything of these Cowboys. ESPN does not want them (probably would pick the Horns - kidding). Alabama certainly does not want OSU because they want a second chance to beat a team they could not beat on their home field during the regular season in their conference. Two Conference Champions should square off for the title game. It is pretty simple.

OSU had their biggest game in 105+ years Saturday night. They beat down their arch rivals, the big brother Sooners, who dominate them year in and year out. Not only did OSU beat the Sooners they punched in the mouth a Sooner team that is very good. Phil Steele (and almost every national group) picked the Sooners to win it all. These 2012 Sooners have suffered three losses. No I am not talking about the Tech game and the Baylor game, but the death of our top defensive player and leader of the defense from last year Austin Box, the loss of the NCAAs best ever receiver Ryan Broyles, a great walk-on running back who earned his way on to the cover of SI and a scholarship Dom Whaley, and many more injured players. The point is not excuses or injuries (we don't do well with giving excuses at OU), the point is that OSU beat a team destined for greatness that is packed with great players and coaches. OSU had their best game in history against this OU rival on national television to win their first ever Conference Title. OU is not a bad team (despite how all of us Sooners feel about how this year has ended). OSU beat OU soundly. They dominated our offense and forced turnovers. They did the wise thing and played run game on a cold cold night. The Cowboy offense was slowed but not stopped by a Sooner defense that has outstanding players and has shut down many top ten teams this year. OSU earned their greatest win of all time against a big time rival and regular conference and national title winner.

OSU's only loss came on a day when two coaches were tragically killed in a plane crash. It was a game that should have been won on a regulation field goal that only one referee and all this Iowa State fans believed was good (watch the replay). It was one loss that says little about how good the Cowboys really are this year.

So, OSU deserves their shot to play for everything. ESPN probably won't give it to them. The BCS likely will not. The poll voters likely won't. The political voters will put OSU in weird rankings.

LSU would never really know if they are champs if they play Alabama. If Alabama plays and wins the title they will never really know if they are champs. No one wants to see an all SEC rematch. Give us a new game between LSU and OSU and we will all at least know.

Now, what is the spiritual significance of all this? This space is typically not a sports page. The spiritual significance of sports is pretty much zero. Sports is a welcome distraction from life. At its best sports is a metaphor or representation of real life. In my case, sport becomes occasion for spiritual discipline. Will we win with grace and lose with grace? The ball in life can bounce either way. While we create many bounces, some of life's bounces we cannot control. What we can control is our attitude and our response. In this situation, we should honor the victory and accept defeat. This is an occasion for self emptying. Thankfully Landry Jones took this loss like a spiritual man. He took the blame as did many of the Sooner seniors and players. What speaks most clearly is who we are in defeat and when life does not go our way. They accepted this as a huge disappointment and will win it all next time. Who we are in life's difficult moments matters a great deal. Any difficulty becomes occasion to learn something very important about life.

Today like every day - God is still God. We are not God. We can only strive for God in the ups and downs of life.

I say give the OSU Cowboys a shot to make this year even more memorable than it already is.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


There is anticipation in the air. The ACU Wildcats are playing in Texas Stadium. People are converging on Abilene, Texas for the annual Summit. I am looking forward to hanging out with my friends. I am excited about meeting some new friends.

There is something about conversation among friends that is good for the soul. It is hard to describe what it is like to speak and be heard. To be challenged and yet loved. To learn a new idea that calls to question things you have believed for a life time.

It is good to live in the kingdom of God. It is good to live in a community of God's love. It is good to be in prayer for what God will do among us.

See you at the Summit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Your Moment

One never knows when the phone might ring or who might be on the other end of the line. Last summer my children picked up a phone in our hotel room and heard the dial tone. They asked in confusion, “What is that weird sound?” My children know nothing but mobile phones without dial tones. This summer I showed my children one of the earliest phones – an Alexander Graham Bell crank phone. We also looked at a switch board as a history lesson in how phone calls were placed and connected.

One never knows who might be on the other end of the line. This afternoon my dear friend Leroy Garrett called. I often hear from Leroy and it is always a bit like Christmas to enjoy a conversation with a churchman of such great significance. Leroy is a remarkable historian, a Harvard trained philosopher, a towering figure in our Stone-Campbell tradition, and my friend. Now, rarely do I share these stories but this one was significant.

Leroy mentioned that it was merely a footnote on the Restoration movement – a story that he has not thought of in 72 years. This afternoon he was taking a nap and remembered his college janitor from his days at Fred Hardeman College. In 1940, Leroy remembered this African American janitor that served the college. Leroy would often get a chance to visit with him. Leroy could not remember the man’s name. It was really aggravating him that he could not recall his name. (Personal side note: I’m in my 30s and I cannot remember the names of any of my janitors in school. That might be the sign of either a poor memory or my lack of interest in those who serve. I can only hope that when I am 93 years old I could remember the names of all my school janitors).

