The Church in the World Today
By Charles Rush
May 21, 2006
Romans 12: 1-2
(mp3, 6Mb) ]
ong with today’s scripture, I would add a story that Julie has repeated for our children. A Navajo grandfather who once told his grandson. ‘Two wolves live inside me. One is the bad wolf, full of greed and laziness, full of anger and jealousy and regret. The other is the good wolf, full of joy and compassion. All the time, these wolves are fighting inside me.' ‘But grandfather,' the boy said, ‘Which wolf will win?' The grandfather answered, ‘The one I feed.'"
at this calling long enough that I'm starting to have a fairly good intuitive
feel of the broad cultural challenges that are facing us spiritually. I got
some indication of that a couple years ago when I wrote a letter to the other
Ministers in town on the subject of "Sports creep". I had been
hearing from Dad's that they were experiencing the weekends as more hassle than
enjoyment as they were coaching one of their kids while their wives were
running the other two to a different set of games, longer and more intense
meetings on Friday nights for coaches (after a fairly thorough week of work
frustration). I was hearing from Mother's that these same weekends were
fractured and frenzied for the family and that Sunday nights were just becoming
a kind of decompress moment before you started it all over on Monday morning.
So I wrote
this letter to the other Ministers and Rabbi's in town that suggested we
request no games scheduled until 1:00 p.m.
on Sundays so that families could at least have Sunday mornings to be together-
if they go to church fine, if they choose to stay at home and be a family also
fine. I had heard of one community in Minnesota
that achieved this. They called the movement, "family friendly
A few of my
colleagues liked the letter enough that they reproduced it for their Sunday
inserts for the bulletin. It so happened that a writer for
the Associated Press lives in Summit and read it while waiting for worship to begin. He called
me on Monday for a couple quotes, wrote an article, and the Boston Globe liked
the article so much, they put it on the front page of the Sunday paper.
from Sports Illustrated were in Boston
that Sunday, read the article, and gave it to Rick Reilly, who writes the back
page for SI. Little did I know that this is one of the most widely read weekly
features in all of the press. Rick called the office, got a quote from Julie as
I was on vacation, devoted his entire article to my movement and concluded,
"I'm with the Reverend on this one."
The guys at
ESPN read the Sports Illustrated article and asked me to come on their morning
talk show "Cold Pizza" where I was again given very receptive
treatment by the biggest sports zealots on the planet.
followed was about 60 calls from "Talk
Radio" all over the country requesting an interview about the 'Movement' I
was starting and how they could get their communities organized to get
involved. Wisely, I declined these interviews, as I had no movement, just an
observation. But I did tune in to a few of the shows and listened to parents
all over the country complain that their lives had become unmanageable, that
they were scheduled to the teeth, and that this was all becoming more
responsibility than enjoyment and that they felt like they had no down time.
described some unintended consequences, like young mothers, explaining that it
was quite difficult for their preschool children to play in an unstructured
manner, that they wanted their parents to organize their activities and they
needed officials to adjudicate disputes, that their capacity
for imaginative play appeared to be diminishing. Grandparents called in to
complain that they were feeling shut out of their grandchildren's lives because
sports schedules canceled their plans to visit. Parents noted for the first
time that their children were 'dropping out' of sports as sophomores in High
School because the pressure and work took the fun out of the sport. Referee's
noted the increase in incivility among parents and fans, and a level of emotional
investment in the outcome of the games that was untoward and unbecoming.
