Attentiveness: Our Stance
Basketball has been an important part of my life from the time I could dribble a ball. Lessons I learned at five or six are indelibly impressed on my mind. The basic defensive stance is key to being a good player. It is possible to move forward, backward, to the left or right, or even to jump quickly from a good defensive stance.
I was not a great basketball player, but I did get the “Mr. Hustle” award my senior year of high school. I think this basically meant, “Well, he is not that good, but he really tries hard!” I was good on defense because I had “the stance” down pat.
The Christian life is somewhat like a good defensive stance in basketball. From a good defensive stance, the Christian or the Christian church can respond to many issues, trials, and events that come to them.
The Christian is to be firmly rooted in Jesus Christ: thinking like Jesus about others and about self, praying with Jesus for others, even taking on the emotions of Jesus about the suffering and poor. Such a Christian stance keeps us centered and it helps to prevent us from becoming eccentric: off-center. From such a stance of theological rootedness, we are ready to respond with Christ-like reflexes to life.
Today many Christians, churches, and movements are off-balance. They are living from and into issues rather than from and into Jesus Christ. What do I mean? It is important to respond to injustices and oppression in the world; however, we can become so involved and driven by the issues that we begin to be defined by the issue and the response rather than being defined by Jesus’s will, mind, and heart for these issues. Soon we are neither centered in our speech nor action and we are depleted of the one thing we need to be Christ’s presence in this world: the presence of Christ in our lives. It is almost imperceptible how we can morph from centered in Christ to centered on a particular Christian virtue or value. They are not the same, but we are easily fooled by the subtle substitution: from Jesus to an issue important to Jesus.
The reason we must be careful is that our culture today (and I think we can admit it is a global culture) encourages us, almost forces us, to identify with an “issue.” Most all the issues—climate, race, treatment of women, refugees, sexuality—are important and the Lord of the universe cares about them. However, it is possible to begin to see every church meeting, every worship service, and every prayer meeting as a matter of climate change or racism. When this happens, we are off-center and it will be difficult for us to think Christ-like thoughts when other issues come up. We begin to think of every decision through the lens of the issue. We have then moved from a humble stance of worship of Jesus to seeing things through an ideology.
Similar to the last years of the Vietnam War, I believe our nation, and our churches today are divided and, for many, unable to see those who are different from us. We can be a signpost to the nation and the world in issues of race, climate change, immigration reform, and sexuality if we are centered, stable, rooted, and grounded in the Jesus Christ of Scripture.
As I reflect on the importance of our Jesus-centered stance, I am reminded of several worship songs that can serve as prayers for re-centering ourselves. I’ll close with one of them.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.