“A girl of thirteen should have life”

blackout-girl-of-thirteen

It’s been a difficult week for a small Indiana town where bodies were recovered of two young teenage girls who were simply thought to be missing.

Besides having happened in my corner of the world, my only connection to the events are that 1) my own children were once young teenagers; 2) I deeply love middle schoolers; and 3) I believe life is sacred – at every age.

But it does always hit a bit harder when someone dies too young. And middle school is absolutely too young, by far.

I did not know Liberty or Abigail. But I know countless other middle school girls, and I wish for all of them to live, to be known, to breathe joy, to know truth, to be seen, to be loved, to be listened to, to be valued, to be honored, to be cheered on, to be.

That doesn’t seem like too much to hope for, even in this often dark and dreary world.

In the most obvious sense, this is not my personal tragedy. And yet in the most truthful sense, this tragedy is all of ours. Each and every one of us. Because two of our own – two young human beings who lived and breathed and were – no longer are.

This should shatter us. 

It should shake our bones, open our eyes, and wake our sleeping souls.

“A girl of thirteen should have life.” Indeed she should. Indeed they all should – every person, every age, everywhere. We should have life – deeper, sweeter, and more meaningful Life than we could ever hope or imagine.

Oh dear God – bring light to the dark. Bring hope to the weary. Bring joy to the suffering. Bring your life to us all.

For we are lost – utterly and hopelessly lost – without You.

 

500 Reasons to Hope (post-inaugural & non-political things)

In the midst of an angst-ridden world (the reasons for which I am not inclined to either debate or deconstruct ) I am filled with hope – genuine, deep, joyful, solid, reasonable, tangible, and vibrant hope.

It has nothing to do with marching or winning, protesting or legislating, yelling or cajoling, or anything else that currently floods the media waves.

It has to do with this only: that in the past three weeks I have been in the presence of 500 people who are changing the world.

Their impact ripples past rhetoric, policies, statements, and signs. Their influence extends beyond sound bites, screen shots, strategic branding, and social media. Their identity is rooted deeper than gender, race, economic reality, and Enneagram number.

They are youth workers from across the country – students pastors, Young Life leaders, youth workers, WyldLife leaders, small group leaders, Capernaum leaders, middle school ministers, and Young Lives leaders.*

They are men and women – some paid (but many not) who love Jesus, love adolescents and believe that life without the Saviour isn’t life as it was meant to be. They spend their days living out these truths, working creatively and tirelessly to collide their passion, calling, and faith in such a way that Jesus shines brightly while students are loved deeply.

In the past three weeks, I spent time with 300 new staff from across the Young Life mission and 200 youth workers from 17 churches in the Madison area, which is to say: in the past three weeks, I spent time with 500 people who are changing the world because they are pouring into the lives of those who are often ignored, bemoaned, overlooked, demeaned, stereotyped, disregarded, brushed off, feared, sold short, sidestepped, and otherwise treated as less than someone created in the image of God.

These 500 people love, care for, spend time with, are committed to, walk alongside, mentor, listen to, talk with, and pour into middle school and high school students – joyfully, enthusiastically, fully, sincerely, energetically, and prayerfully.

While the world is focused on large-scale events; while people debate what should and shouldn’t be; while groups tackle policy and those who generate it; while movements stake a claim for their particular vision of right and wrong; while some embrace and others reject someone or something; while some cry foul and others cry fair; while the world spins crazily on its axis (as it has done since just about forever), I invite you to stop for just a moment and rejoice because FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE (and so many, many more) who you will likely never see, meet, or know are quietly, confidently, boldly, and faithfully doing the work to which they’ve been called.

And because they are, this world is being changed, one beloved adolescent at a time.

Indeed, that is reason to rejoice. Over and over and over again.

[These people are changing the world – and the world is sweeter because of it.]

* WyldLife (Young Life’s ministry to middle schoolers); Young Life Capernaum (Young Life’s ministry to teenagers with special needs); Young Lives (Young Life’s ministry to teen moms)

 

 

 

What Lewis almost said: some thoughts on quoting carefully

lewis-hamlet-quote
Detail of page 99, _Selected Literary Essays_, C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper. (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

I’ve ranted in the past about C. S. Lewis misquotes. So has the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Essential C. S. Lewis,  and a host of other Lewisians.

