Baseball Game Faith


Every time Andy and I talk about “the church,” a certain air exits the room. Its really kind of amazing. We’ll be talking about something we’ve read, or sadly, a recent bit of politics that’s somehow connected to the church at large and his reaction is almost predictable. He gets this look on his face of concern mixed with sadness and the pace of our conversation slows down a hair.

To be clear, this doesn’t happen in discussions about our local church or the churches we’ve attended in the recent past. Its really in relationship to the portions of the universal church, which for him historically, has meant the evangelical protestant church (EPC).

Truly, you’d have to have lived in a bunker for the past year to have missed the crisis the EPC has unveiled after it was revealed that 80% of us voted for our current president. Men and women I admire who have grown up in these circles have been left shaking their heads wondering what happened to the communities that raised them. Andy’s not the only person I know who slows down at mention of the state of things.

Raised in a moderate Catholic family, I’ve often struggled to relate. My mom, who taught us that the life of the church was fundamental, also taught us to hold it with a loose grip. I now believe that was healthy. In better words I’d say this: I learned that I needed the church to live a whole life while also learning that a fallible church with fallible people could not ultimately save me. This is an important distinction. Modern psychology would call this the ability to “differentiate.”

My first impression when I heard that 80% of white evangelicals voted the way they did was that maybe the term “white evangelical” doesn’t necessarily mean what we all thought it did. A recent article by Tim Keller in the New York Times suggests I might be on the right track as he states that evangelicalism is now more likely a political term than it is a term that suggests alignment with any historical Judeo-Christian ethics.

The slight comfort this could be, it still has people wondering HOW the church they loved has become so unrecognizable. HOW did people who stood for morality and righteousness become aligned with a party that elected someone so unfit for office. WHY do the people who formed us seem to now align with a man we wouldn’t allow in the presence of our children.

An answer came to me last night as I finished Eugene Peterson’s 1983 book Run with the Horses. The book walks a reader through the book of Jeremiah and describes the prophet’s commitment to a faith partnership with God in the face of years upon years of difficulty and tragedy. At the end of the book as Jeremiah tries to rally the remnant of people who remain in a ravaged city, encouraging them through the Lord to stay and see what God will do, the Israelites decide they are tired of “living by faith,” to use Peterson’s language. Looking around at the devastation, they believed it was too much for them and for their (clearly limited) understanding of what God could do. They informed Jeremiah that they would be going to Egypt.

Egypt, Peterson tells us, did not require much faith. Egypt had a verdant Nile river valley to water crops, animals and people. Egypt had a clear social hierarchy where you knew where you stood. Egypt had mathematically perfect architecture with its towering pyramids and a theologically understandable system that required little more than an understanding of which god to pray to for which need. Egyptian religion to the Israelites could be what a baseball game is us. By a game’s end we know who won and who lost. Who advanced their ERA a percentage and who didn’t. How many singles, doubles, balls and strikes made the game end the way it did. Which is all incredibly comforting until we get home at night and wonder who won the day after a fight with our spouse and a successful visit to the dentist. Baseball game religion, Egyptian religion, only works until the “religious moment” is over and everyone goes home. The best you can hope for is less and less time between “games” which is why, for all my love of the part of the evangelical church that has matured me into adulthood, I believe we’ve identified our problem.

Living by faith is hard and we want to be in control. 

Here’s my point made a little clearer…Yesterday the Public Religion Research Institute released new data regarding our society’s opinions about the fact that in the next couple of decades the country’s population is projected to be populated more by people of color (African, Asian, Hispanic) than people of European descent. Sadly, 52% of white evangelical protestants viewed this probability as a negative thing for our country.

Now, I still don’t believe the term “White Evangelical Protestant” means what it used to. I don’t believe all people who identify as WEPs are spirit led Christians in the same way I don’t believe everyone who voted for Donald Trump identifies as a died in the wool Donald Trump supporter. Take a breath, y’all. I think we can all say with solidarity that we walked to the polls in November holding our breath.

I will say this though. If 1 of every 2 people who are in the very least Americans (who I would assume believe in the American Dream), or at the very worst, American believers in a triune God that states very clearly in scriptures that ALL people are made in the image of that diversely-unified God, then we are working with a people that are more interested in a system of worship that they can control than a life of faith that everything will work out for the good.

Diversity, after all, is hard. Its unpredictable and it takes a measure of faith. What if we close our eyes at the wrong time or say hello in the wrong way or chew our food differently. What if instead of minor custom infractions something worse happens. What if someone gets hurt. 

