Though they roll their eyes, I love to tell my kids about the Heidi Bowl. I was 12 at the time—November 17, 1968. The Oakland Raiders were playing the Jets–my team–with Broadway Joe Namath at the helm. At 7 PM, with a minute left, the Jets ahead 32-29, NBC cut away to the film Heidi. During that minute, the Oakland Raiders scored two touchdowns and beat the Jets 43-32. (Crazy, I know, but I had it backwards until I just looked it up on Wikipedia; I could have sworn the Jets won! Wow, am I a loyal fan, or what!)
Someday, I bet, my kids will tell their kids—who, I hope, roll their eyes and groan, too—about the day the Seattle Seahawks came back in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter to beat the Green Bay Packers in overtime. Talk about dramatic, even for a Green Bay fan like my son Jeremy. (Maybe he’ll turn it around unknowingly, like I did, and have Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, beat Seattle.)
What struck me in the aftermath was how much—I think this was genuine—the Seahawk players trusted their teammates. Each one credited the others, as they should have, since most of them made serious mistakes. Each one said his teammates still believed in him; Russell Wilson, with four interceptions, needed that. So did Jermaine Kearse, who didn’t catch a pass until the game-winning one in overtime. In fact, until then, all four of Russell Wilson’s passes to him were intercepted.
I got to thinking that I don’t really need to trust my teammates-in-the-pew in the same way. I got to wondering why. Why don’t I need most people in my church to believe in me? Why don’t most people in my church need me to believe in them?
Because, for the most part, we’re keepers of the status quo. We drive to church. Worship side by side. Drive home. Do one volunteer stint—the food bank for me—or one small group gathering a week or month.
We’re not at risk. Not most of us. We’re not Abraham and Sarah trekking through the desert. We’re not Rahab the prostitute in Jericho harboring spies. We’re not Jesus, living in utter simplicity en route to the cross. We’re not, in other words, trailing with three minutes left in the fourth quarter of the national championship game. It’s not all or nothing for us.
How do we become risk-takers?
Probably not, given our track records—at least if you’re like me—as individuals. Probably, rather, as a community, where we champion and cajole and encourage each other to do something special, something memorable, something heroic.In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul asks, using the plural you in Greek, “Don’t y’all know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). If that is the reality, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t just fill you, but y’all, then you and I need to figure out ways to experience the Spirit in concert, in community.
This is what I suggest. Call it my pre-Lenten Challenge.
Gather a group together during the 40 days of Lent, which is less than a month away, to launch out once. One daring act done in concert with people you need to trust.
Start planning now. You can pick the people to stand shoulder to shoulder with—as long as you don’t yet trust them fully. You can pick the activity—as long as it’s not yet comfortable for you. You can pick the place—as long as it’s somewhere you haven’t yet spent too much time at.
I’m thinking all sorts of possibilities. Joining together to throw a party for men and women, kids, too, living under a viaduct. Arranging a weekly discussion about faith between Christians and people who are angry at the church. Pledging with other families to plan family devotions for 40 consecutive days during Lent. (Have I got a book for you!) Keep a faith journal throughout Lent, and meet regularly to discuss the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the skips and stumbles of faith with close friends.
Then, when you’re done or partly done, tell people about it. I’ve got a Facebook page up and running for my next book, Forty Days with the Holy Spirit. Post your experience during Lent there to encourage others to do the same. Better yet, post your plans a week or two before Lent to prompt other groups to gather and to act with daring.
So much of faith, I know, is an individual matter. A fire in the belly. A heart, as John Wesley put it, strangely warmed. This Lent, I want to challenge us not to think primarily in individual terms. Let’s think community instead. Let’s think teammates in the Holy Spirit. Let’s see what one daring act we can accomplish together.
Go ahead. Take the Lenten Challenge. I dare you!
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Pope-Levison