Later, as Leroy was eating a sandwich, the name “Spence” popped back into his head. The man’s name was Spence. Leroy then went on to tell a couple of stories. Other students were also friendly with Spence. One time they decided that Spence would be worth interviewing. They intended to interview Spence before chapel one morning. They wanted to ask him about life and faith and his work. Again, this was not to be part of formal chapel but would be before chapel in 1940. The approached Brother Hardeman, who nixed the plan. He indicated that the school could not have a black man in the front speaking to everyone.

Spence had a double stigma. Not only was he black, but he was also Baptist. Evidently Spence was a big fan of brother Hardeman and had asked Hardeman to preach his funeral. When Spence died, brother Hardeman did preach his funeral. Leroy speculated that Hardeman doing the funeral must have meant that he affirmed Spence as a saved believer. Hardeman had crossed denominational lines and racial lines to do this funeral, which was significant in that time period. Leroy could only surmise this fact (since Leroy did not attend the funeral), but this supposition was backed by yet another story from the past.

Brother Hardeman’s mother was a Methodist – a life long, never-been-immersed, faithful Methodist women. Hardeman told students that he knew that his mother was saved. Her life and her faithfulness were clear indications of her salvation. This story again is a very “small footnote” of Restoration History, which Leroy imagines that no one alive today knows or remembers.

I remarked to Leroy that sometimes it takes family members with whom we have great differences yet the strong ties of blood that force us to expand our worldview. Out of our love for those in our family we allow a greater measure of grace. It seems that if we were to extend this John 17 kind of love to others who are not kin nor blood relations, what a difference it would make. Leroy wholeheartedly agreed.

Then, he shared his dream. As he took a nap thinking about Spence, E. B. Hardeman, and Hardeman’s mother, he imagined going and speaking with the esteemed preacher. Evidently Hardeman thought a lot of Leroy as Leroy was asked by Hardeman to preach in his place one Sunday. This vote of confidence was a huge boost to Leroy. Anyway, Leroy began to dream about going to Hardeman and asking why he wouldn’t share these beliefs more publically. While in classes they were all taught the sectarian party line of “we are the only ones going to heaven,” these stories about Hardeman’s Mother and doing the funeral of a black Baptist man indicate a deeper thought that Hardeman did not believe this junk.

Leroy imagined gently going into the office of his mentor and asking him to write an article for the Gospel Advocate telling the story of his mother or sharing his experience of preaching the funeral of the black Baptist janitor named Spence. Leroy imagined that Hardeman would have listened.

On the phone, Leroy and I imagined what might have come by such an exchange. It might have let to an article. It might have led to Hardeman being dismissed as a liberal. It might have led a university to take an entirely different direction in terms of sectarianism.

You never know who might call.

You never really know the significance of a conversation, a phone call, an article, a stance taken.

Each moment is packed with an eternity of possibility. Will we stand by and support racism, triumphalism, exclusion, or will we visit the office or place the phone call or write the article?

The moment is yours – invent something together with God that will last.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama Bin Laden and the Wake of Love

Today all people want to know is my reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden. There are people celebrating in the streets and people confused about whether information is legitimate. If you haven't heard, American Special Forces stormed a mansion in Pakistan last night, shooting and killing a resistant Bin Laden. Others in the home were also killed. Bin Laden was buried at sea in "somewhat" traditional Muslim manner of being buried in a sheet (I don't think the being dropped from a helicopter into the sea fits typical tradition).

The standard reaction I've heard has been celebratory shock. There is a triumphant air of accomplishment. People continue to ask me what I think. Including a local reporter, who wrote a story for the local paper.

My initial reaction is a mixture of relief and grief. Obviously there is a relief that someone who seeks the death of others no longer can hurt others. However, I am concerned about the celebratory exuberance of people. Should we as Christians celebrate death? Death is a consequence of seeking to be our own God. Death is a consequence of turning to our own ways. I am trying to think of a time when we are encouraged to celebrate death, unless it is our own self-sacrifice and baptismal death.

If believing Christians celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden, then how are we any different from Osama Bin Laden celebrating the death of thousands of people in the 9/11 attacks? Is the difference which side you are on? Seems like a strange place to stand. It is especially sad because misinformed people will assume that they are cheering on the side of God.

It seems to me that death is something to lament. I think about the family of Osama Bin Laden, who suddenly must deal with the loss of a husband, father, son, brother, cousin, etc. Many of you will read that and think that I am crazy. Why feel sorry for a murderer? Why attempt to consider the situation of an enemy?