Well, to put it far to simply than I’d prefer, the cross tells us we’ll be OK. I think it tells us that there’s no pain we will endure that GOD HIMSELF hasn’t already endured for and with us. I think he’s saying we can go even there. Even into pain.

Further still, I can’t help but wonder if a controlled “Egyptian” faith experience could be hurting us in ways we don’t even realize. ‘Cause here’s something else I know. I think I’ve seen my husband cry a total of six times in the 14 years we’ve known each other. The man is not prone to lead with his emotions. Of that handful of times though? At least two were in the presence of a black gospel choir where the Spirit of the Living God touched his heart in a way that his head couldn’t stop.

Living by faith is so incredibly hard. Sometimes it feels impossible to follow a God I sense but cannot see. But I truly believe it’s our only way out of the dark.

 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139: 7-12



The Beauty of a Solid Soul

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Around this time, nine years ago, I recall sitting in our in our rented Baltimore rowhouse, trying to understand what we were doing. We had recently accepted Andy’s invitation to start a PhD in Galveston and while I knew unequivocally that we were called to move, I was having more than a bit of trouble digesting the news. This hadn’t been a part of my plan.

At the time I was working a dream job at Habitat for Humanity. I spent most days preparing people for home ownership. We’d look at the available inventory, pick out carpet or flooring selections and within a matter of months I’d be at the title company with our first time home buyers, watching them sign a deed. It is still deeply ironic to me that after a ten year career in real estate, I have still never owned my own place. I’ve watched a hundred or more individuals sign these documents and have never signed them myself.

I now know that this has been a strategic move on the part of a God who knows me better than I know myself.

That summer as I processed our move I read through the book of Jeremiah. This book contained the passage from our wedding and I wondered what God was doing with our hopes and dreams in relation to the verses we had chosen to frame a wedding service, and a marriage, the year before:

 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” …For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 4-12

A few chapters later, I thought I had my answer. As Jeremiah is absorbing the fact that his city is going to be ransacked and his people sent into exile, the Lord does a curious thing and tells him to purchase a piece of property. In chapter 32, after Jeremiah has prophesied all the disaster that is coming upon his homeland, we see the details of a transaction:

“I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’ ” Jeremiah 32: 11-15

I remember lighting up at these curious details because it was so reminiscent of my everyday in Baltimore. I read it and felt I had an inkling toward an answer about this strange adventure we were embarking on. I thought God was showing me what I would DO. 

I’ve realized in recent months that a move to South Texas was difficult for me primarily because I couldn’t identify with anything about the place I was moving to. Had we moved to Colorado I think I would have handled it better. At least I’d have our familiar outdoor adventure opportunities nearby and could camp and hike and mountain bike any frustrations out. This was familiar to me.

An island on the Gulf of Mexico however was an entirely different ball game. One google search for the nearest forest to get lost in took me to “The Rainforest Cafe.” We had to drive several hours off the coast to find any solid tree cover. So when I read a peculiar passage about deeds and terms and conditions in the midst of an exile, I thought God was showing me what I would do. Maybe, he had lined up a way for me to help execute deeds in Texas. Maybe a part of my identity could stay intact there because I would have at least this one thing to hang my hat on. Courtney, the Non Profit administrator, would stay intact.

While some of this was true…I would eventually return to my previous role and more…it took three years for me to realize that God was taking me to a place I did not identify with so I would finally take the time to ask myself who I really was. The question, after all, is never really “What will I do,” but rather “Who am I, and what am I becoming?” There are plenty of things to do in this world. Too many things, in fact, that clamor for our attention. It is a great gift when we are given the time to ask ourselves: “In a world that clamors for our attention, who am I called to be? What aspects of a multifaceted God am I to creatively display in this life?”

I could write a book  (and am trying to!) about all the things God has taught me about myself in the 9 years since we moved. But as Andy and I sense that things are beginning to come full circle I couldn’t help but laugh as I opened a Bible up the other morning and saw it land on Jeremiah 32. This time, I smiled at a different part of the passage:

“…but this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: …I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. “This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.” Jeremiah 32: 36-42

Singleness of heart and action. 

Couldn’t you just cry over that line?

We live in a world where there’s a new thing to fear and a new thing to want and a new thing to “need” every other minute of every other day. Its amazing that any of us are still breathing from the relentless attacks on our identity because all of these attacks do nothing more than tell us we are not enough without them.

Every once in a while though, God will give us an opportunity like no other to push those things down to the ground, letting them die, so that our true selves and our true desires and his true omniscience can rise to the surface. And I don’t know about you but in a world that clamors for our attention I’ll take singleness of heart and action any day of the week. There is no better feeling in the world than the freedom and joy that grows from the foundations of a solid soul.