Author Archives: dgeff3

What a Husky can teach a Cougar about compassion

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Editor’s Note: This week SpokaneFAVS contributors are exploring the definition of compassion. Read Monday’s panel on this topic here.

Daryl Geffken

I am a Husky. For some, that may have been the last line they read. For you brave enough to continue, I’d like to share a story from a day I recently had.

As you might imagine, I am fairly reticent to share my allegiance to my Alma Mater in a town like Spokane. I have had my UW sticker scraped off my car more than a few times.  I’m proud of the school that provided me opportunity, but I struggle with the snap judgment that comes from some folks with the label, “Husky.” So I have decided I will slowly share my purple pride with people.  I work on relationships first, so that when others become aware of the depth of my Montlake Madness, there is a foundation of friendship. In fact, I am drawn to folks equally passionate about their schools, even if they are rivals.

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington

My office is a great spot. I work at a place where Cougars, Zags and Huskies all seem to get along. We share a friendly rivalry in sports.  More than that, we share our lives together and a growing friendship. So the other day, I blurted from my office door to my Cougar friend that Cal lost over the weekend, thereby putting the Husky men’s basketball team in first place of the Pac-12 for the moment. My timing sucked. Royally. I walked into the common area and into a conversation between my friend and a few others I did not recognize.  They looked at me quizzically and it was explained that I was a Husky. And then it happened — the look; a scornful look on the face of a person I have never met, but who had somehow sized up me or my affiliation to a brand name and decided that she knew me, all of me, and it was found lacking. “Cheaters,” she spit. And that was it.

My last post talked about compassion as sharing life with others, collecting their stories to the point that we walk with them rather than talk about them. We must connect ourselves with the lives of others — others we would typically not choose.  I believe our compassion grows in relation to its direct contact with suffering. We must find ways of engaging and deeply listening to the stories of others and then finding creative ways to allow those stories to find a larger voice. I also suggested that Jesus refocused people on what was important to God, not what had become acceptable to them.  Jesus and his followers frequently challenge an attitude of privilege. One of Jesus’ main emphases was to treat people with value, so much so, that Jesus personally identified himself with the marginalized. The very manner of Jesus’ life reveals a literal identification with the poor and marginalized.

Jesus was born to migrant parents out of wedlock. The stigma this carried with it in Jewish culture at the time was severe. Tradition holds that he was born in a cave meant for feeding livestock and was celebrated by shepherds, some of the country’s lowest-class citizens, and foreigners that practiced astronomy — a taboo in Jewish society. At his circumcision, his parents offered a sacrifice of two pigeons — a Levitical concession offered to only the poorest class of citizen (Leviticus 12:1-8). Jesus and his family fled their nation as political refugees (Matthew 2:13-18), seeking asylum in a foreign country.

Jesus was homeless (Luke 9:58), and relied solely on the contribution of others to maintain his itinerant call (Luke 8:1-3). He was declared a state criminal and arrested. His trial displayed a flagrant abuse of the justice system of the day, having been tried in secrecy and without defense, physically beaten during the proceedings, disregarded by a politician that caved to popular sentiment despite finding no sufficient grounds for condemnation and tortured before his execution. He died without a single possession and was laid to rest in a donated grave. In “Generous Justice” Tim Keller said, “In all these ways, Jesus identifies with the millions of nameless people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, robbed of their possessions, tortured, and slaughtered.” The Bible records even after his death and resurrection Jesus continued to identify with the marginal. According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus chose to first reveal his resurrected self to women; those so discounted that in legal matters their testimony had no merit.

Judith Butler suggested that judging people is a form of emotional violence. By assuming you know another person denies them the ability to change, develop or grow beyond your expectations. Here’s my point:  Jesus could have come into the world in any way imaginable. He chose this lowly status, and lived it out. He chose not to disdain others but looked at them with hope of a redeemed future.

Is it too far a stretch to attempt a connection between an interaction based on a sports rivalry and the manner by which Jesus entered into creation? Probably.  But at the risk of reversing my initial title, you want to know what this Husky learned from his Cougar friend when she stepped into my righteous indignation towards the woman I felt had belittled my existence by judging me? am wrong to dismiss another person on the basis of one action.

Jesus lived a compassionate life

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Editor’s Note: This week SpokaneFAVS contributors are exploring the definition of compassion. Read Monday’s panel on this topic here.