I was a bit
surprised that what I thought was probably a phenomenon of suburban communities
on the East Coast was in fact a broad trend all across the nation. And I
realized very quickly that it would be quite difficult to address directly
because 'traveling team' schedules meant that any change would have to be
agreed upon not just by a couple townships but the whole state, indeed the
whole region. And what I thought was just a problem of exurbia, the lack of
adequate playing fields, was the same argument everywhere as to why we had to
extend the playing schedule earlier and earlier to encompass more and more of
four years ago. And since that time, we have added a couple more leagues, so
that winter is now fuller with indoor soccer and basketball, and spring and
fall have lacrosse for the youngest ages. I suspect that if we could step back
from this and see ourselves in the wider picture, we are probably inching over
that fine line between involvement and obsession in sports and scheduling our
lives. Aristotle would ask the question like this, "Are you controlling
your kids in sports or is sporting schedule controlling you?" He used to
note that the real key to internal 'well being' (eudamion)
was balance- not too little of anything, but not too much either. Virtues
become vices when they are out of balance.
our poor field at Franklin school,
and this was replicated in practically every town in New
Jersey, was worn out from overuse. It was something
of a biblical metaphor that we need a Sabbath- even slaves
and pack animals are given one day off in the Bible so they don't wear out. Of
the many solutions proposed from artificial turf to alternative field
development, not one of them suggested a sabbatical from competition. Neither did any 'letter to the editor' or any impassioned
speech to the Town Council note the irony of our situation, despite the fact
that this is obvious to everyone.
phenomenon is having a direct impact spiritually because at the moment,
families are choosing between church and sports and sports are winning… I am
told that the most popular Mass at St. Teresa's is the 5 p.m. Mass on Sunday evenings, the lone down time of the
weekend. And I have had a couple of serious conversations with people that say
they wish we had Church on Thursday nights, so they could attend. At the
moment, I'm not sure what the answer is, but I am sure that if this trend
continues, Church will have to change to survive.
broadly than the institutional survival of the Church is the spiritual question
that is raised about who we are becoming and what we are raising our children
to become. I think it was significant as a metaphor for our generation that the
Duke Lacrosse scandal happened to raise this question at just this time.
interested here, in one dimension of that story, the question of character.
There are a host of other important questions like how is it that in the past
decade or so, hiring strippers for parties has become 'main-streamed' with our
young people to the point that they are now advertised in the yellow pages? Or,
how is it that the media covers these things?
But how is it that some of our
country's best educated, most rounded leaders for tomorrow make the judgment
that at an official team event, the way to bring us all together is to get
unconsciously hammered and watch a strip tease? It is tempting to dismiss this
as 'boys will be boys' but that misses this subtle, but significant question
about leadership. And this question was posed to the top Administrators at
response, off the record, was important. Without diminishing their
responsibility in any way, one of them made the comment that the University is
not the place to begin working on character. It needs to start in Middle
School. He said, in effect, 'it would be helpful if we were sent students that
had better fundamentals of character to begin with.' You will not likely get
any administrator to go on record with that remark, but I have an intuition
that this is a widely shared conviction on college campuses these days. My
sense is that it is a tacit admission that our present culture of sports
competition with broad cultural and travel exposure and the best education available, is not quite enough. It is missing something
significant… character. We need something more for effective leadership in the
I'm not far
enough along on this to have a solution but I would throw out a couple thoughts
and dreams to get us all envisioning on some possibilities.
First, the Church. This is one of our principal
responsibilities and we are doing some things that are important but it is not
enough. We are good at giving our children opportunities for service, folding
in working with the homeless as a regular part of growing up at Christ
Church. We are good at developing
spiritual values to live by in worship, in sermons, and we are making this more
and more the focus of our Christian education. We want to equip our families
with more practical traditions that they can develop at home to reinforce these
values in the most organic way. But what we are doing is not enough.
