Some books we’re reading these days:
We’ve been teaching the boys in our fellowship about competition and good sportsmanship. They all love sports and play enthusiastically whenever they get a chance. Their desire to win, however, can sometimes overshadow the importance of kindness. Good sportsmanship seems to be out of fashion these days and so there are not many examples of excellent athletes who demonstrate it to point to. Asked to define what good sportsmanship is, many people can only give a vague answer.
Good sportsmanship isn’t about wanting to lose or not keeping score. That’s silly. Good sportsmanship is fundamentally about one thing – who you are really competing against (yourself). What trips people up is the idea that in order to be somebody they have to be better than others. The problem with that is that there will always be someone better than you. Even Olympic gold medalists, who sometimes win only by hundredths of a second, can often be defeated on another day. It isn’t about being better than others, it’s about being the most you can be.
When competing against others, we need to see them as helpers. They help us by challenging us to improve. In a real sense, they are serving us and we are serving them. If they win, we can be happy that we played a part in their growth. If we win, we can rejoice in our improvement. Competition can be good if it’s used as a way to improve ourselves rather than to prove ourselves to others. Improve – good, prove – bad.
We’re all different, wonderful, and unique. Constantly comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time and energy, and more importantly, it’s destructive to our relationships. If I have a need to compare myself to you, I’ll either be insecure because you’re better than me in some way, or haughty because I am better than you in another way. This is a ridiculous game we need not play. Let us rest in our uniqueness and enjoy each other’s differences.
I was looking forward to Friday night. Our fellowship was planning a fun time of bowling together. Even though I rarely ever bowled, it would be a nice relaxing evening after a week of busyness and responsibilities. So when we got to the bowling alley, I eagerly awaited for the tranquil feelings to kick in as I put on those loose fitting bowling shoes. “This is just what I need to wash away all that stress from the week,” I thought to myself. Unfortunately, it was not going to happen.
I immediately began rifling through all the bowling balls looking for the perfect one. I couldn’t remember, however, what weight I should choose. I didn’t want to choose a ball that was too light and broadcast to the world that I was a 98 pound weakling, yet I didn’t want one that was too heavy so as to ruin my form. I finally decided that a 14 pound ball was respectful enough and I could use it without pulling a muscle. The attendant had typed in all our names in the scoring machine and I was up first. My much anticipated night of relaxation was about to end.
It started off fairly well. A couple spares, several high scores, I was doing OK. Not great, but acceptable. The first game ended and I was in second place among our group of three amateurs. But then it was all downhill. I don’t know if my arm was tired or that I’m just a bad player, but the second game was a disaster. Gutter balls, no spares, really low numbers. I was feeling stressed. “Why can’t I do better,” I fretted. I looked over at the alley where my 11 year old twins were playing with their friends. It was all high fives, dancing and jubilation. I looked up at the highly visible scoring screen over my alley. There my name was in big bold letters with the embarrassingly low score for all the world to see. “Why did I come here tonight,” I asked myself.
Sitting there, I began to look around at my kids and friends enjoying themselves. The smiles, slaps on the back, and squeals of triumph shook me out of my stressful pity party. This is why I had come. Not to win or compete, but to love and enjoy my friends and family. Our society puts too much emphasis on success and achievement and not on the things that matter most, our relationships. Did I have a fun and relaxing time that night? I was with my friends and family, and that was a real pleasure.
“To be human is to accept ourselves just as we are, with our own history, and to accept others as they are. To be human means to accept history as it is and to work, without fear, towards greater openness, greater understanding, and a greater love of others. To be human is not to be crushed by reality, or to be angry about it or to try to hammer it into what we think it is or should be, but to commit ourselves as individuals, and as a species, to an evolution that will be for the good of all.” Jean Vanier, Becoming Human pg. 15.
Community is about celebrating one another. We enjoy the uniqueness and differences of each member. Gretchen creates these wonderful baked goods that capture that diversity. It is so fun seeing what she’ll come up with next.
Having fun with our friends from The Abundant Living Church
I’ve noticed that gift cards are the “in” present this year. It’s not new, I know. They’ve been gaining popularity for some time. But the gift card is now the ideal present. I actually heard someone interviewed on TV saying, “Who knows what I like better than me? The gift card is the perfect gift.”
Often, the big complaint about giving gifts is that it’s too hard to know what to give. A close second, however, is the embarrassment of choosing a gift that is not liked, wasting money on something that no one wants, and revealing your poor taste to your gift’s intended target.
Businesses think the gift card is a godsend as well. In fact, they count on them. Some of our members, who clean windows for a living, overheard a morning staff meeting at a local eating establishment where they vigorously exhorted the employees to push gift cards on the customers. It was the only thing that got them through the winter last year, they said.
I think a gift card is a poor gift. The whole point of a gift is to express to someone your love and affection. Part of that is thinking about them and selecting something that you think will bless them, and at the same time, reveal a little about you. I enjoy getting gifts that surprise me and reveal how much the person had to think about me. It makes me feel cherished and gives me a glimpse into their life, which has the effect of building our relationship and drawing us closer. Isn’t this what giving gifts are for?
I was talking to a vendor the other day and she told me that this Christmas her family wasn’t going to be able to exchange that many gifts because of an illness. They had decided to just spend time together and make that their Christmas. I commented that was the purpose of gifts anyway, wasn’t it? She answered, “Um, I guess so.” She, like many in our society, focus on the gifts and not the relationships. This is what makes the Gospel alien to our culture.
Our community celebrates Christmas by exchanging gifts each year. In the summer we pick names out of a hat and then spend the next several months thinking about each other and scheming about how to bless with a gift that will delight and endear. And rarely will you see a gift card given.
“Living Out the Gospel of the Kingdom” is one of the phrases our Fellowship coined to express our mission. No one told us what our mission was. We only discovered it after several years of trying to live a total commitment to Christ, His people and His work in a common purse, intentional community. One evening, after weeks of trying to articulate what our mission is, we made a list of phrases that would capture the feeling and essence of what we were experiencing. This phrase was rated near the top.
But what does it mean? It’s living out the values of God’s kingdom expressed by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount. Simply, it is loving one another and taking liability for each other. It is committing our whole lives and resources to each other under the lordship of Christ.
I’m sure living out the Gospel means even more than this. But this has been a good starting point for us. Recently, I’ve been reading the book, Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. I thought this quote by Ivan Kauffman caught the spirit of what we’ve felt:
“We are not merely marbles in a bucket – autonomous beings who happen to be in the same place at the same time, each of whom are capable of living whole and healthy lives by themselves. We are cells in a body, each giving something to the body which it needs and each receiving from the other cells in that body what we need to sustain our lives.” pg. 72
It seems we face in our culture a fundamental zealous commitment to individualism. In some ways this is what has made the U.S. a successful nation. But I suspect it has broken a lot of things in other ways. It certainly doesn’t empitomize the values of God’s kingdom.
Living out the Gospel of the Kingdom is trying to put into practice the good news of what will eventually take over the entire universe.