Daryl Geffken

Compassion is sharing life with others, collecting their stories to the point that we walk with them rather than talk about them.  We must connect ourselves with the lives of others — others we would typically not choose.  I believe our compassion grows in relation to its direct contact with suffering.  We must find ways of engaging and deeply listening to the stories of others and then finding creative ways to allow those stories to find a larger voice.

I believe Jesus refocused people on what was important to God, not what had become acceptable to them.  Jesus and his followers frequently challenge an attitude of privilege.  Compassion and empathy drive Jesus’ view.  He upholds the principle that caring for people is more valuable than attaining material wealth and comfort, asking, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Luke 9:25).  Jesus finally closed the gap between the haves and have-nots: In opposition to the concept of ownership, humanity is expected to be responsible for stewardship of the earth (Lev. 25:23-24).  It is given responsibility to do what is best for the planet and all who inhabit it.

One of Jesus’ main emphases was to treat people with value. Theologians have worked to establish Jesus’ authority and divinity.  He is a necessary and unique part of the triune God of Christianity.  Jesus clearly asserted his own authority and status as son of God.  Yet he also defined his identity as a servant, giving his life for others as the “son of man.”  Jesus demonstrated the rule of God always opposes the other gods and powers that seek to enslave humans.

Ultimately, Jesus’ authority is based upon his death on a cross, suffering as the servant Messiah prophesied by Isaiah.  Jesus’ kingdom was one based on authenticity and compassion, rather than oppression, which was demonstrated through welcoming love and liberating service to others.  Reading through the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ teaching through word and example confirms Jesus held a high regard for the value of people. This foundational value affected not only his actions, but his expectations of those who follow him as well.  He was clear in challenging his audience to live in holistic responsibility to others.  From this, it can be shown that Jesus desired a more egalitarian society than he encountered.  It can be argued that this is applicable today.

The Lego Syndrome

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

This is the second in a three-part series. Read the first entry here.

Daryl Geffken

Today I’m continuing a “three-piece” (pun intended) series on how playing with Legos has helped me deconstruct materialism (pun also intended).

I love playing with Legos. I could construct sets for hours—and have.  It is a unique joy for me to construct things, to see how they can be sturdy and aesthetic at the same time.  Now here’s the deal, I get all jazzed when I get a new set, and I love sitting down and putting them together and getting all the pieces together and whatnot.  And then, as soon as I’m done, it seems like I just look at the model for about two minutes, and almost instantaneously want a new set. I’m not satisfied with what has been created. Once the anticipation of having something accomplished is complete I’m anxious to move on to something else.  It doesn’t fully satisfy.

The analogy is fairly clear, many of the things in life we want are incredibly appealing and we anticipate that they will fulfill our desires and help make us more complete.  It is often only after achieving or acquiring these things that we realize it was just smoke and mirrors and the desire still remains, it has simply switched focus to something new we don’t possess. If our value rests in this endless pursuit, well, we’re doomed.

I have said before I believe each person in the history of the world longs for three things — to be known, to be loved, and to be significant.  We have this desire in us. And we seek to have it fulfilled in all sorts of ways.  Over the years I’ve collected lots of stuff; more education, more toys (Apple products and technological sundries seem to be the option du jour), more popularity (have you read my blog, lately?) and, well, you get the point.  To continually fulfill our desire for significance, we acquire.

And then we trash.  A lot.  Only 1 percent of all materials used in the production, distribution and consumption of our market economy is still in use after six months; 99 percent is trashed. If the world’s population were to live as the average American does, it would require three planets to sustain such a lifestyle (facts taken from Leonard, 2005).

In her poignant documentary film, “The Story of Stuff,” Annie Leonard (2005) claimed, “We have become a nation of consumers. Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers. The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow, how much we consume.”

Through concepts such as planned obsolescence (making things that break down quickly so we must buy more) and perceived obsolescence (convincing us that the model we have is outdated and depreciates our value, so we must buy more), we have been trained to want more, convinced to think we need more.

You are complicit in this; as am I.  The responsibility is ours.  This is a highly complex issue, but I would like to encourage you to do a few things.  Limit your consumption. Start incrementally, start a consumption log, and after a month determine what you can cut out of your life.  Second, watch “Story of Stuff” (it’s only 20 minutes long and you can watch it right here), so you can be more fully informed. Look for what critics say about it.  Third, spend some time in reflection determining what brings real value to your life.  Fourth, spread the word (maybe even write in the comments below ideas for limiting this system). This may feel like a lot, but I believe it is well worth it.

