Published at patheos.com/blogs/spiritchatter on June 6, 2013
“A few summers back, Jeremy came down with a fever, so we lay low, lounging in the hammock together. As we swung lazily, in the perfection of a Seattle summer sun, Jeremy posed a question to me. ‘How come some Christians are so mean, and other people are so nice, Dad?’ Jeremy used to do this at times. He’d look carefree, with his blond hair, blue eyes, easy smile, and endless energy, but then he’d come up with a question about the way things are, as opposed to how they ought to be.”
That’s how the second chapter of Fresh Air: the Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life begins, with a boy who has been bullied. In sixth grade, when a four million dollar financial debacle in the public school system meant huge classes, he started at a Christian school, where one kid met him with, “Kids here hate you.” Another grabbed him from behind and spit out the words, “Fag. Fag. Fag!” Still another stomped on his skateboard and broke it in half at a Friday night football game.
Christians, and the institutions they spawn, don’t always get it right. But sometimes they do. Like tonight, when our son will speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet, where John Olerud, former Seattle Mariners standout, will be the main draw. Here’s what Jeremy plans to say:
“Yesterday I received a text from [FCA chaplain] Jonathan Rainey asking me to talk about how FCA has impacted my life. That’s easy for me to do.
For my whole life, I’ve felt like an outsider. I was bullied from first to eighth grade—and at times beat up. For example, when I was in fourth grade, my dad received a grant to do research in Munich, Germany. For the first two months, I went to an all-German-speaking school, where I was made fun of in German and thrown off the playground equipment.
In sixth grade, I switched to a Christian school, where I was regularly bullied and ridiculed.
When I got to high school, the bullying mostly stopped, yet I still felt like an outsider. I played Shorewood [High School] baseball for two years and tended to sit or stand alone in the dugout.
That’s why Revelation 3:8 has had a big impact in my life. This verse reads: “I see what you’ve done. Now see what I’ve done. I’ve opened a door before you that no one can shut. You don’t have much strength. I know that; you used what you had to keep my word. You didn’t deny me when times were rough.”
I was hoping God would open a door for me. And God did. I found FCA.
As soon as I made the team, the other kids made me feel like a teammate. For the first time in my life, I felt a part of something. Last night, after I went 4 for 4, with two triples—the only time in my life—my teammate Chris Root, who had to get three stitches last night for laying out for a fly ball, still facebooked me to tell me, ‘Dude—awesome game tonight!’
The teammates aren’t the only ones who make this experience so great. The coaches, Steve Elms and Rob Root, encourage us, teach us, correct us, and also care for us with dignity.
It’s been an amazing season so far with these guys. It’s definitely been a season to remember.”
God knows, Christians don’t always get it right, and our institutions often accentuate our failures. Yet sometimes Christians do get it right, and our institutions illuminate God’s grace.
The FCA coaches don’t yell out corrections from the dugout. There is no embarrassment, no shame. Nor do the coaches overlook mistakes. They wait for the boys to come in from the field, look them straight in the eye with their hands on the boys’ shoulders, and teach them quietly and carefully.
And the miracle: these seventeen year old boys, for the most part, follow suit. We hear encouragement sprinkled with correction. Then, of course, there’s the occasional facebook message from a friend who’s just gotten three stitches.
Add to this service projects and Bible studies. These boys don’t get together only to play ball. They’ve spent time cooking breakfast for people on the streets of Seattle and gotten together to study scripture.
The result is an ethos of respect, learning, serving others. They’re still teenagers, still prone to gruffness and grumpiness—but for several hours a week, they are part of something that teaches them virtues which will serve them when their fastballs look more like change-ups and their speed between the bases a slow jog.