Saturday, June 19, 2010

Transition Offense

In my quest to relate everything into a sports metaphor, I've decided to return to my main M.O. and ponder some thoughts about some things I'm learning here at X-Track, our training out west that lasts most of this month and deals largely with transitioning to an overseas lifestyle, etc.

Most of our mornings are pretty packed, which is unfortunate now, because since most of us are more "international" than the rest of America and therefore find a lot of enjoyment watching the World Cup. Even if soccer isn't that interesting to us normally, the World Cup has brought large groups together just simply out of the fascination of what the enormous hornet horns are, the unison-jumping supporters of each country, and just how cultural differences can both be seen on the field and in the stands (also, in the local medias, as Slovene newspapers are ludicrously adamant that the US's third goal was actually a foul...) seem so different than our own.

Unfortunately, morning classes keep us from most of the games since that's when they are shown on TV here, but it does make you wonder about transitioning in what is now a "global community."

On one hand, you can make the case that cross-cultural stress and transitioning pain is almost non-existant these days. We grew up in diverse schools, often have ethnic friends, and many of us have already been overseas more times during college than some of our parents will in their entire lifetimes. Add to the fact that we have Vonage, Skype, email, twitter, facebook, and cheaper travel options for family and friends and you might be led to believe that going to Estonia today is like going to Texas 20 years ago (bad example, Texas is also a foreign country).

But there is something deeper going on that moves beyond technological advances and our teenaged environments that still makes a transition like moving overseas difficult.

As I watched a soccer match recently, I noticed that the British announcers would use different verbiage than their American counterparts who are used to commentating on other sports. Soccer analysis includes players "having conviction," (playing hard) "using good pace," (instead of "running fast"), "dribbling with ambition," (shooting, trying to score), and my favorite, "that keeper's all 6's and 7's!" (made that last one up, but hoping it will be said during one of these games).

But one commonality between Jeff van Gundy and Martin Tyler as they announce their respective matches is the importance of "transition offense and defense." The concept that you must succeed when the ball is turned over. You must keep the opponent from scoring on you after it appeared you had the advantage and you must also successfully score when given the advantage.

During another soccer match I saw, analysists noted that an entire team was built upon the idea of "counterattacking." It's counter intuitive really. Your whole team, even your goal scorers are reliant upon the opportunity of a turnover. You run the risk of stalling completely if the game flow is normal and there arent many transition opportunities.
The UNC basketball team has actually been built like this the last couple years where if we weren't able to get out in transition, we probably wouldn't be scoring a whole lot and might even lose. Ty Lawson went down and were were screwed.

Basically my whole point is that its a transitional time in life for me and my friends here. Where we live, who were are close to in proximity, what we eat, the language we speak, and the friends we make will all be new. God often disperses his people in the Bible. Which is why there are more Jewish people in New York than in Jerusalem today. In Jeremiah he tells the people not to put all their efforts into reclaiming their original homes in Israel after the Diaspora(s), but instead to lay down roots, build homes, start families, plant fields in foreign lands.

If I were one of the Israelites, it would be easy to see why this would be frustrating. Being an agrarian society, people were more tied to the land back then. You had more family farms for generations, and they were always inherited by sons and daughters. Really these people had their whole lives changed and that is always a difficult thing.

But the harder to notice side of this, and one that I doubt Israel understood and believed was that there was also opportunity in this transition. Opportunity to grow, to investigate their own sin, to grow closer to God, and to ultimately be a "light to the Nations" by actually residing IN the Nations.

Now clearly, both sides are not equal. One is more comfortable than the other. But you also have to wonder how the Jewish people profited from that 1st generation who left their hometowns and put down roots in Assyria and Persia. Would they have been moved to repentance otherwise? Would their children know God? Would they be lazier or overly content with the status quo?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prayer Illuminated

As some of you may know, I recently arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado for training before I leave for Asia. Yes, I'll have about a month between the time I return from Colorado to the time I get on a plane for the Far East. But even after two days here, I'm realizing that these weeks in the Rockies may be the most restful time I'll have in the next year.

This morning all of us here at "X-Track" (the name of our training conference...also the most hardcore sounding name that could be thought of), went on a prayer journey. I know many Christians have been run through one of these in the past. Like a lineman high-stepping through tires at two-a-days or a freshly-enlisted recruit at basic training, we are spiritually run through different stations intended to focus our hearts on the right things and purge ourselves of the wrong things.

Love Jesus, don't love the world. Listen to praise music, don't listen to secular music. Confess your sin, don't keep it hidden. That type of thing. Often times I must admit, I more or less go through the motions, bowing my head at the right times, praying for a portion of the time, before I get distracted by whatever is consuming my thoughts that week. Things like this also normally have several stations that include reading passages several times over and and over, artistic expressions of worship and clever anecdotes of life, sin, forgiveness, redemption, etc.

If you can sense the pessimism in my tone it's because it's normally very present when I try to spend extended time in prayer. I think today was pretty good though.

One of the stations today I thought was particularly helpful. It was something about being washed of sin, made clean before God and realizing His desire to do both of these things for us. There was a bucket of water and a towel on the table with some passages to read through. Because there was something in one of the passages about being a fragrant offering to the LORD, someone had put some sort of fragrant mixture in the water that made it smell like red Kool-Aid, which I thought smelled great.

Unfortunately when I looked down at my hands before immersing them in the basin, I realized how poorly they looked. I bite my nails constantly and have done so since I was a teenager, so they were all uneven, jagged in some places. The palms were cracked as a result of the changes in weather and elevation. Plus, throw in the fact that I had just noticed the pen I was using to journal had exploded and I had unwittingly been smearing ink on my fingers. It was a Crescent State Bank pen, in case you were wondering and were worried about the same thing happening to you.

Anyways, I did as the instructions told me, dipped both hands in the water, rubbed them together a little and then dried them off. Not surprisingly, my fingernails were the same bitten down ones as before, and almost none of the ink had come off.

I certainly didn't look clean. If I was 5 or 6 years old, I wouldn't be allowed to eat dinner like that. But somehow, beyond the ugly appearances, I did feel a new sensation of cleanliness when I dried my hands and rubbed them together. They had been cleansed, even though I knew that it might take a day or two at least for my nails to grow back to a decent length and for the ink to disappear. I could eat fried chicken with hands. I could wash dishes with them. They were once again useful in a way that wouldn't spread an excess of germs.

I think often my life is the opposite. I worry about what I am displaying to people around me rather than if my heart is clean, my motives pure. I am very good at being presentable, but rarely am in a position where people around me see me in a mess, when actually I am clean and pure before God. But its a refreshing feeling.

Jesus explains this situation through the example of a cup that is dirty on the inside, but sparkling on the outside. It is useless for drinking or washing and is relegated as a trophy. He also speaks of tombs that look very nice and are whitewashed, but are containers of death.

I am hoping these questions will be something I can meditate on for a while. Would I be OK if I didn't have it altogether on the outside, but did have a deep relationship with Jesus? Would I want to trade intimacy with Christ for acceptance or honor from men and women? Would it feel like I was dying if I temporarily ignored God's grace and a relationship with Him?