If you’re going to spend anything in the next week, spend the time to delve deeper into this.

Deconstructing materialism by playing with Legos

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

This is the first in a three-part series

Daryl Geffken

This weekend, our family had a pizza and Lego night.  We made homemade pizza and ate around our coffee table.  And then came that great and glorious plastic-on-plastic sound of tons of Legos being dumped out on the ground.  That sound takes me back to childhood days of Christmas and birthdays, shaking a box to see if it was clothing; or…

My first memories of Legos include building the ultimate vehicles for our neighborhood demolition derby.  Each kid was to piece together a battering ram on wheels that would be hurtled toward others on the smooth concrete of our paved garage. True tournament formatting (take note, NCAA football) would determine the grand champion. Whichever vehicle inflicted the most damage on its competition would move on.  I was the youngest in our rat pack, and as such, had much to learn about constructing a solid vehicle that could weather the pending onslaught of force.

Typically, I would begin my masterpiece by collecting all the cool-looking, one-of-a-kind blocks — the ones that would enhance the intricate and menacing demeanor of victorious vehicles creatively christened such things as “The Basher.”  Rather than focusing on building a solid, foundational mass, I spent time linking these awesome, yet awkward bricks together.  Not surprisingly, with these works of art, I did not advance.  Instead, I spent much more time cleaning up the mess that used to be my creation, and accompanied by much mocking and ridicule, going inside to piece together my broken pride.

Over time I learned a valuable lesson: if you want a Lego ship to last, you’d better make sure it was solidly built.  This took care and occurred well before any accessorizing.

You see where I am going.  So much of how we are valued in our present context is based on our plumage: whether or not we have Legos or bits of plastic.  In an old Saturday Night Live skit, Billy Crystal used to say, “To look good, is to feel good… and darling, I look marvelous!”  I have seen students and adults throughout my career work to accumulate the right things, in hope of fulfilling their desire for significance.  Often this occurs at the detriment of deeper character development.  Crisis in life hits harder than a two-pound Lego truck.  The trappings of our homes, clothes and trinkets do an amazing job isolating us from our fragile reality.

Jesus talked about a person’s ability to survive such moments intact.  In Matthew 7:24 Jesus declared, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Preceding this statement are small sections highlighting three recurring themes of Jesus’ teaching: communication with God, care for others and a life of integrity.  Develop these values, he said, and they will help you weather the massive blows we all experience in life.  Relying on the material we collect to adorn our lifestyles may help us look great in the eyes of our consumer-driven climate, but if they are the sum total of our substance — crash.

What values form the structure upon which your life is built?  What are you doing to build your core foundation?  What “needs” in your life can you give up?

What kind of idiot drives like that?

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

I watched Pixar’s “Wall-E” with my sons the other day.  Before you judge me, realize this: the landscape at home is all about 5-year-old and 2-year-old boys so I spend a fair amount of time either in space, in Disney, or both.

The intent of the movie is to illuminate that humanity is trashing our habitat, but there is still a hope that we can reclaim the value of the land rather than rest on our laurels for convenience’ sake; a grand and good concept, for sure.

This time as I was watching (yes, I’ve seen it enough times to cause tendonitis in my typing fingers were I to key-stroke that many 0’s), I realized a nuance I hadn’t noticed before.  The villains in this film are far from the proto-typical Disney/Pixar milieu.  There are two main sets of antagonists.  First, there are robots.  Not the evil robots of ‘50’s sci-fi horror films, all maniacal and twisted.  These are robots that have been programmed by humans who thought they were doing the right thing.  Second, there is a system that has solidified a state of apathy.

One of the things I have been realizing lately is the fact that a vast majority of people do not harbor maniacal, society-destroying tendencies (even though I feel that way as my blood-pressure skyrockets from the actions of the dufus in front of me who seems to be driving in a manner who is hell-bent on crushing all that is fair and good in the world).  You may have realized this already. Kudos to you.  Personally, I need to step away from my judgments of others, and pause.  I must realize they are not placed on this world to piss me off or give others grief. Most people are motivated by what they understand to be the right course of action.