I’ve often wondered why I care about this so much, why it rankles me so deeply when someone tosses around a quote offhandedly – or heavy-handedly, as the case may be – and then takes special care to note that it is from none other than C. S. Lewis, implying that it (the quote) is nearly scriptural and therefore they (the quoters) are entirely trustworthy and authoritative.

Does it really matter?

I think so (for reasons mentioned here). I think it speaks to something about how we use language, words, and ideas, how we view authority, and how we tend to accept (often blindly) what we are offered by Those-Who-Know, whether in virtual conversations, printed text, or spoken word.

We often let others do our thinking for us. But to make it look like we’ve done our own thinking, we buttress it with a quote by Someone Really Important and Smart, like C. S. Lewis, or countless other dead people whose words have been dissected into convenient sound-bites that make us look good.

Sometimes the quote is nearly-right, as in the case of this popular one:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live among those who are.

This quotes gets almost 3 millions hits in a Google search. Bravo for Clive on being viral, a thousand times over.

Unlike many of Lewis’s other misattributed quotes (including: “Humility is not thinking of yourself less: it’s thinking less of yourself,” and, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream,” and, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”), this one is almost spot on. What Lewis actually wrote was:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are: that good fortune I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years. (C. S. Lewis, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”)

If the misquoters knew that the original included “in a circle of” as opposed to “among,” I suspect they would love it even more. We are all about circles these days – circles of friends, circles of life, circles of prayer, circles of circles.

[“Circle” is a very strange word if you look at or say it over and over and over again.]

The problem with this quote being used as it so often is – i. e. to say that if one’s friends have common sense and real-world wisdom, then so will you – is that Lewis wasn’t talking about that at all (which isn’t to say he wouldn’t agree).

This quote is from one of Lewis’s literary essays, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?” You can find it in at least three places: Proceedings of the British Academy (Vol. 28, 1942), They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (Geoffrey Bles, 1962) and Selected Literary Essays (ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, 1969). It appears rather unexpectedly about two-thirds of the way into Lewis’s argument that Hamlet is best enjoyed for its poetic power and prowess rather than being critiqued along various theoretical and critical lines. He tips his hat to Owen Barfield, not for being a friend who helped Lewis navigate the difficulties of daily decision making (though perhaps he did do that) or for being a friend whose mere presence deepened and expanded Lewis’s own daily wisdom (though perhaps that did happen).

Instead, he tips his hat to Owen Barfield specifically and his other literary friends generally for being the kind of people who kept Lewis grounded as a reader and critic, for being people of deep intellect and smart ideas who challenged Lewis as a reader and critic, for being people who thought carefully and thoroughly and creatively before spouting off about nothing in particular.

For those who are interested, Lewis tends toward a reading style that embraces the poetry, the lyricism, the words, the essence, the donegality, and the visceral responses rather than a reading style that hacks and dismembers texts into lifeless blobs of intellectual blubber. Lewis believed that the many critics who had examined Hamlet’s character through every lens from every angle had missed something important. He warns that our own reading of Hamlet (should you choose to read it, which he would strongly recommend) will also miss something important if we approach it in the same clinically sterile way.

Perhaps I should rather say that it would miss as much if our behaviors when we are actually reading were not wiser than our criticism in cold blood. (“Hamlet: The Prince of the Poem?” in They Asked for a Paper, pp. 68-69; Selected Literary Essays, p. 103)

Lewis’s famous quote about wise friends is assuredly about wise friends – but not in the sense that most people use it.

And perhaps that’s not a very big deal at all. Perhaps if the quote is powerful and good and true, it has limitless applications.

But maybe it is a big deal. Maybe we need to be very careful about what we write and say and quote. Maybe knowing the context is as important as knowing the words.

If a writer doesn’t know absolutely certain where a quote is from (which includes almost every wildly popular [uncited] internet quote) but the words are good enough to stand on their own without the weight of Someone Really Important and Smart behind them, then simply say so. “As someone once said: … ”

Don’t claim the words as your own if they aren’t. At the same time, don’t attribute them to someone else if you have not checked and confirmed their source. Language is too important and powerful, too beautiful and poetic to be flung about lightly and carelessly.

