Rector's Ramblings January 3, 2018
What an interesting week this has been! We’ve started the New Year with an incredible win for the Bulldogs and now a winter storm. I’m actually really glad the Bulldogs won, not just because I wanted them to win, but because I know how hard it would have been on our community if they lost. I’ve noticed over the years that Georgia’s football performance is noticeable in the life of the congregation. I can always tell from a Sunday morning whether or not they had a big win or a tough loss. There’s some research that backs up that kind of communal response to sporting events, but I’ve seen it first-hand without having to rely on the research.
Don’t get me wrong, in the big scheme of things we would have been fine if the Dawgs had lost, but it would have been incredibly disappointing. We would have gotten over it. We still may have to, if the unthinkable happens against Alabama. But let’s not think that way. This team may not lose again; apart from the hiccup with the first meeting with Auburn, there’s been nothing they couldn’t handle. In truth, they even handled Auburn when it comes right down to it. But most teams do meet their match at some point; that’s why there can only be one on top. The adage that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle isn’t any more true in football than it is in life.
That adage is actually unhelpful in most any context. It is also destructive. I’ve written about it before, but it came to mind recently when Adam Hamilton’s book, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say, crossed my path. I believe Bob Brown has used Hamilton’s books before – he’s a good writer. In this book, he tackles things that Christians sometimes say, attributing them to the Bible, that are really not true, and contrary to the Christian faith that most of us adhere to. Other claims include: “hate the sin, love the sinner,” and “God helps those who help themselves.” I’ll save the others for other ramblings, or you can read his book.
The winter storm this week can be a good illustration of why the whole “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” business isn’t really all that helpful. For example, the first assumption in the adage is that God is giving us trials and tribulations; that God is burdening us in some way. That’s like saying God chose us to receive a shellacking of ice for some particular reason. Maybe two hurricanes in two years wasn’t enough? Maybe God was really just targeting one person and decided to create the dynamic of the polar vortex, record lows across the country, and the moisture in this multi-state region because one guy, let’s call him Roger, misbehaved and/or needed a lesson in resilience and/or needed a day off work to get his head straight? But, it’s hard to send a single-serve, personal ice storm, so we get the rest of it thrown in for good measure. Thanks, Roger.
No, God doesn’t send these things in the sense that it would be beautiful and sunny had God not created and sent this storm for a reason. God’s creation is extremely complex and this kind of thing just happens in the normal course of global weather patterns. And before we make jokes about global warming, climate scientists have long demonstrated that climate change leads to a series of record highs and lows as the whole system undergoes change and transformation. All this ice aside, it’s still getting warmer overall. But I digress. The point is that some things just happen in the chaos of the created world.
The other illustrative point is how heavy and weighed down the trees and shrubs were once they were coated in ice. Like many of you, we had plants lying on the ground under the weight of the ice. We were spared (as of this writing) from major limb damage, but I’ve seen pictures of others who were not so lucky. This ice is heavy under normal winter conditions, like what we would see up north. Add in our foliage (normally gone from the trees in climates that get ice) and the Spanish moss, and it’s not inconceivable that trees and branches are literally breaking under the weight. Our trees, many of them, just aren’t built and adapted for ice. They are strong trees; they stand up to hurricanes, for goodness sake. This storm, however, provided the icicle that broke the camel’s back in some cases.
In life, the same is true. There are some things we just aren’t built to handle. We’re pliable, we can bend without breaking under the weight of a lot of things, but every once in awhile, something comes along that we simply haven’t been conditioned or adapted to handle, and we break. We may not stay broken, but we do break. It’s unavoidable, really, given the right conditions. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or faithless, it just means that we met our match. Sometimes we lose, break, fall, or whatever image you want to use for it. Of course God doesn’t do that to us; what God would? Because we do experience it for ourselves or see it in others, we know with certainty that God doesn’t do things like that. They just happen.
The best news in all of this is that while God doesn’t give us the burdens we can’t handle; God does give us a place to go with burdens. Jesus talked about his burden being light, with the image of taking on his yoke, which necessitates putting down the loads we bear. We’ve all got and had burdens to bear and we know God bears them with us, which may be why we get confused about the cause and effect. God being with us does not mean God causing. When God is with us, we may still break, but God helps us heal. Unlike the broken tree, once the ice melts, we can be mended, body, mind, and soul. We can find healing and wholeness again. I get to see it all the time, and I rejoice whenever I do. Such healing is miraculous and inspiring.
I can’t tell you not to worry if you meet your match, worry is unavoidable, but I will say don’t despair; don’t blame God; don’t try to manage it alone. We are never alone, and in time we can overcome the unthinkable. I promise. That promise doesn’t mean there won’t be pain and loss, just that with God’s help we can overcome, heal, and live anew.
Now, if the Bulldogs can handle Alabama, it will be quite the year indeed. This year’s team won’t have “a match” to meet. And if they lose…we’ll try again next year. Sometimes we lose. Losing isn’t the end.
Updated Bulldog Prayer:
Almighty God, we give you thanks for delivering our Bulldogs from the heathen clutches of Auburn Oklahoma. In truth, O Lord, we know that you don’t really care who wins these games, as you love the righteous and the unrighteous alike, even though we know you have favorites. We know that you hear our prayers for interceptions and unexpected long bomb catches, and yet you restrain yourself from interfering in the ways of the college football. Nonetheless, we are pleased that Georgia has won our conference and now the Rose Bowl, and we give thanks to you, deserved or not, for when we are happy, you are happy. As we prepare for the final game of the season, we pray that you would keep all the players healthy and focused, give them humility, but not so much that they don’t bring their “A game”. Bless all those fans and alumni who have suffered the weeping and gnashing of teeth in lean years without many wins, and let us look to the championship with hopeful hearts. We pray this, joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as we say, Go Dawgs! Amen.