Take our upcoming national elections. Democrats are leftist commies intent on thwarting happiness. Republicans are selfish and entitled, only seeking a greater tax break. Large government undermines the concept of personal responsibility. Jesus didn’t ride an elephant.  There will be quite a bit of polarizing rhetoric that fingers an opponent’s malicious intent.  I think we should look past such tripe.  And though I believe our two-party system begs for a systemic overhaul in many ways, I don’t believe the individuals within it are as demonic as many might seek to portray them.  I will grant that some are people seeking to hold on to power, but I believe at the heart of their motivation is the promotion of what they understand as “good.”  Lesson to apply: the next time you have an experience with another person that alters your expectation of what is right/fair/expedient/etc., pause for a moment and try to understand why that person is acting the way they are. Overwhelmingly, it is not to mess up the world.  They may be following their programming, and it may not be bad.

Now as for the system; I posit a strong portion of Americans currently live in a context that is built upon convenience, consumerism and privilege.  Often in a way that is detrimental to a majority of the world, and often in a way that is unknown to those who are favored (insert, middle- and upper-class white protestants here).  Privilege is a disgusting and nasty thing, I am discovering.  Those of us who are in a status of privilege tend to believe what we experience should be normative (that means that we expect everyone else to want to live like we do).  How presumptuous is that?

This is a blog, the very form of which mandates me to keep things short and pithy.  But this system must be broken.  It must be challenged.  There are a myriad ways to do this and each one seems necessary to me at the moment.  What I want to remind us is this: our strongest opposition will come not from an enemy, but from people who are well-intentioned, have great value and are interpreting our actions as the very thing that will destroy their cherished way of life.  The onus is upon us — as world-changers — to honor them.  This is not an easy thing by any means.  It will bring about continual self-evaluation and reflection as we encounter our own personal roadblocks caused by a fear of self-sacrifice.  I’m on board for the ride, however.  To quote the captain of the Axiom in “Wall-E,” when confronted with the risky decision between taking responsibility for his people and the earth or maintaining the status-quo-72-degrees context of convenient life, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.”

Creating space for thought and time together

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

There is this place I love to go.  It’s a lodge located near Winthrop. For the past 12 years my family has gone there annually. We skate ski, we eat, we laugh a ton, and lately we chase the little ones around. But is one thing is missing. There is no TV.

Open the door to our room and a quiet bit of classical music is playing. No voices, no commercials, no screens, just the opportunity to interpret the calm music and beauty of the valley floor expanding beyond our windows.

I have travelled here from all points of the Northwest. It is typically a white-knuckle event; a marathon of sorts full of all the obstacles that could impede winter traffic — snow storms, ice, thick fog and deer (including the one that launched our Honda Accord skyward one year). In truth, there are two roads I loathe in the United States, this one, and the drive into the Grand Canyon at night.

When I walk into that room, I know I can unplug. I can spend time with family.  And when they are resting, I can spend time in thought. I am no longer distracted by all the modern convenience of life with its instant connection. I am forced to reflect on things I’ve stored away “for later.”

I am busy, but no busier than you. I believe most people are exceedingly active in their world.  I work for a university in town and the No. 1 issue identified by student leaders on campus is the feeling of over-commitment.

This trip is a created space in my life. I know I need time to decompress. We all do. So, I schedule time away from things so I can pause and allow the deeper currents of my life to take me where I need to go. Once a year is not enough, however. I have discovered I must schedule this time with much more consistency.

What do you do to offer space for reflection? I encourage you to create a regular space for reflection, for thought, for prayer. If your immediate response is, “I’m too busy,” tell yourself, “You’re full of crap.” To take this time has an insurmountable value, only understood after practice.

Seeing through the mist

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

I travelled to Winthrop this weekend for a long-awaited family vacation.  In order to get to our destination we had to travel through the Nespelem District of the Colville Reservation.  For those of you unfamiliar with this area, it is a patch of desolate ground, strewn with volcanic rock.  No streams or rivers provide life here and several massive serpentine power lines that transfer power from Grand Coulee Dam to the rest of the state split the land.