 

“We Have No Right to Happiness” – C. S. Lewis’s final words of caution

53 years ago (November 22, 1963), John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX shortly after noon. Less than an hour earlier, C. S. Lewis had collapsed and died at his home in Oxford. The news of his death was quite overshadowed by the American tragedy.

On the day he died, the December 21st issue of The Saturday Evening Post was heading to press. In it were the last words written by Lewis for publication, a short opinion piece titled “We Have No Right to Happiness.” It could have been written today, and certainly should be read today. There are a few unsettling moments, typical of Lewis, that may cause some women to bristle (whether he was insensitive, obtuse, unaware, or misunderstood by readers is a discussion for another time). Regardless, his message is critical to this moment in human history, just as it was in 1963, just as it was in 1982 when SEP reran it, just as it will be next year, and just as it will be for the remainder of human history.

The article lays out a scenario in which person A divorces person B in order to marry person C, who has recently divorced person D. A and B were unhappy together (in A’s opinion, at least), as were C and D (per C, anyway), whereas A and C are head-over-heels-happy as a couple and obviously meant to be together.

They, in fact, have a right – perhaps even a duty – to use whatever means and follow whatever path that will help them fully realize their happiness. It isn’t just for their own good: it is for the good of humanity at large.

That’s a paraphrase, but you get the idea.

In typical Lewis fashion, he’ll have none of this weak and faulty logic.

“At first, [‘a right to happiness’] sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe – whatever one school of moralists may say – that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.”

And yet, we do expect that many things out of our control should and ought to be in our control. And we are not afraid to say so or to manipulate the system (or the doctrine) accordingly.

Recently, several highly visible and influential people have thrown off the fetters that have thoroughly strained and prevented their happiness. Convinced of their own insight and rightness, they are encouraging others to do the same. They firmly believe (or at least firmly feel) that any moral or orthodox restraints that tamper with one’s own inclinations and one’s own sense of well-being and happiness are optional.

Morality is malleable. Orthodoxy is not obligatory.

It does not much matter at this point who is most recently blaring this message. It was someone else last week. It will be someone else next week. There will always be someone saying 1) you deserve what you desire and 2) you alone are in charge of setting your own moral compass.

We all want to define our own morality and grasp for whatever makes us happy. We truly feel we deserve this, regardless of the cost or fallout to other people. That persons B and D may not have felt the same way about the dissolution of their respective covenantal marriages as did A and C does not figure into the blissful narrative. B and D’s happiness is not of concern.

Simply put, persons A and C (in this particular Lewis scenario) are quite certain that they deserve happiness – but that B and D likely do not.

This is basically how all of humanity functions. We would like God to step in and stop all the madness, lying, greed, destruction, and other bad behavior by forcing the human race to behave as they ought (which is the only way such uniform and long-lasting good behavior would ever happen). But there is a caveat: we expect Him to leave us alone. No forced good behavior for yours truly, thank you very much.

And therein is perhaps the most obvious reason why none of us has a right to happiness, or in fact to anything at all. We are hopelessly and helplessly fallen creatures who put on a good show of righteous indignation about desiring universal peace and bliss – but we insist that our own decisions and choices be off-limits from God’s powerful control.

In classic Lewis fashion, this final article of his ends with a reminder that one misstep will logically lead to another. Demanding personal happiness in the realm of relationship, specifically sexual and romantic relationship, is merely one step towards a greater evil.

“The fatal principle [that one deserves happiness], once allowed in that department [i.e. the sexual impulse], must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skills may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – one dare not even add ‘unfortunately’ – be swept away.”

One of the most engaging and alluring voices of today is currently saying some alarming things in regards to recent life events:

“Feels like the world could use all the love it can get right now. So today, I’m going to share with you my new love … I want you to grow so comfortable in your own being, your own skin, your own knowing – that you become more interested in your own joy and freedom and integrity than in what others think about you. That you remember that you only live once, that this is not a dress rehearsal and so you must BE who you are. I want you to refuse to betray yourself. Not just for you. For ALL OF US. Because what the world needs — in order to grow, in order to relax, in order to find peace, in order to become brave — is to watch one woman at a time live her truth without asking for permission or offering explanation. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself.”

