Practice

   "Practice?" Allen Iverson asked, incredulously, in his now famous interview.

   "We’re talkin’ ’bout practice?" he wanted to know.

   I coached kids in basketball for a number of years. One spring league I had three teams going at one time.

   I came to love practice. In practice you set up drills, teach, oversee, correct and teach again. Practice is better than games, wherein you just try not to lose the game from the bench.

   In fact, in the games, a coach mostly tries to let the players express what they show in practice. Practice is special.

   So it is that the believer who wants "in the game" goes through a long apprenticeship of practice, wherein a mentor/coach/discipler helps him/her see his/her strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses may not reach total refinement in this life. The strengths can be strengthened to something representing maturity, if not perfection.

    Back to our sports analogy. The tallest fellow on a basketball team may find himself exiled to the blocks (low part of the lane nearest the basket) while the short, quick fellow finds himself farther from the goal, obliged to pass the ball to the tall fellow in a position most favorable to him. The basket is, after all, ten feet high.

   In few offences is the tall fellow asked or allowed to remove himself to the top of the key (the center part of the court where the three point arc meets the foul shot ring), there to display his total inability to dribble a basketball. This would not be playing to the strengths of the tall fellow.

   Churches might learn to "play to the strengths" of church members. While it is absolutely accurate to say God can "hit a good lick with a crooked stick," that is not the first stick one would choose if circumstance leaves a choice.

  Some reader help me. Was it G.K. Chesterton who said, "Christianity has not been tried and found lacking. It has been tried and found difficult."

   Or was it Clive Lewis?

   Faith may come instantaneously. Faithfulness comes in a long process of practice, practice, practice.

   This believing way is a tough life. Non-verifiable truth in a scientific age makes faith an instant flash point. Add in the Faith Stealers, the predictable shambles of lives ravaged by unbelievable fundamentalism (reactionary fears) and the end thereof is destruction.

   Dare we argue for a more "Liberal" view of faith?

   Gasp.

   Understand, by "liberal" I mean the kind of liberal taken from the Greek word from which ti comes, Liberos, meaning "generous and open hearted." By arguing for liberality of practice, I try to "have it both ways," with serious acceptance of the faith once delivered to the Fathers and interpreted in light of what a post-modern, emergent unbeliever could appropriate.

   By liberality of practice, I mean an indwelling willingness to embrace the unattractive. That is, liberality of practice will send believers out to the highways and hedgerows to bring back unacceptable persons surprised to be invited into the banquet chamber.

   By liberality of practice, I mean an enormous sense of humility, which admits there is one truth but many, many interpretations of that truth. We may have the whole truth and not be able to access that whole truth or make it available to others in the whole cloth, original wrapper.

  Take for instance, the Worship Wars in Western Christendom.

   The Worship Wars are about Format. That is, about how we organize worship, outreach and discipleship.

   Naturally, beneath the surface of the Format Argument is a deeper, philosophical/theological disagreement, coming from subterranean, misunderstood social pressures. For instance, we live longer these days.

   Longevity means we have three generations represented in the church today in massive numbers, proportionate to prior church life. We have old, not so old and young/not so young.

   Traditionalists need for things to look and sound traditional. They grew up in an age of conformity, though they absolutely pioneered the then "contemporary" methods of church growth. If they did not pioneer the methods, they at least brought them into the church and made them acceptable.

   Moderns, the sandwich group, made everything corporate. They devised or accepted the introduction, of  three, four or five step outreach programs combining two of the things people fear most; memorization and public speaking from memory. They brought hundreds of thousands to Christ by the conquest of their own fears.

   Post-moderns, the emerging group, are still as muddled as most emerging groups. They know they hate manipulation, fear religion for the sake of religion and lose interest quickly due to media-shortened attention spans. What they do not know yet is what they believe, where they are going or what they oppose. Apprehensive of drawing wrong lines, they draw few lines at all.

   The hilarious thing is to watch Traditionalists and Moderns try to design a church worship, outreach, discipleship model that will "entice" Post-Moderns while holding to the Modern Model of a Traditional Church. This is much like watching three cars about to collide at an intersection, knowing you can do nothing about the property damage and may get killed yourself if you are in the median.

   The ditch ain’t sa safe, either, Bunky.

   What to do?

   Practice. We’re talkin’ ’bout practice.

   "Noise is not worship," John Sullivan told me once. "And silence is not reverence."

   We might as quickly say, "Lighting candles and scattering pillows on the floor does not capture the Post-Modern mindset any more than voicing an organ fuels the Modern soul."

   So, we’re talkin’ ’bout practice.

   In basketball practice, I told my kids, "I don’t care if you ever make a shot. Forget about that part of it. I want the shot to look good when it leaves your hand."

   Practice.

   I loved, in practice, to take a kid’s shot apart and put it back together. I loved to show him how to get his form, spread his feet, put his hands on the ball and make it work.

   Jay.

   Jay was timid, quiet little kid I had in practice a dozen years ago. He was one of those kids you picked up late in the draft, you had to take him, he wasn’t rated highly but he was there, he paid his fee and you had to take him.

   Every year I had a Jay and made him a project. I put him at point guard and made him handle the ball. I put him at shooting guard and drew up plays for him. I put him at post and had my son teach him how to rebound and defend.

   Understand, most of the coaches who had to take a Jay put him in the back, played him the minimum number of minutes and kept the ball on the other side.

   I can’t do that because that is where my limited athletic skills put me.

   So, I put Jay right out there where he handled, shot and rebounded. At midseason, Jay disappeared on me. He quit coming to practice, games, everything. I just never saw him.

   I called his house a few times but got a recording. Jay just disappeared.

   Two games before the end of the season, while we fought for the championship of the season, Jay showed up again. He had been tossed around in a custody thing for a month or so. Now, things were sort of settled and here was Jay again.

   Practice. We’re talkin’ ’bout practice.

   In his first game back with us, I put Jay in during a very tense couple of minutes while we clung to a tenuous lead. He got beat for a basket, fumbled the ball when we passed it to him and lost it when we asked him to do the inbounds.

   Pratice. We’re talkin’ ’bout practice.

   Then, a boy on the other team just plastered a kid on my team during a dead ball. The only remedy for that is a technical foul and one was assessed.

   Do you know about techs? They are often assessed for behavior, carry with them two shots and possession of the ball.

   The coach of the offended team gets to decide who gets to shoot the technical foul shots. You can let one kid shoot one and one kid shoot the other.

   My best shooter (Ok, my son) stepped up to take the foul shots.

   There was little Jay standing behind him, looking miserable.

   "Back out of there, Jonathan," I yelled.

   I pointed at Jay.

   "You take the shots, Jay" I told him.

   I sat back down on the bench. Jay’s mother was sitting just behind me and dug her fingernails ito the back of my shoulders.

   Really hard. It hurt.

   Jay missed the first one. Badly.

   "Back up," I yelled. "Get a breath. Good."

   "Now, look at your feet. Get your form. Good."

   "Now, take the ball. Get your hands right. Make an L with your arm. Good."

   Practice. We’re talkin’ ’bout practice.

   "Feet. Form. Fire," I told him.

   The shot, the ball in the air, the rim and then the bottom of the net.

   Behind me, Jay’s mother was crying. Not just tears, deep, hard sobs, wracking her body.

   Jay jumped, spun around in the air, landed.

   Practice. We’re talkin’ ’bout practice.

   The church, regardless of format, better think about a way to make moms cry happily and little, lonely boys jump in the air before we lose three generations.

   

   

   

   

One Response to Practice

  1. Kenneth J. says:

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” — GK Chesterton (according to numerous internet quote sites…)

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