On Big Thinking

Blog Readers…I read something from a friend last week that spoke very powerfully to our culture…and to me.  I think it is worth your time.  It will take some time to read it…and it is written by a guy in Speedway, IN so you’ll have to work through all his references that may seem vague to you about Indiana High School Basketball.

I made many very good friends in my two-year fellowship with other pastor-colleagues from around the state.  Kent was a big part of that for me who both encouraged me and challenged me in many ways.  The picture is Kent and I seated on a “back waters” boat trip in India (with our friend Dave relaxing too).


On Big Thinking by Kent Ellet

You know where Milan is.  Its between Pierceville and Moore’s Hill. Not too far from Deleware and Elrod.   OK.  It’s toward Cincinnati.  But everyone in my parents’ generation knew about Milan, and to this day they can tell you that Milan won the State Basketball Championship in 1954.  The day after Milan’s victory, over 40,000 people descended on Milan, (population of a little over a thousand) lining hwy 101 for 13 miles, welcoming the team home from Indianapolis.   Nobody remembers now the victories of Vincennes Lincoln, Terre Haute Gestmeyer, Lafayette Jefferson, Muncie Central.   Good grief who wants Ben Davis to win one more State title?  Those huge schools did not (and do not) have to bear the indignity of every year– year after year– being beaten up by the strong. Oh I suppose a few of the people who went to school at Muncie Central remember their wins.  But even they can’t remember the year. And nobody else cares.  40 times the population of Terre Haute doesn’t show up to celebrate Gerstmeyer beating up on Linton.  They don’t make movies about that.  That story is tired and well worn.  They make movies about little Hickory winning it all, because we want to believe the there is real dignity for the small girls, real value in the out-of-the-way boys–something deeply profound about the weak and the overlooked.   In the name of God, the Galileans want the powerful to know that there something good that comes out of Nazareth.


We all know what natural selection does to the weak.  It consolidates them–it takes the school center of little communities, and watches those communities die.  It de-selects them.  Strengthen, centralize or die.  If you believe anything about evolution you have to believe that creatures evolve in ways that fit their own adaptation to the world–that fits their own self-interest.  It’s just another variation on the tired story of the strong squelching the weak–this time the powerful hide behind a scientific myth which sanctions the selfishness of the strong.  That is the reason Jesus said the greatest is a servant.  He took his arms and cuddled a little kid.  Mark 8-9 is all about that.  He taught that the last shall be first.  That the least are invited and given special places in his honor–that the least effective workers hired at the last hour if they are faithful are given much.  This is a radical story–this is good news to all but those who are protecting their privileged turf.


We all know what the first-born males do–they get a double portion of the inheritance–the women are stuck. We have to raise money to get them married off.  Give us a boy so our family can gain wealth.  Billions of Chinese know all about that.  The oldest and the boys dominate families–But the God of Deborah made it clear numerous times–it was the older that would serve the younger. It was not the seven strong brothers but the little shepherd boy that God wanted, and that Samuel picked to serve him in the mightiest of ways.


We all know how much attention the politicians pay to the weak–that’s the reason workers united with other interests and formed powerful political action committees that could <span>not</span> be ignored.  Our founding Fathers in America knew that in a republic the tyranny of the powerful was simply exchanged for the tyranny of the majority. And so the little states wouldn’t ratify the constitution without a bill of rights.  The little states would not let Virginia run over them.  to this day Deleware has as much a say as New York, California, and now, Texas, in the United States Senate, because our forefathers believed that “Democracy” was a <span>bad</span> word–it was synonomous with the tyranny of the majority.  That’s why Gideon’s force was widdled down to 300.  That’s why when Jesus offered the possibility of a popular uprising–a real democratic coup–he went on the other side of the lake to pray.  And when he did invade Jerusalem, he did so not with a ready mob, but with a children’s choir.  His story is about the empowerment of the weak–the the giving of grace to the humble. (1 Pet 5:5)


We all know how much the intellectuals at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton listen to the homespun wisdom of the farmers in Iowa.  C students, who are gifted in profound ways, sit through one academic honors program right after another and either, refuse to care, pretend they don’t care, resent the attention given to the “elites” in every community… or they berate themselves for being a 1-2 talent person.  But God is the champion of left-handed Ehud’s cause, he makes sinful Samson victorious and makes a chief Apostle to the gentiles out of a blasphemer and a violent man.  God selects the sick to heal the world because he is telling a different story–a story about how his power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)


We all know how crushing slavery was and how cruel racism is.  We are sick to the point of death–literally to the point of lynching and church bombing–with the powerful’s triumph over the powerless.  Why oh why, the atheists want to know would God choose an out of the way boy, and an out of the way culture, a long time ago in an infinite universe in order to reveal himself to the world.   “Forget the stable in Bethlehem,” they are asking.”why not the throne in Rome?”  Why announce his incarnation to dirty and despised shepherds and not to soldiers in the Praetorium?  For God’s sake, why resurrection appearances to women and not to diplomats?  For the same reason Martin Luther King was not a plantation owner.  Because it was Abel’s blood crying up from the ground to him.  Because it was the cry of slaves 400 years in Egypt to which he was responding, because it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.  (Mark 2:17)  It is a story that will appeal to all the beat up communities like Milan.  He chooses the little because he wants the headlines to be big.  A cosmic upset–redemption from the slave power.


