Monday, May 31, 2010

The Game of Kings

My father taught me to play chess when I was just a little guy. That's me in the red striped shirt. I've always enjoyed the game though I don't get to play very often these days. My son, Sam, and I have a pretty good collection of chess sets from places like Rome, Athens, Kiev, Minsk, Moscow, Istanbul, Jerusalem, and even one from Bethlehem. Suzanne is still wondering why anyone needs more than one set.

Lately, I've been teaching my little friend, Brian, a soon to be second grader at Heber Hunt, how to play the game. The game seems to capture his usually non-stop imagination and twenty second attention span, and helps him learn to focus his thoughts for a little while - just a little while.

I guess everyone knows that chess is a strategy game, but I've been wondering if there might be something more for us to learn from the old game of kings. What truths and insights might we gain about life and faith from the chessboard? A few thoughts . . .

First, life is much more like a battle than many people seem to realize. We live in a fallen world, a world filled with astounding beauty and horrid ugliness, genuine goodness and unspeakable evil. Better wake up and smell the coffee. This world is a mean and cruel place with plenty of mean and cruel people. So, be alert, be watchful, be wise.

Second, the key to victory is to never go it alone. Winning in chess means that you attack with all of your pieces in place, supporting each other, defending each other, moving forward together as part of a common plan. Only a novice brings out the queen too early and attacks without support or backup. It's suicide. Sheep to the slaughter.

As a pastor, I have seen too much of this, too many people who start out in the right direction with great enthusiasm, but they go it alone, they won't wait, they won't listen. Off they go, right into the meat grinder of the adversary. So, before you go charging off to do battle, turn around and take a look. Who's got your back?

Third, don't just live for the moment. Chess is all about thinking ahead, anticipating, planning and adapting our plans to capture the prize. Computer chess games usually have skill level settings from 1 to 9 or 1 to 10. That's how many moves ahead the computer will be "thinking" as your opponent. If you set it on 10, the computer will carefully calculate the best move planning 10 moves ahead, and you will likely be dead before the computer gets to its tenth move. I do better when I set the computer on 3 or 4. It's hard to plan 10 moves ahead.

The trouble is, in life too many of us don't seem to plan any moves ahead. We just live in the moment, do whatever sounds like fun today without any thought to the consequences. When I was teaching our daughter to play, she would often just mimic my moves or move random pieces. Then, sometimes, a little later in the game, something on the board would catch her eye and she would stick her tongue in her cheek and begin to formulate a plan. I soon learned to watch for her tongue in cheek warning. Watch out. She's got a plan.

Success in life and progress in the faith requires taking the long view, planning ahead, anticipating threats and dangers, adapting to setbacks and pitfalls, and moving ahead step by step. Those who just live for the moment never get anywhere. They become targets, tackling dummies in a world of real players.

Finally, faith, like chess, is best learned from a person, not a book or a TV show or a computer program, as helpful as those resources may be. Every really good chess player has a teacher, a mentor, one who has mastered higher levels of the game and is willing to show you the way, sometimes by beating your brains out until you learn to do better.

So it is for the follower of Christ. More than anything else we need a person (or persons) who genuinely cares about us and is willing to invest his/her time and effort to teach us, to show us how, to keep us between the ditches, to mentor us until we are no longer novices, until we are ready to be a mentor to others.

And the One we need most of all, is Christ Himself. One day when Sam was just a boy I came home to find him sitting at the computer playing chess with some unknown player online. Sam said, "Dad, look at this game. This guy's killing me. What do I do?" So, I looked at the board on the screen, sized up Sam's predicament and suggested a move, and then another. "Nice move, Dad. Now what?" I helped Sam notice a few more moves and in just a couple of minutes, his opponent resigned, probably just a young novice like Sam, wondering what happened to the kid he was playing.

At times in my life, I have found myself in tough predicaments, desperately in need of wisdom beyond myself. That's when Christ really comes through, helping me find a way that I just can't see, leading me on the path to life. He is a master, the Master. In life and in faith, we might as well learn from the best.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Patch of Blue

Several thoughtful friends and family called last night to check on us when the tornado touched down in the neighborhood. No real damage, just some tree limbs down in the front yard. I guess a weather helicopter for channel 9 taped the tornado, some pretty dramatic footage.

Like most people during a bad storm, at least most of the guys I know, I divided my time between the basement and the backyard, trying to keep an eye on the sky and the radar, while the piercing storm siren down the street seemed to signal the end of all things.

In the middle of this big, blustery mess, a little patch or two of clear blue sky shown through. I took it as a positive omen, signaling a swift end to this swirling storm, and a return to normal, whatever that is.
Maybe that's a good reminder for those of us fighting our way through bigger storms. Hang on to something solid and wait for it. Blue skies are coming. Better days ahead.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Powerful Beyond Measure

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-- Marianne Williamson

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What Keeps Me Running

With the coming of Spring, I'm back out on the trail. It's been a long, hard winter, and I had almost forgotten how much I love it. For me, running is so much more than just physical exercise. My early morning runs are my solitude, my sanity, and my spiritual discipline. Running is my connection with nature and my communion with God. Every mile is a return to the exuberance of my childhood and an act of defiance against the aging of my 50 year old body.

Let me share a few lines that keep me running. Then, go get your shoes on, stretch out and get going:  

"I always loved running...it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs." - Jesse Owens

"Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it." -Oprah Winfrey

"Running is a big question mark that's there each and every day. It asks you, 'Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'" - Peter Maher, Canadian marathon runner

"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves...The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, 'You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.' The human spirit is indomitable." -Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to run a sub-4 minute mile

"What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the days gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate." - John Bingham, running writer and speaker