The Harper Avery

I have been catching back up on last season’s episodes of Grey’s Anatomy as I prepare for the upcoming season. While there were a number of interesting themes this past season, the idea of competition really jumped out at me in the last few episodes I watched.

In some ways, it began when Harper Avery himself was checked into Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital.  He’s the man behind the award which isgiven to prestigious surgeons who have done extraordinary things.
In episodes 6:16 – “Perfect Little Accident”, 6:17 – “Push” and 6:21 – “How Insensitive” there runs the idea that without competition, without a striving for greatness and collegial recognition surgeons will become lazy, fail to take risks, and medicine as a whole suffers.
Recently, there have been a number of articles written about the faith of young people. They talk about the need for parents to be more involved in the religious development of their kids, the commitment levels of teens, and ways for the church to be more welcoming.
But one tidbit of information caught my eye: If you want to reach the boys, and not just the girls—you have to make sure there is some friendly competition.
In my own experience, for our youth group, game nights are the most popular events for the guys. There is a sense of personal investment in the activity when there is a competition. It doesn’t matter if the prize is an ice cream treat or a break from doing the dishes—having an incentive makes all the difference in the world.
Friendly competition is healthy and exciting. Whether you yell, “last one to the top of the hill is a rotten egg,” or challenge a buddy to lose weight with you—having someone to encourage you, to push you, and to challenge you to succeed is important.
So, I wonder what the place is for competition in the life of our religious communities. Does God like competition?  Can it help us to be more faithful disciples?
I’m of two minds on this issue. There are those pesky verses in scripture that remind us the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
But I also think adults crave the chance to belong to a team, to work together, to push themselves to do better, as much as kids do. I think adults need that sense of accomplishment just as much as young people do.
I’ve been thinking about Romans 12 in this context.  For some reason, I remember verse 12:10 saying something about “outdoing one another in love.”  In my memory, it was always this urging to make love the most important thing, to honor and respect others, and to always push yourself to be more humble, more serving, more faithful than the next gal.  It felt like friendly competition to me.
But the New Living Translation says: Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
The Contemporary English Version translates the passage: Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.
The Message reads: Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

I found my memory jogged with the Wuest traslation : In the sphere of brotherly love have a family affection for one another, vying with one another in showing honor.

Either we are supposed to always put others first and let them win… or we are supposed to push one another in humility and honor… I’m still confused and my greek isn’t very good.  If I infer correctly, the second part of the verse: te time allelous proegoumenoi  – that last word really is telling us to take the lead in putting others first.  Be first in being last… that’s just as confusing as Jesus!

But really… that is the spirit of all of Romans 12. Don’t think of yourself highly, but realize you are a part of a team designed to be Christ’s body.  Figure out what you do well, and do it to the best of your ability. Be zealous, be joyful, give and love to everyone – no matter who they are.

This is our task to do together.  And if we need a little encouragement along the way, if we need a friendly little shove in the right direction – perhaps that is part of what it means to be a team player. Perhaps without that extra little oomphf, then we like the surgeons will become lazy, fail to take risks in the faith and the kingdom will suffer as a result.

In my church, I’m proposing, therefore, a challenge.

We are kicking off a mission project for Heifer International the day after the big Iowa/Iowa State football game… and I know how many die-hard fans we have for both of these great teams.
So, I’m encouraging my church to put that spirit of competition to work. I’m inviting them to come dressed in theirblack and red and gold on that Sunday… and to bring their change and dollar bills.  For the rest of the month, we are going to fill up jars for our favorite teams and at the beginning of October, which ever team has collected the most funds for Heifer International—the other group has to don the winning team colors at church.
We are encouraging one another to share with God’s people in need.  We are working to live in harmony with one another, but adding a little bit of spiritual fervor there, too.  And we’ll see just how far we can push one another through this challenge – we’ll see how deep people are willing to dig.  And just to up the ante a bit… I promised that if we were able to raise $2500 for Heifer International – I would dye my hair!

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