"Parable of Portland"
Once upon a time, there was a United Methodist church in CT that was so close to NY that all of the local television channels were beamed out from the “big city”. And on a reasonably clear day, one could easily see the magnificent Manhattan skyline from the town beach. But while the residents readily and gratefully availed themselves of the many upsides of the upper East Side, they were not New Yorkers. Not no way, not no how!
I, on the other hand, having been born and raised on Long Island, considered myself to be a native New Yorker. And my sports allegiances have reflected that. I root for the Jets and Giants, the Knicks and Nets, the Rangers and Islanders. But mostly, I’m a Yankee fan.
Now, this posed a bit of a problem at this particular non-NY church I was appointed to serve, since more than a few of the flock were Red Sox fans (cross-cultural appointment?). In fact, my Boston-bred Lay Leader was so upset with his pastor’s email address being “27yankees…”, that he actually refused to send me stuff electronically.
Things got so acrimonious between the two sides during the ‘03 and ‘04 baseball seasons that it was taking its toll on my spiritual health and well-being. I finally decided to pray about it and God told me to just let it go (like an easy grounder through Bill Buckner’s legs). So I did.
At our church’s upcoming Creative Auction, I offered to sincerely and enthusiastically root for the Red Sox for the next season (min. bid $500). This was not easy to do, of course, but it would be good for my hardened heart and it would be good for the church’s anemic income budget.
In preparation for this transformation, I spent the entire pre-season pulling for players whom I had previously disrespected and disparaged. These leprous, adulterous, tax-collecting red-socked Samaritans were now unique and unrepeatable miracles of God. And if I loved God, I should love them too. Amen?
On the day of the auction, the Red Sox fans in my church all got together and pooled their money to make the minimum bid of $500. But the Yankee fans in my church were NOT going to lose to Boston again (see 2004), so they kept outbidding their foes until they finally prevailed (see 27 World Championships)!
Even though the winning bid was an astounding $800, the lesson I learned was priceless: I am a unique and unrepeatable miracle of God - just like everyone else.
I pray that this thought prevails in Portland, at the General Conference of the UMC.