Immigrants certainly know the skoop of the old, damned story.  Nobody hated the Irish in the 19th century more than the urban middle class.  They were taking jobs.  And nobody hated free blacks more in the late nineteenth century than the Irish–they were taking their jobs.  God, we are sick and tired of the same damnable story –keep the bums out.  Yes, show kindness to strangers–you entertain angels unawares, but not <span>those</span> kind of strangers, please.  God ain’t telling that kind of exclusive story.  He’s telling the story of Job, and Jethro, and of Ruth and of gentiles coming into the church and God tearing down dividing walls of hostility, and telling us that he has sheep from a different sheep pen–and the Lord says about those we like to call fire down upon,” those who are not against us are for us.”


We all know what the powerful with a guilty conscience do–they pass laws that forcibly take money away from everyone and gives it to the poor–they start government agencies to take care of the people whom the powerful ignore–further shaming and reducing and handicapping the least so the money making at the expense of others can go on.  Babylon the Great is alive and well.    In the midst of a world of almsgiving and bread and circus, the King of Kings gives the empowering words to the cripple– take up your mat and walk.


We all know what the religious pharisees of our day do.  They tell everybody who they should hang out with and why.  They are the equivalent of so-called Christian mean girls.  But James’ hero of faith is Rehab the prostitute.  Jude 22 says be merciful to those who doubt, but today’s pharisees shame and condemn them.  Paul asks us if we don’t realize that it was “God’s kindness that leads us toward repentance,” (Rom 2:4)  But they seem to live in fear and that fear drives the essence of their lives.   We are so sick of little children being bullied by the religiously powerful.  My God, just once we want little Milan to win.


But I must say that it is not just for the poor and the least and the little God came.  He came into the backwoods so that everybody can remember the state championship with a difference, when David slew Goliath, when Senacharib was beaten by the beseiged.  And this just anticipated a day when the crucified suffering servant would became ruler of all–rich and poor alike.  Jew and Gentile, young and old, men and women, slave and free.  How shall the rich and the powerful cotton on to this back woods gospel?  How can we trust in something so small when we now know that the universe is so exceedingly huge?


First let me say this question is not new.  Ptolemy–whom every learned Christian read throughout the darkest period of church education–knew that the earth compared to the universe was like a single point on a huge line.  People have known how small the world is compared the universe for a very long time.  We don’t know how God is saving the rest of the universe, or if it needs saving.  At any rate saying something can’t be true because it is small and out of the way is like saying big people are better than little ones.  Its as ignorant as that 1970’s pop classic “Don’t want no short people.”  Small people and small places are actually more rememberable in the end–Milan’s victory resonates for generations like no Ben Davis championship ever will.  (no offense to the Giants–but everybody likes David better)  Milan’s victory is a victory for all the little people and for helping us all understand that is who we are before God–the little people.

CS Lewis did a lot to illustrate the profound importance of God’s activity among the simple and the humble can ill   He was asked if he thought people had to go to church to be Christian.  (p 62)  At first he hated church-especially the fifth rate hymns.  But then


“he came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education and then gradually my conceit just becan peeling off.  I realized that the hymns w(which were sixth rate music) were nevertheless being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you came to realize you were not fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”


Clive Staples Lewis did more to help me when I was 19-20 than any other human being.  He was smart, creative, insightful, and able to speak to an untrained mind.  But he was made great–morally and spiritually great–by the simple singer with elastic side boots. This man–this simple singer may have saved my soul for his witness saved Lewis’. The poor, the least, the little, the marginalized they are not objects to be pitied–they are rich victors–overcoming the world in Jesus Christ.  When we see that Milan is really not any more out of the way than Indianapolis–just equally different latitudes and longitudes–then we may be humbled enough to be as great as CS Lewis.  We may then begin to understand why it is a blessing to all that…


1 Cor 1:27-30 God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.


<span>I’ve always wanted to think big.  But now I like to think little, too. Neither should you despise your little, and sometimes uneventful life in which you can be overlooked.</span>   I’m not ashamed to “think little” any more than I’m ashamed of the gospel or its power to save. (Romans 1)  The exultation of the humble is a story the little and great remember alike, and in so doing they are all saved together at the level ground beneath Calvary’s cross.  That’s the reason God is revealed in the feed trough in Bethlehem. That’s why he reveals himself to those humble enough to make the trek up the Mount of Beatitudes. That’s the reason it is a slain lamb upon the throne.  For it is this out of the way God who makes it possible for us to end our proud comparisons and be at one– all recipients of an unmerited, but powerful grace.

~ by Greg Lee on December 8, 2010.

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