The summer swim team that occupied so much of my time the past two months came to a spectacular conclusion last week. Our trio of new young coaches had big ambitions for the team, a mission they approached with determination and purpose, along with personal warmth, playfulness and humor. Despite their assignments of higher yardage than ever before in practice, these young men won the swimmers’ affection and loyalty. The hard work paid off at championships as the team moved up to 3rd place in the league; even more satisfying, every single swimmer swam lifetime bests. So exciting!!
As a tribute to the coaches, a team mom asked the swimmers to write down something they wished to thank them for, which she then consolidated into a poem of sorts that was read aloud at the team banquet by some younger swimmers. It was quite striking what swimmers of all ages expressed gratitude for: Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for believing I could do it even when I didn’t. Thank you for teaching me how to do butterfly. Thanks for encouraging me when I was tired. In other words, Thank you for expecting something of me and then being there to help me accomplish it.
Out of the blue, a surprising thought surfaced – Is this how God wants to relate to us? Is God pacing the pool deck of our lives, fists in the air, shouting “Yes!!” when we believe and do, or “Race!!!” when we’re ready to give up? In the context of both church and society, it’s easy to succumb to inadequacy and fear. The image of God as a relentless, dedicated, caring coach who motivates the weary athlete closely mirrors Jesus inviting Peter to walk on the water, or the disciples’ Pentecost experience.
I’ve now become attuned to examples of an exuberant, upbeat image of God. The newest issue of Sojourners magazine profiles a FL-based Christian group called ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) whose underlying vision for combating hunger sustainably around the globe is the belief that creation is meant to be abundant. Their specific focus is training and resources for small farmers to grow food in difficult conditions, such as poor urban neighborhoods. Rooftop gardens using recycled items like old tires and kiddie pools are one strategy they are testing extensively in their demonstration farm, where they also conduct research on what plants thrive best in different climate zones, so that farmers may maximize their nutritional and production output. Their knowledge base is accessible to people all over the globe. If someone in Africa has a question about what will grow in Uganda, it can be posed to an ECHO expert via their Web site. The prompt response may include an offer of free seeds along with referrals to documents available for download.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson states in her book She Who Is that the language and images that we use to envision God affect almost everything about how we live and understand our religion. What might be accomplished if we felt God constantly nearby, pushing us loudly with love and encouragement to realize the kingdom here and now?