Friday, March 24, 2017

Thoughts About What the Reaction to Yordano Ventura's Death Says About the Needs of Kansas City

FYI: I've neglected my blog in recent months, so I'm posting some stuff I've sent out to my church during that time.  This explains why some of the links and topics are somewhat dated.  Here they are for the purposes of posterity.  This one was written on January 27, 2017.

Last Sunday, those of us who pay attention to the Royals--and let's face it that's pretty much everybody after they won the World Series--were shocked to learn of pitcher Yordano Ventura's death in a car accident.  Maybe it's a slow sports week, but I've been shocked at the outpouring of grief by Kansas Citians over Ventura's death.  I agree it's sad and worthy of mourning, but the cynical part of me has to wonder if the AM sports radio hosts who are bursting into tears would do so if the Chiefs were headed to the Super Bowl.  Also, how much is there to say about KU basketball's triumphs and Mizzou basketball's meltdown?  What else were they going to talk about this week?  Yet even the slow sports news cycle doesn't really explain the reaction I've seen all week in KC.

Ventura's death in a car accident really is tragic and it's just sad--he was only 25.  Yet, it wasn't as if he was the most beloved of the Royals players.  In fact, even his 100 MPH fastball wasn't enough to stop many fans from railing against his frequent fights, both verbal and physical, with opposing batters.  These weren't feisty stick-up-for-the-home-team fights but rather young, immature and pointless fights which sometimes cost the Royals wins.

But he was a part of the team that won the 2015 World Series and therefore he is something more than the sum of his parts.  After decades of waiting, the Royals were indeed champions once more.  I took my kids downtown for the parade along with hundreds of thousands of other folks from the KC area.  The parade was peaceful and positive.  It was a great moment for our city where everyone was dressed in Royals blue.  We were all together as a city.

I don't know about you, but I feel like I could use a feel good moment right about now.  I think Kansas City could too, and so could our country and maybe our world.  

I don't know anyone, no matter their political and/or religious stripe, who isn't struggling to maintain a relationship with someone with whom they vociferously disagree.  The weight of our culture's current fear and hostility is palpable.  The spew of political separation, nativism, isolationism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and every other kind of -ism and  phobia politicians can cause is pretty much non-stop over the last few weeks.  Throw that on top of whatever it is a person has to deal with--economic, health, employment, relational struggles--and it's enough to make you want to go pull the covers up over your head and sleep for a month.

I think Yordano Ventura's death is worth grieving, but I think the communal grief in our city is about more than one man's death.  In the same way people mourned Princess Diana's death or the deaths of Prince or David Bowie, we are mourning a loss of another time and place that seems, at least in retrospect, more peaceful and joyous.

Sports, celebrities, rock stars, etc. really don't matter that much, except they do.  We place meaning upon them, and our grief when they die says at least as much about us as it does them.

So what does a church called by God to live out God's healing love do in response to a hurting community, city, nation and world?

Last Saturday morning about 30 of us gathered together to talk about just that question.  Sure, we called it the un-inspiring name "strategic planning," but really we were asking the question: "What does our church do in response to a hurting world?"

When asked our shared values as a congregation, almost unanimously everyone said we are welcoming and accepting of others.  Yet, not too many other shared values were expressed.  I couldn't help but wonder, "So, we welcome and accept people--that's no small thing, but then what?  What comes next?  What more is there that we do--that we are?"

If the reaction to the death of a baseball player tells us anything, it tells us that there's a lot of hurt out there in Kansas City right now.  How is God calling us to respond?

Grace and Peace,


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