Friday, August 3, 2012

Being a homer…

As I type this, I notice that the US women’s gymnastics team has just won Olympic gold. Cue chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!” It’s always fun to watch a winner, amen?!

Being unable, alas, to see the competition for myself, I can’t say whether I agree with the judges. But being a loyal American citizen, and thereby assuming the Olympians’ victory reflects glory on me by proxy, I’ll assume they deserve the lauds and praises they received.

Of course, I imagine that patriotic individuals in other countries, whose own athletes competed fervently too, might be grumbling now about, “Having been robbed by biased judges.” We hear such comments every Olympic Games, and sometimes, they’re warranted (see: French Judge, Figure Skating, 2002). By and large, however, I believe most such complaints are simple “homerism.”

For those uninitiated into sports journalism lingo, “homerism” describes a common phenomenon. A “homer” is a fan who can’t see past her own biases, who always assumes that her “home team” is better, whatever the situation. Thus, any loss isn’t because your preferred team/athlete proved poor competition. Oh no, it was cheating, or missed calls, or “Having a bad day.” A true homer, therefore, will watch each match with passion, informing anyone within earshot why his team is truly The Best. Further, a frequent consequence of “homerism” is that every other participant must be rationalized into inferiority. “The Denver Broncos have the best quarterback, winning tradition, plus their locker room smells like peonies. Whereas the Oakland Raiders can’t be trusted to babysit children, let alone win.” It’s alleged that a certain Plymouth pastor has said before something like that before. He would be, ipso facto, an out-and-out Homer for the Denver Broncos.

And the Olympic Games, it’s been noted, produces such reactions abundantly. In fact, life itself, I would argue, yields homerism of many varieties. From the trivial- Sports loyalties- to the dangerous- say, Racism. For some reason, it’s a common human experience to identify with certain ideals or persons, and then make disparaging comments of those not included in your designated ‘in-group.’

But does that need to happen? Can’t we prefer what we prefer, choose our loyalties for whatever reason, while at the same time respecting the goodness of those we oppose? For example, the other day I read, “Only 100 days until the Presidential Election is over.” I thought, “Thank you, Good Baby Jesus, only 100 more days!” I reacted this way because I, like many, am distraught by the nastiness of modern politics. Mind you, I care deeply about politics. I love our democratic system, recognizing that how I vote has power to harm or help others in significant ways. Yet if ever there’s a modern example of “homerism” at its most petty, it’s how many politicians treat others of opposing views. Lies are developed, crafted into TV ads, sold to viewers as reasons to despise opponents. Therefore, substantive exchanges of views descend into zero-sum battles of nasty sound bites. It’s like tribalism funded by specially interested homers.

And lest we exonerate ourselves, the truth is- It’s our fault. I mean, we’re a democracy, right? Our elected officials, theoretically, respond to our wishes. Which is to say, I believe the homer-mentality of modern politics starts with us. If “We the People” didn’t reward divisive political behavior, wouldn’t our national/state/local leaders stop backbiting and name-calling? What if we, in daily conversations with folk who don’t share our political values, decided, “You know, this person, whom I don’t agree with, does care about society, and while I wish her views and vote would change, I value her as person, and fellow citizen.”

So let that be my wish for the final 100 days of this election season: That everyday people- the republic’s true power- reject political homerism. Indeed, throughout our lives, let’s resolve to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Even those we see as ‘adversaries,’ folk whom God calls, “Beloved.”

And, while I’m at, Go Team USA!

Grace and Peace,


P.S.- This week’s spiritual practice- Scripture Memorization. Find a favorite Bible text, and memorize it by Sunday! Suggestions- Micah 6:8, Ephesians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Psalm 23. And send me your favorites!
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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Christian unity…

When I first encountered the Disciples of Christ in seminary, I knew nothing about the denomination. I’d ask, “What church do you attend?” My Disciples friends said, “Disciples.” I’d respond, “Never heard of them. What are y’all about?” And, inevitably, folk would quote one of several slogans, phrases used to communicate the faith tradition’s values since its earliest days. “We’re not the only Christians, but Christians only”; “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”; “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but Love.” But my favorite was this gem of early Disciples lore: “Unity is our polar star,” reflecting our founders’ core conviction.

Recall that Disciples emerged on the American frontier not long after the American Revolution. Inspired by that unique experiment in human liberty, many Christian communities subsequently experienced remarkable growth. New sects proliferated, offshoots and splinter movements multiplied. They were free, after all! Thus, these liberated Christians sloughed off old dogmas and certainties. In favor of, well, new dogmas and certainties.

For example: some Presbyterians split into Old Lights, New Lights, Reformed, etc.. New Baptist brands abounded into an impressive array of titles. Yet many Christians, specifically the Disciples Movement founders, found this abundance troubling. Yes, they celebrated freedom too, but lamented the explosion of divisions. “Can’t we all just be Christians,” these people thought. “Can’t we be different and still one?” So they launched out to eliminate the human-made distinctions that divided folk, and profoundly proclaimed that at Christ’s Table, all, indeed, are welcome.

Hence- “Unity is our polar star,” the point in the night sky that orients every traveler. In the centuries since, thankfully, we’ve learned that not every Christian division results from failure. Precisely because all God’s children are created equal, and different, various groups have various desires, needs, instincts and gifts. So after Jesus prayed on his final night in John’s Gospel, referring to all who’d come to believe- “May they be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me”- he’d probably okay different denominations developing to share diverse gifts. Still, the dream of unity, of God’s unified Reign of Love on earth, ought remain a guiding light. Especially for us Disciples, who called that our polar star.

Of course, how we pursue unity in our small, wonderful church includes partnering with local faith communities for worship and study, caring for God’s Creation together, serving people in need. But at the denominational level, we need leaders who make Christian Unity a primary focus. And, fortunately, we have someone in the person of Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, President of our denomination’s Council on Christian Unity. Basically, his job involves promoting unity in our churches, and sharing our church’s witness to national and international gatherings of faith communions. For example, when the most recent Pope was commissioned in Rome, most denominations sent someone to bring greetings. For Disciples, I believe that person was Rev. Welsh, who also represents us at the National and World Councils of Churches, among other things.

And the reason I share this is that Plymouth Creek will have the privilege to receive Rev. Welsh’s ministry this month. Specifically, on Sunday, August 26, this national church leader will ascend our humble pulpit to preach about Christian Unity. As you can tell, I’m rather excited, and not just because it means one less sermon for me! Rather, the number one reason I became a Disciple was because of our church’s commitment to unity. Having spent my youth in multiple different churches, I’d grown sick of hearing folk focus on what divides us. In seminary, I longed for a church who was content with being, “just Christian.” Hence, when I discovered a denomination that prized Unity as “its polar star,” I was hooked. And the rest, as they say, was history!

So I hope you’ll make a point of joining me for worship Sunday, August 26. It’s quite the honor, I must say, that Rev. Welsh would stop by. And who knows? Maybe we’ll find ourselves reenergized to work for greater unity in our community. Worse things could happen than Christians living as one.

Grace and Peace,
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