On my most
imaginative days, I have a dream of developing a leadership academy for our
young people. Especially in communities like ours, where we know that a high
percentage of our young people are going to grow up to be our country's
leaders, we need something like this. It would be a complete program over 4 or
7 years that would be modeled on programs developed in Athens
and Sparta that focused on
developing character for leadership. You probably know that the Greeks focused
their pedagogy to the end of developing excellence of character. The
disciplines of sport were focused this way but their education had a whole
other dimension that we omit that worked on moral development. It not only
established moral and spiritual values but put young people through a series of
exercises so that they could develop good habits as Aristotle used to say. They
need opportunities to flex their moral character, to fail, and to start again.
is power, as people often note, but we actually aspire to more than that. We
aspire to develop leaders. What are the qualities that make for great leaders?
probably know that the United States Army asked themselves just that question
and developed a list of values that permeate everything they do. Their list has
seven values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless service, honor, integrity, and
personal courage. For Community leaders, we might come up with a slightly
different list of values but the importance of them should not be
has spent time with our country's military officers is immediately impressed
with the degree to which they talk about ethics. Several years ago, I was
privileged to be part of the 45th National Security briefing that brings
together a couple hundred Colonel's and Generals with a couple hundred Civilian
leaders for 3 days of discussion of issues facing our country in foreign
affairs. What was interesting for me to observe the first day was the way that
the Civilians were concerned about practical issues and power issues but the
Officers kept pressing the question, 'What is the moral justification for this
action or that action?' 'What is the moral implication?' Military people were
just much more articulate on the moral dimension than were Civilians. We set
the bar too low for ourselves.
Atlantic Monthly featured an article a few years ago on the widening gulf
between the culture of the Military and Civilians on precisely this issue. The
author was concerned that if present trends continue unabated, the military
would lose respect for the civilians they serve which would be dangerous
We can raise
the standard, but not if it is merely a voluntary effort, not if ethics is just an option.
Just before his untimely death, the President at Rutgers
University, Edward Bloustein, was about to propose making Ethics an
interdisciplinary requirement for every student at the college. It was an
important first step.
that, I wish it could be accompanied by a mandatory boot camp for character, an
idea that has yet to be proposed by either party.
As some of
you know, I had a personal humbling experience, watching my number two son
enter the military rather than attend college right away. He was a nice kid, an
affable kid, but I couldn't get him to take school seriously, had a stack of
detentions of book thickness, barely one step ahead of the law… Auggh! He goes to Fort
for boot camp, graduates, I go down for closing
exercises. The company commander dismisses his platoon to visit with their
families after standing at attention for an hour. Some of the soldiers shortly
assumed the 'at ease' posture until their family members got to them. My son
remained at full attention until I was right in front of him. I called his
mother on the phone with the good/bad news. I said 'honey. The Army did in 12
weeks what we were unable to do in 18 years.'
know what, after teaching college for many years, I've hardly ever met a
freshman boy that was actually mature enough for the freedom they experience
that first semester at college. That is exactly what they do not need at that
point in their life.
What I wish
happened is that everyone in the country went to 18 months of a service draft,
military service would be one option, non-military service the other option,
but everybody would be put through a 12 week boot camp at the beginning which
would instill and require a similar set of disciplines and values. We have
plenty of national projects that our young people could work on together. The
point would be to develop a structure for service and leadership and instill
habits for independence and respect.
also mitigate the economic segregation that has been growing over the past
couple decades. If you grow up in Mountain
Lakes, go to private school, do
service projects in third world countries with other prep school kids, go to
college, then law school and move back to Chatham,
you have never known anyone well, except people just like you. We are actually
drifting back towards the class stratification that defined New
York in 1900. One of the best characteristics of the
generation that served our country in World War 2 was the manner in which farm
boys from Iowa were forced to
interact with urban kids from Brooklyn. Spiritually,
socially, it was healthier for them to come together as ordinary Americans.
that it is far from likely that these things will ever come to pass, but there
is some value in reflecting on them if it gets us to collectively ask the
question, 'what kind of leaders to we want to produce in this next generation?'
'How can we instill values that make for character that we want to be around,
nay respect, going forward? We are reaping what we sow, and we should not be
satisfied with the moral and spiritual crop that we are producing right now. I
trust that we can pray together towards this end, talk together, implement structural changes that make for holistic
character. It is simply too important to let it remain just one option among
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