Brothers, We Are Not Competitors
Recently, my family took a trip to Disney World. The instant the plane landed, we were whisked into the whimsical world of woozy that is Disney: a faux-heaven where Mickey rules as omnipotent, omnipresent king over all. Immediately, you find that you’ve lost yourself. Your normally sound judgment is inundated with the sights, sounds, and aura of an alternate world. You see guys in Harley Davidson leather vests sporting felt ears on their head, with melted chocolate on their stashes from a $9 ice cream sandwich. You begin thinking things like, “I can’t believe this tie dye tank top is only $40! I would totally wear this to work!”
You lose sight of reality, and then the contests begin. Who knows all the words to Let it Go? I do! What’s the name of Simba’s best friend? That’s easy! I love Disney more. No, I do! Two days prior, on the flight to Orlando, you were discussing the immigration crisis. Now, you’re debating whether Sebastian is a lobster or a crab.
Families arrive wearing reunion shirts and matching smiles on their faces. But after four days of long lines, fast food, ungodly heat, and arguing over what to do next, they leave needing a vacation from each other. Disney promises to make your dreams come true, but what happens when my dream is to ride Space Mountain and my brother’s dream is to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at a different park? What happens when dreams collide?
I call this the Disney Effect. And, unfortunately, I’ve also seen it rear its ugly head in the most unlikely place: seminary.
For some, seminary is a sort of spiritual Disney World. We pay lots of money to stay at the seminary/park, in order to meet our favorite professors/characters, get their autographs, and win their affection. We demand to be educated/entertained while simultaneously being told how special we are, and that everyone’s sole purpose is to make our dream of being a pastor/princess come true. And, in-between the lectures/performances, we can visit the book store/gift shop for overpriced merchandise.
We may arrive with the ‘I love Jesus and want to mature in my understanding of God and pastoral ministry’ attitude, but then…the Disney Effect.
I’ve witnessed as many as thirty people line up after a lecture, with the hopes of speaking with professor X (this was a variable, not an X-Men reference; although, if Charles Xavier was to teach at a seminary, I would certainly audit his course). I’ve seen a father of three, whose family collects food stamps, shell out $120 for a fountain pen: a superior writing device that constantly leaks all over your hands and pockets. I’ve seen guys wearing three-piece suits with designer neck accouterment on 100º days because it’s Bow Tie Tuesday, Bro. And worst of all, I’ve seen brothers in Christ covet, malign, and boast over one another when someone else’s dreams collide with their own.
Brothers, we are not competitors.
Discussions with like-minded peers should be uplifting. Instead a majority of them feel like an arm wrestling match, where “I don’t know” is a flag of surrender. Everything is a contest. How many kids do you have? Have you read this book yet? How did you get that book review published? How many pushups can you do? To praise another is to diminish your own standing. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” I’m afraid what we’re hearing is, “The jobs are few, and that guy is going to take yours.”
Paul warns of a spiritual battle waging all around us, and I think the enemy’s army is attacking where we least expect it: the barracks.
Their calling may not be your calling
We sometimes feel crushed under a constant pressure to perform. Tragically, we put that pressure on ourselves, and our audience looks vaguely familiar in the mirror. We’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, but the things we covet most are immaterial. Every book they’ve read is another book I need to read. The fact that I couldn’t read εὐαγγέλιον and they could, meant that my church had failed me and I was the worst Christian ever.
Many refuse to accept the fact that they are not going to be the world’s foremost scholar in New Testament, Old Testament, Patristics, and Architecture. Maybe the reason they excel in a particular field where you struggle is because God is calling them to function in a different sphere of influence than you.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3, emphasis mine).
The church, not the Christian, constitutes the body of Christ. You can be all things to all people, but you can’t be all things and all people. Have sober judgments about your own capabilities and don’t compare your gifts (gift denotes something given to you) with the gifts assigned to another. Don’t be the Lebron James of your seminary. Yeah, I went there. Let the utility players do their part. Better yet, if you’re the utility player, you should stop grumbling and thank God that Lebron’s on your team and not on the other team, or you’ll end up like Miami.
Their success is not your failure
I know, we all want to be professor X’s (again, not an X-Men reference) grader/intern/research assistant, but that is impossible. To quote the honorable Abraham Lincoln, “Too many [in this case, squealing] piglets, not enough tits.” If you didn’t get the position and you’re just burning up inside about it, get in your car, drive to a gas station, go inside and ask the attendant if he knows who professor X is (make sure he knows you’re not talking about X-Men). He doesn’t. I already know this for a fact and I haven’t even met the guy. I say this to remind you that the thing you are coveting is the metaphorical equivalent of a tie dye tank top.
These should be some of the most formative and spiritually invigorating years of our lives. We shouldn’t spend them cutting others down in order to build ourselves up. Let us live out the principles of the book we love most by loving one another with brotherly affection, and outdoing one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10).
We came here to grow our minds and hearts, not our networks. I’m tired of playing the game of perpetual one-upmanship, because frankly I’m losing. I’m tired of treating classes as test cases to see how much I already know. I’m tired of fighting to make my name known at the expense of the only Name that matters. I’m ready to stop competing. I’m ready to lay down my sword of the flesh, and allow myself to be vulnerable in order to have heartfelt, God-honoring friendships with brothers and sisters that will, God willing, last a lifetime. Who’s with me?