The Mats are Like the World We Live In, but Also Really Different. The Mats Part II.

The Jiu Jitsu mats have pleasantly surprised me.  I expect things in life.  I have come to realize that I have very high expectations.  This perspective is informed by being a person of vision and that trait is informed by my faith.  I think God is making all things new and I look ahead to a time when things will be good.

And then I read the news.  Kids dying, people dying, people stealing from each, governments conspiring, celebrities cheating on each other, people buying zillion dollar homes, people starving.  The distance between this vision of wholeness and reality seems eternal.  That is one constant conflict I have as a person of faith.  All the things I hope for seem so far away that they lose any tangible quality.  This is a big picture view of the world.  I see goodness everyday. In the smile of my daughter, the laughter of friends and the beauty of creation.  But, I have this nagging suspicion that this kingdom of God thing is so far away that it may not even be real.

I expect people to be transformed.  Why can’t we end hunger in our world?  There are enough resources at our disposal that no child would go to bed hungry tonight.  But, reality check, millions will!!  That makes me sad and angry.

I expect transformed people to transform broken institutions.  Why do we live with an oppressive hierarchy of worth in our culture?  There is enough power to go around so that women would be paid the same as men.  There is enough power to go around that minorities could be treated with equality and the system would not collapse.  But, reality check, the oppressive hierarchy of our culture will continue to slot people on the ladder.  You are above so and so and below these others.  And we will play the game.  All the while the only thing this accomplishes is those higher on the ladder retain resources and distance is created between everyone

I see faith speaking life into these dead places of our culture.  Live connected to others, steward resources and work together.  Risk what you have to live into what could be.  Even reading that sounds so naïve.  Of course this won’t happen!!  So, why bother?

This is the spiral of thinking that drives me nuts (remember when I said I deal with anxiety, hives, etc…).  I don’t see any reconciliation between what could be and what is and that is a colossal failure. Especially in church institutions. Because I have the highest expectations for the one place that is supposed to be transcendent and live into the promises of eternity that Jesus spoke of.

So, in the midst of my philosophical, theological spiral, when I see glimpses of this alluded to wholeness happening, I am drawn to it like a moth to flame.  That takes me to the community I have seen developing around my Jiu Jitsu school.  I am not saying that Jiu Jitsu is the magic thing that will change the world. But there are masters, professors, teachers and coaches who do say that.  And the more I experience it as a way of life, the more I see validity in their thinking.

The mats are a place of expectation too.  You agree to do some things as you step on the mats.  You will wear the required uniform, you will practice what the instructors guide you in.  There is respect given to those who have gone before you and to those who are more accomplished.  But that respect is returned.  You are treated with respect because you have entered a culture of mutuality.  You bow to each other as a sign that I see you and acknowledge the sacrifice you are making right now to grow and develop and become a better version of yourself.  In my school, there are many different kinds of people.  Men and women practice together.  All different ethnicities, religions, ages, economic levels.  It is an incredibly diverse group, drawn together by individual motivations, but a corporate desire to grow and be the best version of self.  And when we are together, our instructors and coaches share with us the vision that Carlos Gracie, jr. had for Jiu Jitsu to be world wide and be an avenue of change.

I recently watched a podcast (Joe Rogan Experience #956) where director Guy Ritchie described why he loved Jiu Jitsu.  He could go to any city in the world where there was a school and enter with a sense of belonging.  And his celebrity was quickly brushed away when his skill and willingness to engage was displayed.  Radically different people could engage each other with mutuality and connect on levels that they could not find many other places in our world.

This is a glimpse of what I think God’s kingdom looks like.  Kingdom space will provide opportunity for people of all different backgrounds to come together to be the best versions of themselves.  People will be connected by the love that God has and the hope that our connections will draw up everyone into the circle of community that reflects the beauty of God’s creation. It is being included into something bigger out of life, and death than what we put into it.  I think that is a core human desire that our culture returns void on.

As a pastor, I wonder each day if this is really what the church is supposed to be like too!  A place where someone could walk in from any culture or place and feel welcomed with respect, but also with a certain level of hopeful expectation.  Enter with whole hearted welcome, but live up to, with great effort and commitment, what we are working so hard to accomplish in this world.

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Kingdom space – all are welcome!
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My church – Pennington Presbyterian. You are always welcome!

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