I would respond with this:

  • The world does absolutely need all the love it can get right now. Thus has it been since the first humans said “no” to God and “yes” to their desires. That is why Jesus came as a babe, died as Savior, and was resurrected as Lord – to show us the only Love that can change life.
  • My own joy, freedom, and integrity are real and significant only insofar as they flow out of Christ’s presence and strength in my life.
  • We only live once on this earth; in some ways, this absolutely is a dress rehearsal for the life to come – which doesn’t mean we are allowed to carelessly muddle things or intentionally toss it all off as inconsequential or meaningless.
  • If “betraying myself” means giving up my rights to me, dying to myself each day, carrying my cross, and following Jesus into the difficult places where he will lead, then I will not refuse that (as much as I may wish to). It is the only hope for transformation, growth, and discovering the depth of God’s love and grace.
  • In order to grow, relax, find peace, and become brave, the world does not need to watch one woman at a time live her truth without asking for permission or offering explanation. Indeed not. Rather, the world needs to embrace the Incarnate Lord who not only lived  his truth but was Truth, and who voluntarily offered himself as the only sacrifice that could bring us forgiveness, hope, and life.
  • The most revolutionary thing a woman (or man) can do is to surrender herself – fully, deeply, humbly, painfully, and helplessly. Only then can she (or he) truly live.

We musn’t fret that this most recent round of false gospel is something that will finally tumble humanity beyond redemption. Every false gospel is equally dangerous.

At the same time, we mustn’t brush off this most recent round of false gospel as just another weightless and non-substantial folly. All folly is dangerous, and the closer it sounds to the True Gospel, the more dangerous it is.

Read carefully. Listen thoughtfully. Do not be seduced by sweet words that promise life and happiness but in the end deliver emptiness and despair.

We have no right to happiness – or anything else, for that matter – and yet God offers us his love and hope anyway. Grab them – and only them – and then settle in for a life that only He can provide.

 

 

 

 

Dads in the back with the babies

There’s a lot of shouting these days. Also marching, crying, worrying, reflecting, considering, thinking, wondering, praying, celebrating, spewing, planning, mourning, hating, hoping – all kinds of “ing” going on in the heads and hearts of people, “ing” from every hidden nook and cranny of the emotional landscape.

I’m processing the previous months’ events and all the current “ing” privately. There’s much I could say, but there’s far more that I need to hear, contemplate, and think on.

In the meantime, I find great reason to hope – and the reason lies far outside the realm of most of the current rhetoric.

It lies – to be precise – in the back of my church where on Sunday morning, a group of dads were wearing their babies. The picture’s a bit fuzzy, I know – maybe because it’s not often that a dad wearing a baby snaps a selfie with other dads also wearing babies. It’s not the standard fare of Virtual Stardom. Nor does it jive with the current discursive landscape.

Notice they are all smiling – dads-in-back-with-the-babies

Gracious, it surely does make my heart sing, my soul hope, my spirit rejoice, my mind relax, and my face break into a grin.

Dads in the back with their babies – not just with their babies, but wearing their babies. That’s an “ing” I’m going to dance about all week long. That’s an “ing” I’m all for.

[Coda: We closed the Sunday service reciting the well-known prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, everyone holding hands, across the seats and across the aisles – a room of people who assuredly have different views about all the recent “ing”s. We did it with full hearts, deep trust, abiding hope, and utter faith in the Father of us all, who not only made us and knows us but also wears us tightly bound to his chest. Even when all seems not well, all that matters is very well indeed. Amen.]

Electoral maps do not define me

[I wrote the below post exactly four years ago, which happened to be “the morning after” rather than “election eve.” Even so, the point remains important: that we are not merely tally pinpricks on an electoral map, who may seriously doubt the value of our single vote, but rather we are Imago Dei pinpricks within an infinite cosmos, who can be assured of our present and eternal value. The final voting percentages listed below may be off from this years, but the truthful premise is not.]

