November 15, 2015

Skating on Thin Ice

Mark 13:5 Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray."
I’ve been thinking a lot about hockey recently, and now that the Oilers have won a few games it reminds me of the days of Messier, Gretzky, and the rest.  The glory days when the Oilers were unstoppable.  Did you know that Gretzky retired at the age of 38 after 20 years as a pro?  Did you know that the average NHL hockey player is 28 years old?  Over half of NHL players play less than 100 games, and 5% only ever play one game.  There are about 5600 players in the NHL, and most of them play for 5 years.  So a kid who turns pro at 18 will likely be out of a job by the time they are 23.  And the chance of a kid in Athabasca bringing home the Stanley Cup is about the same chance as his parent winning the lottery.  It makes me wonder what we are doing to our children.  This came home to me when I heard a sports reporter talking about Connor McDavid’s shoulder injury.  He said “you’ll never see him play with the same abandon and passion again.  It happens every time a new NHL player gets an injury.  He’ll always be looking over his shoulder for the next hit.”

I’m biased, I guess.  One of my classmates in the maritimes had a brain injured son.  He had gone to her covenanting service instead of his hockey game and was kicked off his team because according to his coach, his priorities weren’t right.  Hockey before everything, even God and your mother becoming a minister.  Since he was 16 and a very good player, he quickly found another team.  But he happened to be playing his former team when some NHL scouts were in the stands, and one of his former team mates hit him so hard in the head that he had to learn how to walk and talk again.   I came home horrified by this story, and mentioned it to a friend.  “Oh yes,” she said, “that happened in Alberta, only it was my relative that did the hitting.  The scouts told him that he was not the kind of person they wanted on a pro team and he spent the next few years playing video games in the basement waiting for the phone to ring with his NHL offer.  He was sure they would see him as a potential Dave Semenko.  They didn’t.

We treat our young men like war heroes when they win, and failures when they lose.  This starts early. When my son was nine, he was terribly upset when his floor hockey team lost.  He saw himself as the good guy, and the other team had the bully on it.  Surely, he would win against the bully, just like all those Disney shows.  What upset my son the most was not just the bursting of his Disney sports bubble, but the fact that many cheered on the bully who was a good player.  It wasn’t fair, he said.

Life is not fair.  We don’t win the Stanley Cup or the 649.  We hit a moose, we find ourselves addicted to gambling or porn or alcohol or pain meds or gossip or anger.  We see ourselves as the wonderful hero, and don’t understand the bully’s point of view.  We put our trust in political parties or systems or pension plans or insurance policies.  When things go wrong as they so often do, we look for someone to point the finger at.  In short, we are human.

We are fragile, we are temporary and we are sensitive to anything that might be seen as a threat.  Jesus saw the Jewish love of the Temple as a crutch and a danger.  Some thirty years after his death, the Temple was destroyed by Romans, and that was a tremendous shock to every God-fearing Jew, including those self-same disciples and the Hebrew followers of Jesus who our letter was written to.  It was such a shock that Jews today still go to the only part of the Temple that is standing, something we know as the Wailing Wall.  What are we to depend on if the Temple itself is destroyed?

The Author of Hebrews wrote to the people to have confidence in Jesus and each other.  To continue to come together and remember Jesus who could have chosen violence to destroy the Roman Empire, and war over peace, but chose water, wine and bread as symbols of a new way of facing down bullies and terrorists.  Jesus knew he was living in a corrupt society which did not value every human as worthy of dignity and respect.  Jesus knew he could be executed on the flimsiest charges at the whim of a bored Roman diplomat.  Indeed, he had no rights under the Roman Empire. Unlike Paul, who was a Roman Citizen by birth so could appeal to Caesar for justice, Jesus had no lawyers, no law for that matter that would give him justice.  Jesus only had his stories, his wit, his tremendous faith in God, and his commitment to not choose violence to end oppression and fear.  And yet, when you think about it, Jesus and his followers were able to undermine and survive the collapse of not one but two systems of oppression; the overuse of ritual which had forgotten what its purpose was, to remind people of God’s presence in the everyday activities of their lives, and the Roman Empire which dictated that the strongest man had all the rights and the powers, and weaker men could only have what they could defend.  There is no emperor in Rome today, after all, although other empires have risen and fallen since then. 
Still, more and more we hear of peace being a hallmark of healthy societies.  When was the last time we heard of the Tamil Tigers, or the last USSR communist threat, or IRA bombing?  And 1.6 billion folks are Muslim, and much less than 10,000 are at war.  If the CIA claims that Isis has at max 30,000 fighters; that leaves us with 99.81% of Muslims who want to live in peace.  Isis is a psychopathic bully that wants to scare us into playing a game of violence that will only cause more bloodshed.  And like any bully, we can either choose to become a bigger bully or find some other way to deal with the issues at hand.  Jesus chose not to be a part of the system of bullying priests in the temple who felt justified in accepting a widow’s last coins.  Jesus chose to live a life contrary to that kind of systemic violence. 

 Jesus wasn’t just condemning the temple, or predicting doomsday.  He was pointing to the human tendency to crave security, to protect oneself, to look at things as that which will keep us safe from danger.  And whether he was speaking to his disciples or speaking to us modern disciples, the message is the same.  What we put our hopes on to protect us from life will not work.  Only our faith will help us. 
Stop thinking that life is some giant hockey game with bad guys and good guys.  God is not some goalie in the sky who will protect the team from losing, or that God is the referee who will force everyone to follow the rules and send people to the penalty box, or even that God is the coach who will come up with the training schedule and the game plan and the motivational speeches.  No, life is a great skating party and God is the ice under our feet, that supports us as we play, that helps us glide and spin, that is firm when we feel like we are on thin ice, and is always there whether we fall or fight.  God is found in the hot chocolate that warms us from the inside and in the community that builds a bonfire for roasting marshmallows despite the cold and frosty weather. Let us pray for courage to choose the road to peace, the courageous choice that Jesus made even though it cost his life.  The choice he made out of love for us all.

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