Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Newsletter: Lent With a Side of Sausage

I have a love-hate relationship with Lent.

For the unaware, the season of Lent begins forty days before Easter. Like the holy days of Christmas and Easter, Lent was a later invention of the Church. The season recalls Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days after his baptism. There he fasted and was tempted by the devil. The Lenten season even suggests the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert. There God prepared and shaped them for life in his promised land. Lent is a time for repentance, prayer and fasting as we anticipate the glory of Jesus' resurrection.

As Christians, we rely only on the grace found in Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that we are undeserving, God continues to love us. Only through God's actions in Jesus, am I reconciled to God. That belief makes me cast a suspicious eye on Lent. Are we trying through our own piety to manipulate God to love us more? If so, it is a foolhardy attempt.

In 1522, a group of Christians in Zurich heady with the profound knowledge of God's grace ate sausages during Lent. The simple defiant act of eating meat during the prescribed fast threw the city into an uproar. The Reformation came to Zurich, and the disciplines of Lent demanded by the Church were rejected.

Christians like grace. As a small child, I asked my parents, "How do I know that I've done enough to get into heaven?" The answer is that God's love and mercy is sufficient for you and me. However, many Christians who embrace God's grace have forgotten about its high cost. Grace doesn't cost us anything, but God paid a heavy price. Jesus, our Emmanuel, suffered and died on a cross bearing the sins of the world. This costly grace calls us to faithfulness. We live lives of prayer, worship, and sacrifice. We delve into the Scriptures to understand better our Lord. We forgive, love and show mercy because of the grace that we have received.

No season is better than another. Still if we decide to spend Lent reflecting on the incredible cost of God's grace and our response, it will be time well-spent. If the disciplines of Lent are less about us and more about God, the time can be redeemed. As we enjoy our sausages, let us also be shaped for the life God intends.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Win

Sports and Christianity have had a long tradition together probably dating before the formation of the YMCA in 1844. Prayers before games and players who attribute their wins to Jesus have become part of the pop culture. In fact, the latter has been parodied again and again. I must admit that some declarations of faith on the field appear to suggest that God favors one team over another. The statements are usually innocent, but I still cringe at the mixture of religion and athletic rivalries. Perhaps, that is why I was so impressed by the words of Tony Dungy, the coach of the 2007 Super Bowl Champions, the Indianapolis Colts.

During the post game show on CBS, Dungy was asked about the “social significance” of the win.
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports: This is one of those moments, Tony, where there is also social significance in this victory, and to have your hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Tell me what this means to you right now.

Tony Dungy: I'll tell you what. I'm proud to be representing African-American coaches, to be the first African-American to win this. It means an awful lot to our country. But again, more than anything, I've said it before, Lovie Smith and I, not only the first two African-Americans, but Christian coaches showing that you can win doing it the Lord's way. And we're more proud of that.
You can win doing it the Lord’s way. He is not saying that God chose the Indianapolis Colts. More importantly, he is saying, in the world of professional sports, you don’t have to give into temptation. You can play by God’s rules and still win.

Both Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears’ coach, act differently than other coaches. One commentator speaking about Tony Dungy says…

He has always done what good men do, eschewing the tyrannical approach of some of his colleagues, proving you can succeed while treating people with decency and respect rather than terrorizing them.
A Boston Globe column talking about Lovie Smith says…

Lovie doesn't yell and Lovie doesn't swear. (The same is true of Lovie's friend, Tony Dungy.) Take both of those options away and at least half of America's professional and college coaches would not be able to function. So how does he make his points?

"We have a coach who isn't a yeller or a screamer," acknowledges cornerback Nathan Vasher. "What he always talks about is being a real man, and we have real men on this team. What he wants us to know is that it is not about you. It's about the team."
Character matters. For Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, character has it’s source in their Christian faith.