Wednesday, 7 November, 2012:

I’m not a political activist, pundit, or powerhouse. That’s why after voting yesterday, I wrote that the precious freedom to vote is of less significance than the precious truth that we are human.

This morning, 51.5% of voters are euphoric (to varying degrees) and 48.5% are despondent (on various levels) based solely on their personal answer to this single question:

Who did you vote for?

Several hours ago, the political map of our country looked like this:

2012 Electoral Map – 11.07.12

For entirely non-political reasons, I hate this map. Everything about it screams division and dissent. The non-United States of America.

I prefer this map:

United States

A person has to really scrunch up their eyes to pinpoint “my” place. The color scheme has an artistic air about it. The division lines are faint, more like the marks on a master blueprint than the “cut” lines on a butcher diagram.

This map is even better:

This one is better yet:

And this is the best of all:

I vote because I can. Because I have been given that right.  Because voting matters – on a temporal level, that is.

But I am not a pinpoint on a blue/red electoral map, defined primarily by my political leanings or judged by my voting record.

I am, rather, a pinpoint in a vast, immeasurable universe. I breathe because I live. I have been granted that miracle. Pinpoints matter – in spite of their smallness – solely because they are defined by their imago Dei and judged by undeserved grace.

The real question (for today) is not Who did you vote for?

The real question (for beyond days) is Who do you live for?

THANK YOU (a note to Young Life and WyldLife leaders everywhere)

I love The Church.

I love Young Life.

(Much less than I love Jesus – but true love for both, nonetheless.)

During the past 15 years, in my work as a youth ministry trainer and cheerleader, I’ve said THANK YOU to countless youth pastors – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand why you do what you do; thank you from every adult in your congregation who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who grows up under your love and guidance; thank you for ushering in the next generation of The Church with dedication, energy, creativity, and passion; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

During the past 25 years, in my role as a Young Life spouse (and other YL things), I’ve said THANK YOU to countless leaders – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand who you are and what you do; thank you from every adult in your community who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who sees and experiences the love of Jesus through you; thank you for believing that pursuing the most disinterested kid is worth your time; thank you for introducing teenagers to the God who created and loves them; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

I also offer this – a real note from a real teenager written to a real person who was doing real ministry borne out of real passion flowing from real grace abiding in Real Love.

This camper articulated what countless kids truly experience but few actually express.

It’s good to reminded why you do what you do (because there are kids who need to be seen, noticed, befriended, loved, and introduced to the Savior). It’s good to remember what this ministry is really about (Jesus and teenagers…not me or us). It’s good to close your eyes and humbly remember that thank yous – as sweet as they are – aren’t the goal or the prize (that’s Jesus – always and only Jesus).

Even so, thank yous matter: so thank you. All of you. Each of you. A thousand times over. And more.

young-life-leader-card

[Young Life camper-written notecard, c. 2010. The leader’s name has been removed – but I sent that leader a picture of this card because, oh gracious, what depth of precious and sweet grace is wrapped up in these simple 25 words?! See your name in that big white space and ask Jesus to steer you towards the kids who currently feel as this one did, because that is who we are and what we do.]

 

 

Thoughts About Remembering, on 9/11

There are only three hours left of 9/11 here in Indiana, and there in New York, and there at the Pentagon, and also there in Pennsylvania.

Except for those who were present, or whose loved ones were lost, I suspect that most of the remembering is over for today and this year.

Remembering is an exhausting task. In a world where we hear and know about a million lives beyond our own, how much remembering can a single person handle?

And yet remembering is vital to our survival – not primarily our bodily survival, but our inner soul survival.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a remembering God.

“Remember when I brought you out of Egypt. Remember when I comforted your sorrow. Remember when I called you my own. Remember when I calmed your distress. Remember when I met your needs. Remember these words of mine.” 

The incarnate Lord Jesus Christ is a remembering God.

“Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Do this in remembrance of me.”

He tells us to remember. Over and over and over again.

Just as importantly, He listens as we lament and ask Him to remember. Over and over and over again.

“Remember your compassion and unfailing love. Remember your covenant promises. Remember me, LORD.”