I have taken this road several times over the years.  What struck me this trip was the fact that as we climbed onto the plateau, we entered a deep fog.  It was a mystical mist (yes, I just did that) and it carried a deep sense of isolation.  It got me thinking ; first from the Native Americans living on this reservation.  Did the clouds provide an insular feeling that denied the reality of relocation to this land?  As if trying to deny the horrible marginalization forced upon them?  I’m not sure I even know the proper way to ask this in a way to honor them.

For “my people” did this mist give us the opportunity to ignore what had occurred?  Or what continues to happen?  Up there in the clouds a people live in their “sovereign” state.  But it seems a state of destitution, broken down homesteads, poor roads and poorer people.  Was this land chosen because it can hide what we don’t want to think about?

I think we do this in our lives, too.  We create worlds of hazy shadow that protect us from our darkness.  We obscure the facts that cast us in too harsh a light creating a fuzzy, more palatable likeness if, and when, we take time for reflection.  C.G. Jung asserted that each person, on the whole, is less good than he or she wants to be. “Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is,” he said.

Many churches seem to perpetuate this type of existence. The pressure to present oneself and family as meeting these accepted norms has created something akin to schizophrenia.  This can be seen as a stressed-out, arguing family instantly transforms while walking into a church building, asserting that, “We’re fine.”  Many church leaders are content to leave this situation alone, being every bit engaged in such deception.  Church can be a dangerous place to fully expose oneself.  Church settings have lost their ability to discern the elements at work within a person and how this can help the community grow.  One may wonder if such institutions are desirous of deeply understanding the individuals within their community.

The foundational goals of Jesuit philosophy are amazing to me.  They can be summarized as, “know yourself, build community, impact the world.”  They have provided direction in my life. More than that, they have offered clarity: You can’t know yourself until you can be real, be transparent.

Being real is living at that deepest level of honesty with yourself. It’s not just going around and exposing everything that you are to everybody you see.  It’s looking for how you present yourself in a fake way, where in your life you put a mask on to prevent others from seeing what you’re afraid of them seeing.  Where you are nervous about life.

I think that the only way to be real is to realize that someone loves you unconditionally for who you are — not your effort, not your faking it, or the masks you wear, not your potential.  Jesus is the only person in my life who fits that. Check out what the bible says about him in Romans 5:8, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  That means that God loves me, not for what I can do for him, but because I am me.  I used to think Jesus recruited me, like he wanted me on his kickball team because of all the good I could do for him.  Or that he saw me for my potential, and if I didn’t reach that potential, he’d walk away.  That’s why Philippians 1:6 hits me so hard.  Paul talks about a faith that is “confident that he who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.”  It says God started something in me; he’s not going to walk away.  Combine that verse with my rambling thought and it may look like this to you and to me. Jesus sees all that we are, and loves us enough to sacrifice himself so that you and I can have a relationship with him and can experience real life. When we understand this, it makes us move, it makes us act.

I’m not sure I want all the expressions of my shadow to be present throughout the rest of my life.  But I’d rather build an authentic community that leads to a beneficial impact of the world.  If the requirement for this is truly knowing myself, it seems a small price to pay.

Learning from the city’s homeless

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

I took a different route to class today.  I’m glad I did.  A red light stopped me at a street corner.  Two men had set up shop on the corner, complete with backpacks and cardboard signs.  While I watched, one of the men flashed his sign at the van in front of me and not getting the reaction he hoped for, displayed some frustration.  I didn’t see what was written on his sign and the whole transaction piqued my curiosity: what was he asking for?

Like you, I’m sure, I’ve seen my fair share of cardboard signs wielded by homeless men, women, teens and even wrapped around the occasional dog.  I have spent many hours with transient individuals, listening to their stories.  In my vehicle and my messenger bag, I carry with me a small supply of granola bars (sometimes with fruit and water) to offer to anyone who I encounter who is looking for assistance.  It’s a worthwhile practice and I encourage you all to do it.  But I just realized it has a downside…

It sets a normative expectation that people are looking for me to help them.  They are asking for something, and I, in my benevolence, can offer support.

The time I have spent listening to the stories of others and trying to understand them has been vastly rewarding.  I am continually amazed at the impact these individuals have on my life.  It has shown me that each person has incredible value.  Even so, I find it discouragingly easy to slip back into the mindset of a unidirectional transaction, where I am the person helping another.