I would like to see Christians lead the way in celebrating life. The God who gives life is love. What we as children of God are to be known for is our love. Celebrating the death of an enemy (while having Biblical precedent) does not seem to imitate the way of Jesus. Christianity will be worthwhile if followers of Jesus show love for enemies. At times this is a tough love for the good of humanity, but more often than not it is a self-sacrificing love that defies logic. Much more would be gained by our unconditional love than by our victory party at a funeral.

The wake of love might call us more to mourn with those who mourn. The wake of love should cause us to grieve that death is ever considered a victory. Ultimately we believe in the God of love who turns the funeral wake into eternal life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rob Bell Hell

A preacher named Bell wrote a book and before it went on sale was cast into hell. For Bell it is a Hell in which he doesn't believe. It has been a bit staggering to observe as John Piper tweets "Farewell, Rob Bell" and others dismiss a man whose words have not even been read. One could go on with a list of big pulpits dismissive of Bell's Hell.

With this kind of controversy, whoever marketed this book has ensured they will have long term job security. I have now read the book and am foregoing a book review type approach. Instead, here are three questions for reflection

First off, does it seem ironic that a book with the title "Love Wins" has been the recipient of so much Christian hatred? Now that the book is out and critiques and fans have now arm themselves with quotes and swords for their cause. This hatred comes not from outsiders to the Christian faith, but from within and some most prominent voices are ringing. One has to wonder about a faith that is becoming known for its hatred and dismissal of those with whom it disagrees. If this is how we treat insiders, then imagine the fire for outsiders. Obviously, Rob Bell's pipe dream that love wins is an obvious failure in action by Christ followers. We often fail to show love to one another and to the world.

Second, now that the book is in stores people have attempted to determine if Bell is a universalist. At some point in the future, I might examine the thoughts of this book and about universalism. However, I intend to offer something a little different than the standard fare. Whether or not Bell is a universalist and whether that view is valid or invalid interests me some. However, the question that presently interests me more is: "how much is Bell really different from most evangelical views of salvation?"

Basically, it seems that he believes in a second chance, after death. That salvation could happen at a point after your death. This is what angers conservative evangelical Christians. However, there is something missed by Bell and Bell's supporters and Bell's opponents. This is the same old problem evangelical Christians have. We are looking for a point in time for salvation. Is it now when I jump through the proper religious ritual (a prayer, a baptism, a confession, or insert your favorite starting line) or is it later (after death) when a (presumed) merciful God opens our eyes to see more options. Bell moves the potential line of salvation to some point after death (instead of the typical conversion or salvation at a prayer, at baptism, at confirmation, or some other point in time).

To me this seems to miss an important point of salvation. Jesus preached the good news, which is the following "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news." In other words, the gospel is the present tense availability of God's reign to which we constantly turn our minds to God in trust. Jesus announces and embodies the arrival of God's reign. Salvation is something God accomplishes (whether for all or for some is up to God's pleasure-and no one else's). Conversion is our alignment of mind and heart and body with God. The current Bell debate is about whether that can happen later. Who cares? It can happen now.

If Christians were known for a more dynamic salvation, turning our minds and our lives to come under reign of God, then someone might care about our message and opinions. Salvation happens now. What happens next is not up to us. Salvation, as I conceive it, is what God does for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Salvation is a living under the reign of God right now in the present moment. We work for and we work with God, participating and facilitating God's reign first in our full being and second in the world around us through our action. My concern would be that a universalist view of salvation might lead us further into the same passive Christianity that an evangelical past tense view of salvation. There really is not much difference between: "Yes, I've been saved" (but who can tell any practical difference in my life) versus "Oh God will save everyone anyway" (so why bother welcoming God's reign into my life now). In both cases life really is not changed.

Third, is it just me or does it seems obvious that Christians should at least root for the salvation of all people? Whether or not it actually happens. Whether or not one has the theological swords for it or against it. It just seems in line with Jesus to root for the salvation of others (fellow sinners). I would want to vote for the clemency of God. Not everyone was provided the life of privilege given to me (good home, well off, education, etc.). Again, what God does with humanity is up to God (not me, not Bell, and no you). For me in the present moment, I intend to point people in the way of Jesus. It is a way of love and self sacrifice.

In sum, only these three things float above the surface of a difficult and much larger theological discussion: the unfortunate, dismissive hatred of Christians, the same old evangelical 'point in time' view of salvation (that just moves the line to after death), and our unwillingness to root for and live salvation in the present moment. As long as we debate and fixate on the "when" of salvation, we will live in the Hell that does not embrace the reign of God.

I'll leave with one last question: What might life look like if we fully embraced the reign of God now?