Remembering what happened on 9/11 is important and significant to each of us in different ways and degrees. We must not forget.

But it is infinitely more important that we remember God’s love (lavished on us), God’s majesty (visible in creation), God’s forgiveness (available because of the cross), God’s grace (shared with His children), and a thousand other things flowing from the heart of God.

Remembering is a discipline. Remembering takes practice. Remembering takes patience.

Regardless of the circumstances, like the Psalmist we can (and must) say:

I suffer. I ache. I cry. I weep. I break. 

But I remember….

And because we remember, we can live. Regardless. In the midst of the darkness. Today and tomorrow. The joy, hope, grace, and peace that come from remembering are there for all; we can drink their sweetness – today, tomorrow, forever – straight from the heart of the God who himself remembers.

Amen.

[15 years ago – before the blogging era – I was a newspaper columnist. My original thoughts, written while I watched the events of 9/11 unfold on my television, can be read here.]

 

Thank You, Evan Jager

(Addendum: Last night, after posting this blog from within the wooded glens of southern Indiana, I was directed to this by Shauna Niequist. She wrote about Evan Jager in her first book, Cold Tangerines, in a chapter called “The Track Star”. I grew up just a mile or so from where Willow Creek Community started, in an old movie theater. Yesterday, the Willow Creek family watched Evan’s race on The Really Large Screen at their current location – because that’s what family does: they gather to watch their own run and jump as he competes in the steeplechase. Gracious, life is sometimes just over-the-top joyful and awesome and exciting and stunning, is it not?)

Last week, I wrote here about David Boudia and Steele Johnson winning silver at the Olympics. Shortly afterwards, a woman I’d never met left a kind and gracious comment on my Facebook page. She is Cathy Jager, mother to Evan Jager.

Evan Jager AP

Photo: The Associate Press (7c844a9b03e44cec87e17743513d23a5.jpg)

It turns out that Evan Jager competes in the steeplechase. He is a steeplechaser (can it be a predicate noun?). An Olympic steeplechaser, to be precise. In other words, he runs and jumps on land and through water really, really fast without falling or tripping over himself, which is what happens to me if I try to run even just through the backyard or jump even just from my relaxed reading position to an upright alert posture.

I am not much of a mover or shaker or runner or jumper, let alone a steeplechaser.

Steeplechasing (can it be a gerund subject?) doesn’t get a lot of air time. Nor does it get a lot of press time. We Americans are all Olympic-gaga about gymnastics and beach volleyball and swimming and diving. The related stories, interviews, and video clips are everywhere.

But this morning, when Evan Jager was running in the final 3,000-meter steeplechase, I was driving through the state of Indiana, and I could not find a single radio station that talked about the running and the jumping on the land and through the water. Not one. Politics, country music, and other white noise. But no steeplechasing.

And this afternoon, when I finally re-entered the world of wifi, I had to search and dig for a story about the race because, apparently, steeplechasing news isn’t headline news (which might be part of what’s wrong with the world today).

But at last, I found this story (and there have been many more since then, which is gratifying and encouraging and, well, just right) which reported on how Evan Jager had steeplechased (can it be a past perfect verb?) and announced his silver medal.

I don’t know Evan Jager, but I would like to say “bravo” and “thank you” to him because of this:

  • Because when asked about his performance, he said, “I think I had the perfect race today. I was just enjoying every second of it.” Notice that he didn’t say he was perfect, and notice that he didn’t diminish his excellent and stunning race even though he did not cross the line first. He raced well. He raced great. He raced awesomely. And he enjoyed doing it. He worked hard – very, very hard – and found it enjoyable, i.e. joyful. Hello, world. Pay attention.
  • Because when asked by an interviewer if his silver medal felt like a gold medal (since the US Olympic steeplechase history [can it be a descriptive modifier?] isn’t exactly storied), Jager said, “No. It feels like silver, but I’m totally OK with silver.” Our world is big on telling everyone they are gold-medal-winner-worthy, and that anything less is unacceptable and not worth celebrating. But that’s ridiculous. Only one person crosses the line first. And that’s OK.

