First and Second Things

In the Olympics as in life, coming in second is nice, but it’s nothing like being first. We remember gold medalists but quickly forget who took the silver. Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights speaks for all those whothink first is best when he says, “If you ain’t first you’re last.”

If there’s an exception to this “It’s Best to Be First” principle, it’s one made popular by the outstanding “I Am Second” campaign—currently featuring Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton—where the message echoes the ubiquitous HE>i slogan from a clothing brand based on the Bible verse John 3:30: “HE (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.”

Which is why it’s puzzling that so many of us who call ourselves Christians put second (that would be us) ahead of first (that would be God). To be fair, it’s not like we think we’re more important or better than God, but that doesn't stop us from taking a shot at first place. So we trumpet a passion we have for a cause and make that our first priority. You know, good causes like caring for the poor, helping the disadvantaged, giving voice to marginalized voices, those sorts of things.

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Love and the Woman in 13F

The large woman was sitting in seat 13F on the Southwest Airlines flight from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles. Her seat was by the window and she was trying not to make eye contact with the passengers filing by. On Southwest there are no assigned seats. People board by pre-assigned priority, and once you get on the plane you can take any open seat. The seat next to the woman in 13F remained empty for a long time. I should know. I was sitting in 13D, two seats over. The problem with 13E and why it was still vacant, even though most of the passengers had boarded, was a matter of space. For all intents and purposes the woman in 13F was also sitting in half of 13E.

I’m embarrassed to admit this to you, but I’ve got to tell someone, and it might as well be you. I sat in 13D because I thought 13E might remain vacant due to the size of the woman in 13F, giving me extra room for the long flight. Then, the unexpected happened. A young hipster woman (there are lots of them in Austin) walked down the aisle, stopped next to me and pointed to 13E. She wanted to sit there. I don’t know what kind of person I expected to take the “charity” case of sitting next to the woman in 13F—a nun perhaps?—but I would not have expected this young lady with a flowing white dress and several tattoos to be the one. Yet there she was, and I was suddenly feeling very small, especially when she sat in 13E and immediately began to engage the woman in cheerful, respectful conversation.

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Being Church

Sometimes you just want to be with people who know and love you; people you don’t have to explain yourself to, who accept you for who you are. That’s how I was feeling Sunday morning. That’s why I was so glad to be in church.

It had been a rough week for many of us. One brother had been out on the corner with some day laborers working through power struggles there. One sister patiently works all week with autistic children. Our pastors’ family and I had been visiting with a family whose son passed away tragically. A few of the women jumped in and put on a bridal shower for a young neighbor woman whose mom is out of the picture. Some of us had rallied to support the families of six men deported. I was coming into church feeling a bit beat up and bruised by the attempts we’d made all week to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. It turns out that there is quite a bit of opposition to justice and mercy in our world and we were feeling it this week.
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