The man from today reminded me how false such a belief is.  After his failure with the van in front of me, he turned his attention my way.  He quickly unfolded his sign and pointed to it. “Smile.  It’s more fun,” it read.  I couldn’t help but burst into laughter.  And neither could he as he nodded and gave me a thumbs up.  Little did this man know I had been wondering at my cynical nature for the past two days, but he knew a smile can go a long way, and he offered that to me.  I needed a smile.

By all means, help others; carry a little supply of healthy snacks to distribute upon request.  When you hand something to someone, make a physical contact and look the person in the eyes.  Touch and respect are things we all need, and transient people rarely receive either.

Perhaps you might take it to the next level.  Take a moment to talk with someone, collect their story and allow it to inform you of their reality.  Suspend your judgment for a moment or two and just listen.  Realize they have something to offer you.  You may find yourself smiling deeply from within.  And this, as my favorite new street philosopher observed… is more fun.

It’s time to root for the real underdogs

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

America loves an underdog win.  Last night the New York Giants completed their fantastic run through the playoffs to once again hand a “superior” team, in the New England Patriots, a come-from-behind loss.  To many people, the Patriots represent the superlative in professional football.  A machine built to win.  Dare I say it?  A dynasty.  An empire.  We Americans love to see empires fall.  And we love to see underdog heroes lead the way.  If you don’t believe me, read this saccharine story by ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that emphasizes the hero’s tale of Eli Manning’s dramatic drive.

We thrill in this type of story-line, yet often fail to realize that it is myth.

We wrongly highlight individual effort, not honoring the multiplicity of factors that contribute to this type of success.  Never mind that (according to Manning himself), the entirety of the Giants team was responsible for the unprecedented 7-game winning streak as well as last night’s victory.  Think of the incredible defensive play by Tucks and Pierre-Paul.  That throw was mediocre, until it was caught (by a receiver known for his dropped-balls, by the way).  Interviewers sought to give him the credit for the offensive game plan, even while Manning deferred to his coach’s scheme.

But when all is said and done, through media sound bites and analyses Manning becomes the reason the Giants won.

Eli Manning during a 2007 training camp/Wikipedia

Manning is no underdog.  No one gets access to this stage without an amazing amount of talent, support and drive.  Even the halftime entertainment represents the best of the best (I concede that last year’s Black Eyed Peas performance can derail my argument, here).  Manning is a product of many forces that allowed him this opportunity: family dynamics (his dad and brother both are noteworthy NFL quarterbacks) and the megalithic industry known as the NCAA.  Clearly, Manning has had to work to attain the status of elite quarterback in the NFL, and this should not be diminished.  What I know of him makes me like him as a player and as a man.  He is no underdog, however.  And I get the sense he would agree with me.

King David was perhaps the quintessential underdog.  As the man who killed the warrior-giant with the single shot of a sling he is the very source-tale of a “David meets Goliath” matchup.  This is a man who through skill and integrity rose from the outsider status of shepherd to become king.  Yet David is also the powerful and lusty king that has an adulterous affair with another man’s wife and then attempts to cover it up to the point of murder.  Nathan, the prophet, the only man in the kingdom to call him out does so with great skill, telling the honorable a story of a wealthy man who steals a poor family’s only sheep to serve a visitor, rather than use one of his own. Incensed, David condemns the man as selfish and worthy of severe punishment.  Nathan lays his indictment heavily on David, “You are the man.”  At this point, David realizes his guilt and works to set things right.

What if we realized who the real underdogs of the world were?  Would we still root for them?  What if we discovered that much of America is the empire we all love to hate? What if underdogs were those that we exclude from a system of value because they can’t buy in?  What if underdogs were those who were legitimately angry that Americans, who represent the wealthiest fifth of the world’s people, consume an astonishing 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth consume only one percent?  Are they wrong to despise us because we are complicit in preventing them from caring for their families and communities?  It seems to me that we hold more in common with the imperial David than the underdog David.  It seems to me that we steal from those who cannot stop it in order to serve our out of control desires.

An ad campaign that justifies spending 3.5 million dollars for a 30-second ad spot during the super bowl seems a heinous misuse of resources.  The rise of sex-trafficking that occurs during the super bowl reveals a dark side of gluttony and excess at the cost of human value, as does the indication that incidents of spousal abuse rise 10 percent in households where the favorite team loses shows a disgustingly disproportionate set of priorities that links personal value to a team brand rather than a life-partner.

