Things I Heard In Church
I heard something the other day at our Sunday church service that I really identified with. Dave, my pastor, ate lunch alone every day of the fifth grade.
In the fifth grade, for the entire school year, Dave was on the outside–way outside. He said the worst days were when he’d try to sit somewhere in the lunchroom and one of his classmates would tell him to go sit someplace else, because a friend was already sitting there.
How I Was A Part Of The Origins Of Trash Talking
His story resonated with me because of an experience I had when I was about the same age. It triggered a memory from when I was nine years old. When I was nine, each summer morning my “friends” and I would meet in the middle of the block, on Kenton St. in Midlothian, Illinois, a suburb on the South side of Chicago. We’d meet in the middle of the block to pick teams for sandlot baseball.
Every morning it began the same way. It always started with eleven year old Timmy. He was the oldest and the second best baseball player on the block.
Timmy: “Let’s play baseball. Todd, you be a captain.” (Todd is the next oldest and the best baseball player on the block.) “And Kurt you be the other captain.” (I was only average.)
I already know how this is going to go, so this is what happens next.
Nine year old Kurt (me): “No, I don’t want to be a captain.”
Timmy: “Come on Kurt, just be a captain so we can play.”
Nine year old Kurt: “No, I don’t want to.”
Everybody: “Come on Kurt, just be a captain so we can pick teams.”
We go back and forth this way a few more times until I finally cave.
Timmy: “Great! Todd, you get first pick.”
Todd says quickly: “I pick Timmy.”
So now the two best players on are the same team. I already knew this would happen. This is what always happens. So I try to pick the next best available player.
Me: “Okay, I pick Ross.” (Ross is Todd’s younger brother and about the same age as me.)
Ross: “I want to play on my brother’s team.”
Me: “Come on Ross, just play on my team.”
Ross: “Nope. I want to play on Todd’s team.”
Me: “Ross, please, play on my team.”
Then Ross says, as he’s walking away toward his house: “If I can’t play on Todd’s team, then I’m not going to play at all.”
Everyone: “Come on Kurt, pick someone else. Just let Ross play with his brother. If he leaves we only have five guys.” (That’s right, we played baseball, three on a side.)
Exasperated, I cave, again: “Oh alright. I pick Jeffrey.” (Sadly, Jeffrey had a deformed left hand. He only had three fingers and two were webbed together. And no, I’m not making this up.)
Todd: “I pick Ross.” (As if he had to tell us.)
At this point, the only player left was Jeffrey’s six year old brother Donny. He was game, but, well, you know, he was only six, and by far the worst player there.
So I say, resignedly, “Come on Donny.”
Then we went out to the sandlot, where Timmy, Todd, and Ross beat us like poachers beat baby seals. I mean the scores were like 24 to 5, 19 to 3, etc. And they were nasty about it too. They were really obnoxious. In fact the origins of trash talking in modern day sports can be traced to those baseball games, in that vacant lot in Midlothian, Illinois, the summer I was nine years old.
The next morning we played out the same scenario. And the morning after that, and so on.
I experienced a lot of rejection when I was nine. Everyone on the block excluded me from the group. It got so bad that one time they even staged a protest against me. They had picket signs and everything. They marched back and forth in front of my house yelling over and over, “We want Honey Bear not Kurt Bennett!” (Honey Bear was a summer camp they had just attended. A weird chant for a protest but they were grade schoolers after all.) I’m sure that I was part of the problem, I was obnoxious when I was nine. (Those who know me are saying, “Some things never change.” Pray for Kathy.)
Even so, it was disturbing. Like Dave my pastor in his fifth grade year, I was on the outside–way outside.
Are You In, Or Out?
Maybe you’ve been on the outside. Ostracized. Isolated. Alone. Maybe you’re on the outside right now. If you are, here’s the thing: Jesus came for people like you. Jesus came for the poor and the prostitute. He came for the lame and the leper. He came for those of us on the outside. He was disparaged and denigrated for it by the religious leadership of his day. The Pharisees called him out for hanging with sinners. But he came for the Pharisees too, if they would only accept him.
Jesus brought those on the outside good news. Jesus brings us good news, and this is the news he brings:
You are in.
Jesus, the one who was criticized for his friendship with sinners, he accepts you.
He wants you, to be with him.
All you have to do is accept him–and you’re in.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13
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[No Friends Image via Rich Bowen – Creative Commons]