Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
I went to see “McFarland” Saturday night since I already had my sermon done. “McFarland” is the true story of something of a misfit coach who ends up teaching PE in a high school where most of the students are the children of migrant farm workers. He sees something extraordinary in these young people, namely their ability to persevere and adapt. And he forms them into a cross country team, leading them in their first year to win the California State High School championship. I recommend it to you.
It is a great story, made even more interesting because it is “true.” I say true reservedly because I’m sure Hollywood took some dramatic license, but the fact that the details may not be precisely correct does not in any way lessen that the story being told is true in the deepest sense. “McFarland” a story about human beings caring for one another, about the struggles of poverty, about believing in those around you, and most of all, about believing in yourself. It has an element of self-sacrifice. There is obvious love. There is welcome for the stranger. There is risk taking. There is hope. There is overcoming the odds. And, of course, there is resurrection.
It was one of those rare movies when people clapped at the end. No one wanted it to be over. Everyone cheered the triumph of the human spirit.
So, I left thinking, we’ve got a pretty good story, too. It is a story of liberation and freedom. It is a story of courage. It is a story of weakness confronting power. Like “McFarland,” it is a story with no small amount of self-sacrifice, love, welcome, hope, and perseverance. It, too, is a story of the triumph of the human spirit. It is, by all means, a story of resurrection.
So, I asked myself, why aren’t we telling this amazing story we have in a way that makes people stand up and cheer? Why is it that we can’t get people into our “theater” to hear the story, let alone never want to leave? Do we need to get slicker, I wondered; maybe take some artistic license with the details.
And then I made a visitation yesterday to Good Shepherd in the Bronx. A few years ago, Good Shepherd would have been doing good to have 20 people on a Sunday. Yesterday there were nearly 250. And here’s the amazing thing. They wouldn’t leave. The liturgy itself lasted nearly two hours. The announcements at the end went on a good half hour. And then there was lunch. It was for the bishop’s visitation I assumed. Nope. They do it every Sunday. It’s a McFarland story.
But here’s the main thing, I think. McFarland, you’ll remember is a true story, taking liberties with details notwithstanding. I wonder if the real difference in Hollywood and the Church has something to do with whether we believe the story we’re telling is true. Do we really believe, as Exodus says, that God delivered the Hebrew people from slavery? Do we really believe it is true that Jesus faced death out of love for us? Do we really believe it is true that God delivered Jesus from the grave? Do we really believe it is true that a ragtag and somewhat inept group of Galilean fishermen set out to change the world out of love and had the perseverance to succeed? Is it our lack of confidence in the truth of our own story that causes people not to want to stand up and cheer and never want to leave and not something that is wrong with the story itself?
And that’s what brings me back to Good Shepherd. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I think what’s going on there has something to do with a congregation that believes the story they have to tell is true. I know it’s not a perfect congregation, but I know they’re doing something quite right. Whatever they’re doing right, I’m pretty sure, has something to do with a “McFarland” approach. It has to do with telling a true story. And knowing it.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Monday, February 16, 2015
Monday, February 2, 2015
One of the things that amazes me about New Yorkers is how good they are at waiting. They wait at the bus stop and subway platform. They wait for hours on the Thanksgiving Day Parade to come (I’ve done that one). They wait in a sea of people to see the decorated department store windows at Christmas (I’ve done that one, too). They wait for the dropping of the New Year’s Ball (not that one). They wait in line (I cannot bring myself to say, as they do, “on line”) to buy theatre tickets. They wait in line for special exhibits at the museum. They wait in line to get coffee and a bagel. They wait in line to go ice skating (although there is a way out of this particular line with cash). They wait in line to wait in line. They never seem to get flustered.
Isaiah tells us that “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength” (40:31). I must admit it doesn’t sound right to me. I’m not good at waiting. At all. I had occasion last week to be waiting with Ginger to see a doctor. I waited and I waited and I waited. Hours. And then I lost my cool. I finally put my foot down and insisted (maybe demanded) on somebody paying attention. And they did.
Waiting seems to work for New Yorkers. For me, not so much. So what’s the difference?
I take it as a spiritual failing of mine to think it’s up to me to make things happen. When I wait, I wait with no expectation that the waiting will ever come to an end unless I do something about it. New Yorkers wait with more confidence. Confidence that the waiting will yield the desired outcome results in patience I suppose. Maybe what my waiting lacks is confidence. Perhaps my patience would be enhanced by cultivating confidence in others.
On the other hand, come to think of it, my waiting on the doctor last week resulted in a certain strength of its own, maybe precisely because of a lack of confidence. Sometimes, after all, a lack of confidence is entirely justified. It’s just that New York would cease to function if New Yorkers didn’t generally have it.
I suppose Isaiah is right. Those who wait renew their strength. My strength, at least, seems to get a boost from a lack of patience. Maybe one day I’ll mature to having more confidence instead.