“Loyalty that hides problematic conduct is a false loyalty, for it elevates reputation over reality, and esteems image over character. Though we may believe we are acting to protect the institution, in reality we do the institution and individuals far greater damage …,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, in an e-mail sent to students and employees reminding them of their obligation to report cases of suspected abuse and other questionable conduct.

Perhaps a few more of us can realize that our loyalty to the excess of the sports industry perpetuates some of these horrific issues.  Perhaps lobbying against the consumerist agenda that undergirds the industry could bring back some of the humanity lost.  Perhaps we could root for the real underdogs.  I’m just not sure where I can find the team jersey.

Why I’m glad God included lots of normal folks at Jesus’ birth

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

“I wanna’ be a shepherd.  I wanna’ move up to Nassau, get a nice little spread, find some sheep and tend to them.”

When confronted with his desire to find significance in the world, Matt Damon, performing the title role from “Good Will Hunting” makes this statement.  A high-school drop out, often drunk-and-brawling, sometimes in-and-out-of-jail, janitor makes a wise crack regarding his intended profession.  Clearly, shepherds are not high on the social scale.  They never have been.

In ancient Israel, shepherds were pretty much the low of the lows as well: smelly, uneducated simpletons that followed a herd of animals that could easily elicit the same description (don’t think Sunday School felt-board representations of sheep here).  But they were invited to a gathering of greater significance than any red-velvet roped party in history.  They made they A-list.  In their insignificance, they were made important.

When I take time to look up from my little world, this sounds appealing to me.

Social theorist Gustavo Esteva suggested that many people seem to share a feeling of impotence, and powerlessness.  “No longer trusting that their individual votes, their letters to their representatives or their personal activism will effect any relevant change, they are confronted by the persistent question: What can I do?”  It’s not too hard to imagine this type of question being drowned out by the bleating of sheep, or the growling of wolves.  In such a life, concrete issues rule the day.  “Common people learn to trust each other and be trustworthy… Their common faith is seldom deposited in abstract causes or phantoms, like humankind.  Instead, it is entrusted to real men and women, defining the place to which they belong and that belongs to them.”  This requires relationship within a community of real men and women.

It seems that God was ahead of the curve.  He asked real people to share a real moment: God becoming incarnate in a world where touching godliness had been relegated to those deemed important: perhaps those who generated lofty and abstract theology.

Not only did God include the peripheral, he invited a lot of them.  As the wonderstruck group discussed what they had experienced through differing eyes and perspectives, a communal process may have brought deeper understanding.  Organizational theorist Etienne Wenger made the following assertion, “Our institutions, to the extent that they address issues of learning explicitly, are largely based on the assumption that learning is an individual process, that it has a beginning and an end, that it is best separated from the rest of our activities, and that it is the result of teaching.”  The consequence of this is that most institutionalized learning is out of touch with reality and frustratingly tedious.

A vital church community realizes that learning is constant, active and social.  It asks its participants to embody the life of Jesus in all areas of thought, word and deed.  The emphasis is not upon principles, but relationship as the core of God’s work in the world today.  It is defined not by its theology, but by its behavior.  This is a dramatic departure from recent theorization about church structure, because it implies that each member of the community has a contribution to make, and is therefore a vital element of the organization to be known, rather than converted.

Volatile moments of real life show that more relevance exists outside of attempts to control one’s surroundings.  Brian McLaren wrote, “To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall.”  It is messy and occurs as their surroundings and those with whom they have contact collide.  These moments are transformative and memorable as they display the constant progression of dynamics at work.

I believe that because of the manner birth of Jesus, leaders can no longer view themselves as hierarchical gatekeepers of power and skill or privileged calling.  In order to find personal and professional relevance, these leaders must place a high value on the contribution of members within a community.  Without this, a leader (like Herod of old) will forfeit significance.

By valuing each element of a society, the ability to learn, adapt and bear significance is increased.  Such value is communicated through sincerity and authenticity, through allowing for time to increase understanding, through deep listening that honors another’s perspective and encourages permission to speak freely, and a destruction of a system where certain members are deemed more necessary, more valuable than others.

In Jesus’ birth, prophetic voice from scripture is mixed with corporeal messiness.  Perhaps the shepherds could appreciate this reality of confusion, stench and miracle given their circumstances.  Perhaps their community structure enhanced their ability to understand the significance of what they were witnessing.