photo by dlkinney
photo by dlkinney

Perhaps you have seen the new series on Netflix called “The Queen’s Gambit.” That show brings back a lot of memories for me. More than two decades ago, I was a high school student, and one of my favorite extra-curricular activities was to play chess with our school’s chess club. We stayed after school one day each week to play, practice, study, sharpen our skills, and have a good time. Our practices were in preparation for weekend tournaments which were scattered throughout the school year.

Most of these tournaments were Saturday events. We would arrive at a school or convention center – local to us, across the state, or in another state – in the morning for registration. We then would play five games, each lasting up to ninety minutes. Then, at the very end, the tournament results would be announced, and trophies would be given to the top several players and teams. Everyone would celebrate a job well done, and we all would go home.

I was on a good team, and I was a pretty decent player. So we expected to win. At each tournament, our team expected to come home with a team trophy. We would easily finish in the top ten, but maybe we could place in the top five, or even win the whole tournament. Individually, I usually finished at least in the top 20. If I had a pretty good day, I would finish in the top 10. Finishing in the top 5 meant I had played really well that day – winning four out of my five matches and only losing once, maybe winning four games and drawing (tying) the fifth, maybe even winning all five.

We won a lot. We won the state team championship in my junior year. We were the sixth place team in the nation that same year. I brought home lots of trophies from smaller tournaments: second place here, ninth place there, fifth place here, seventh place there.

But I don’t want to write about winning today.

I want to write about losing.

I had a couple of bad days in my chess tournament career. Really bad days. Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before, or maybe I just wasn’t mentally focused. In one tournament, out of five games, I went 1-3-1 – winning only one game, losing three, and drawing one. Needless to say, I didn’t bring home a trophy that day.

But the one day of losing that really stands out in my memory comes from my senior year in high school, twenty-three years ago this winter: the eleventh annual Lexington Winter Scholastic, in Kentucky, about four hours away from home. For some reason, my mom and I drove separately from the one teammate of mine who played in that tournament too. That was unusual because my parents rarely came to my tournaments. (I don’t blame them! What parent wants to sit in a high school cafeteria all day on a Saturday?)

In the five rounds of that tournament, I won three games and lost two.

My first loss came to a guy named Gabriel Popkin, who ended up winning the whole tournament. I lost to him in the third round, which didn’t bother me too much.

But then, in the fifth and final round, I faced his younger brother, Alexander Popkin. This kid was much younger – I think he was in middle school. His chess rating (a numeric measure of a player’s skill) was much lower than Gabriel’s, and much lower than mine. I fully expected to beat him and finish the day with four wins and the one loss.

Alexander wiped the floor with me. The game wasn’t even close. He won easily. And I still remember him sitting across the board from me, smirking at me, as if he were thinking, “My brother beat you, and now I’m beating you. You’re not that great!”

I lost badly. Not just on the chessboard – in real life, too. I left the gymnasium and started crying furious, angry tears because I had been so humiliated. My mother tried to console me. I remember another lady, a stranger, probably some other player’s mom, saying to me that it was honorable just to compete and participate in the tournament. I remember crying and shouting, “there’s no honor in this!”

I made quite a spectacle, I’m sure.

I was so upset that I asked my mom if we could leave right away. I didn’t want to be there any longer. I didn’t want to wait for the trophy presentation. I just wanted to go home.

So we left.

courtesy of uschess.org
courtesy of uschess.org

The next week, back at school, I found out from my teammate (who won four games and finished third) that I, with my three wins, finished ninth out of 37 players. The tiebreak system put me at the top of the list of players with three wins, because my two losses were against players who finished first and sixth.

I finished in ninth place. They awarded trophies to the top ten players. When they called my name, I wasn’t there. I was already on the road back home.

I was such a bad loser. To this day I don’t know exactly why losing to Alexander Popkin sent me over the edge, but it did. (It’s quite possible that I was exhibiting some early struggles with anxiety, which became a bigger issue for me in the next several years. Thankfully, through therapy and medication, I don’t have these kinds of outbursts any longer!)

I learned several important lessons about losing that day:

  • Losing badly can overshadow any wins and any positive recognition by others.
  • People notice when someone loses badly. (My mom, the other parents, the other players, my teammate…)
  • Perception does not always correspond to reality. (I thought I did poorly; I actually finished ninth.)
  • Losing is part of life.
  • No one can win all the time.
  • Running away doesn’t change the results.
  • Losing tells us more about ourselves than winning does.

What can you learn about yourself through your experiences with losing? What can you learn about others by how they lose?

Scripture and Prayer on Monday, January 11, 2021

Pastor David reads Ephesians 1:1-14 and offers a prayer from the fifth century:

Bless all who worship you,
From the rising of the sun
Unto the going down of the same.
Of your goodness, give us;
With your love, inspire us;
By your spirit, guide us;
By your power, protect us;
In your mercy, receive us,
Now and always.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Monday, January 11, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Friday, January 8, 2021

Pastor David reads Revelation 2:8-17 and offers a prayer, a poem, from Winfred Ernest Garrison:

Thy sea, O God, so great,
My boat so small.
It cannot be that any happy fate
Will me befall
Save as Thy goodness opens paths for me
Through the consuming vastness of the sea.
Thy winds, O God, so strong,
So slight my sail.
How could I curb and bit them on the long
And saltry trail,
Unless Thy love were mightier than the wrath
Of all the tempests that beset my path?
Thy world, O God, so fierce,
And I so frail.
Yet, though its arrows threaten oft to pierce
My fragile mail,
Cities of refuge rise where dangers cease,
Sweet silences abound, and all is peace.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Friday, January 8, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Pastor David reads Matthew 12:14-21 and offers a prayer from Sir Christopher Yelverton:

Almighty God, by whom alone kings reign and princes decree justice and from whom alone comes all wisdom and understanding: we your unworthy servants, here gathered together in your name, do most humbly ask you to send down your heavenly wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having your fear always before our eyes and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be the glory of your blessed name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the safety, honor, and happiness of the sovereign, the public welfare, peace and tranquility of the realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same in true Christian love and charity towards one another; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Tuesady, January 5, 2021

Pastor David reads Joshua 1:1-9 and offers a prayer from Anselm:

O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire you with a whole heart, so that desiring you we may seek you and find you; and so finding you, may love you; and loving you, may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Tuesday, January 5, 2021

2020 was an apocalyptic year

When you hear the word “apocalypse,” you might think of the phrase “the end of the world.” Armageddon. The return of Jesus. Judgment Day.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

“Apocalypse” means an “unveiling.” It means revealing something that has been hidden. Think of the Wizard of Oz – not the big, scary projection on the wall that Dorothy and her friends saw, but the man behind the curtain, who stayed hidden until Toto pulled back that curtain. Once the Wizard of Oz was revealed, the truth was known, and everything changed.

That’s what I mean when I say 2020 was an apocalyptic year. The curtain was pulled back, in so many ways. Now we can see what is really going on, what is really important to us, and what we really believe, if we choose to look at ourselves carefully and honestly.

Let me summarize three topics from the past year. Our responses to these topics are particularly revealing.

  1. The Pandemic

Is covid-19 a serious disease, or is it just a bad flu? Do you believe the numbers of deaths and infections, or not? Should we wear masks around others, or not? Should we be allowed to gather in large groups, or not? Are politicians trying to take away our rights, or are they working in the best interest of everyone? Should churches be treated differently than other organizations where people gather? Are you planning to get vaccinated or not? What should be done about the financial hardship facing so many people?

Each of these questions is revealing in its own way. Each of us responds to these questions differently. What has become clear in the past year is not so much that there is a pandemic in the world (certainly there is!), but that you and I have motivations, beliefs, perspectives, and desires which may be vastly different.

  1. The Election

Was November’s presidential election fair? Was there massive voter fraud in several key states? Do you trust our nation’s electoral process? Who do you believe won the election? Who, if anyone, do you believe is trying to steal the election? How do you feel about or make sense of President Trump’s continued efforts to stay in office? What do you hope will happen between now and January 20? What do you hope will happen after that?

These are revealing questions, too. Our responses to these questions say more about our motivations, beliefs, perspectives, and desires than they say about the election itself. This entire election season has been apocalyptic – revealing – about what motivates us, our neighbors, and our elected officials.

  1. The Racial Unrest

Why did George Floyd die? Why did Breonna Taylor die? Why did Ahmaud Arbery die? Is there corruption among police officers? Do Black Lives Matter? Should NFL players be allowed to kneel during the national anthem? How do you respond to this summer’s marches, protests, and riots? What books have you read about racism in America? Does our country have an ongoing problem with racial injustice?

Like the previous questions, these are revealing as well. How we respond to them (and even which questions we think to ask) says a lot about what is important to us. Once again, what has become clear in 2020 is not so much that there is racial unrest in our country, but that our perceptions of reality significantly influence how we engage with this issue.

2020 was an apocalyptic year. So much has been revealed about what we believe, what we value, what we hold most dear. The curtain has been pulled back.

Let me make an analogy to that climactic scene of the Wizard of Oz, where Toto pulls back the curtain, and Dorothy and her friends discover who the Wizard of Oz really is. In this analogy, you and I are NOT Dorothy and her friends. You and I are the Wizard of Oz. We might portray a bold, confident, perhaps frightening image for other people to see. But the pandemic, the election, the racial unrest – important parts of 2020 (Toto in this analogy) – have pulled back the curtain to reveal who we really are.

Our choice now involves how we decide to move forward. Are we willing to acknowledge the reality of the situation, admit what we really believe, and let go of whatever false images of power and confidence we have portrayed to others? Are we willing to acknowledge our shortcomings and listen humbly to the needs of others? Are we willing to use our abilities, resources, and voices to help others whom we encounter?

That’s what the Wizard of Oz did. And that’s what made him wise.

 

Scripture and Prayer on Monday, January 4, 2021

Pastor David reads Exodus 3:1-12 and offers a prayer based on a saying from Sir Francis Drake:

O Lord God, when you give to your servants to endeavor any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same to the end, until it is thoroughly finished, which yields the true glory; through him who for the finishing of your work laid down his life: our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Monday, January 4, 2021

Scripture and Prayer on Friday, January 1, 2021

Pastor David reads Psalm 103 and offers a prayer from Vinita Hampton Wright:

God of all time, help us enter the New Year quietly,
thoughtful of who we are to ourselves and to others,
mindful that our steps make an impact
and our words carry power.
May we walk gently.
May we speak only after we have listened well.
Creator of all life,
help us enter the New Year reverently,
aware that you have endowed
every creature and plant, every person and habitat
with beauty and purpose.
May we regard the world with tenderness.
May we honor rather than destroy.
Lover of all souls,
help us enter the New Year joyfully,
willing to laugh and dance and dream,
remembering our many gifts with thanks
and looking forward to blessings yet to come.
May we welcome your lavish love.
In this new year, may the grace and peace of Christ bless us now and in the days ahead.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Thursday, December 31, 2020

Scripture and Prayer on Thursday, December 31, 2020

Pastor David reads Psalm 46 and offers a Covenant Prayer from John Wesley:

Lord, I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing,
put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by you
or laid aside by you,

enabled for you
or brought low by you.

Let me be full,
let me be empty.

Let me have all things,
let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Posted by Mt. Haley Church of God on Thursday, December 31, 2020