We are not all gold-medal-winner-worthy. Most of us are immeasurably far from being legitimate contenders or players or performers or participants in much of what life has to offer. There are countless things I cannot do at all, let alone do them well, and no amount of “I’m-amazing-I’m-awesome-I’m-fantastic-I’m-worthy” mirror-self-talk-fiddle-faddle will change that. I still cannot sing, dance, build a house, paint a picture, weld a joint, plumb a drain, construct a quilt, train a horse, do a lay-up, teach shop class, drop a water ski, do impeccable accounting, and a thousand other things.

And that’s OK. My value as a person, your value as a person, our value as people is not found in whether we win gold or not.

It is found in this only: that the breathtaking God who created the breathtaking universe looks at each one of us – (who were designed to be breathtaking but have screwed that up in so many ways) – and says, “You take my breath away.”

Evan Jager ran the steeplechase today. He was fast. He was fantastic. He was fabulous. He had a blast doing it. He enjoyed himself. He won a silver medal.

And that is so very, very OK. That is amazing. And all of us non-running non-jumping  non-fast non-steeplechasing people (can it be a negative gerund adjective?) should cheer him on because working hard with joy is something to celebrate over and over and over again.

Thank you, David Boudia and Steele Johnson

The Olympics – when we all become insanely interested in sports we know nothing about (and until this week possibly cared nothing about), scream wildly at our screens for people we’ve only just heard about (though we now consider them to be close friends), and cry uncontrollably for human interest stories awash in emotions on steroids (metaphorically, of course).

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 08: Silver medalists David Boudia and Steele Johnson of the United States celebrate on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men’s Diving Synchronised 10m Platform Final on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) (http://www.teamusa.org/News/2016/August/08/David-Boudia-Steele-Johnson-Start-Team-USAs-Olympic-Diving-Competition-With-Synchro-Silver)
Tonight, David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver medal for the US of A when they leapt backwards off a 10-meter platform, did a couple-and-a-half somersaulty things while also doing a couple-and-a-half twisty things at the same time, and then hit the water at the same time, at the same angle, making the same amount of non-splash.

I have a difficult time walking the length of my house without tripping over something or other, so everything Olympian is a mystery to me. But it seemed to be just another day at the office for Boudia and Johnson.

I don’t know David or Steele personally, but I would like to say “thank you” to them. Not because they represent my state (Indiana) and school (Purdue) with class. Not because they proudly wear the red, white, and blue. Not because they are bringing home silver for my country.

I want to say “thank you” to David and Steele because of this:

because when asked about their performance and medal, they didn’t turn their faith into a commercialized soundbite, point to the sky and say, “All glory to God for giving us this win” – as though God cared about them more than any of the other divers;

because when asked about their dives and scores, they didn’t imply that God pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a voila! hey, presto! surprise! you win!, but rather acknowledged the amount of hard work it takes to become an Olympic champion and credited each other with mutual challenging and pushing towards the prize;

because – and please don’t miss this because it matters immensely – when asked about their apparent sense of competitive yet calm confidence, they said this: they said that their identity does not lie in being a diver, or an Olympian, or a champion, but rather their identity lies in Christ – and that will never change, regardless of how they perform or score.

That’s it. No talk about how God has especially blessed them, or given them great victory over others, or shown them special favor. No talk about their own spiritual vauntedness. No talk reducing God to a winning-coach, prize-giver, or rewards-center. Instead, just a statement of everyday eternal truth:

the identity of those who follow Jesus is grounded in the fact that they are in Christ and Christ is in them.

Nothing else in life falls into its correct place aside from this foundational truth.

Whether we are a teacher, welder, merchant, musician, pastor, coach, banker, doctor, mentor, nurse, therapist, driver, doctor, artist, or diver, our identity is in Christ.

I rather doubt the statements from David Boudia and Steele Johnson will be repeated and replayed in the Olympic news coverage. They weren’t flashy or controversial enough.

No bother. We can – and must – repeat and replay them for ourselves. Daily. Hourly. Always.

We are His. We are His.

What else matters but that?

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12, NLT)

But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. (I Corinthians 6:17, NLT)

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. (I Corinthians 12:27, NLT)

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (I John 3:1, NLT)