Honestly? I wanted to skip a week.
I mean, I’ve got no skin in the game anymore. My Seahawks lost last week and are no longer in the football playoffs. Couldn’t even wear my 12th man jersey to church today. So I guess I could be a Green Bay cheese head.
But that’s football. In the playoffs, it’s one and done. There are winners and there are losers.
And the losers, they go home.
Or stare at the leftover guacamole and warm beer on the coffee table and try and remember the stages of grief. Either way, somebody feels powerless. And marginalized. And on the outside, looking in.
So, do we despair? Or at least throw things at the wall?
Or. Do we get up again?
At some point we have to know that the game is bigger than just winners, and just losers.
But, we’re not talking about football anymore, are we?
I’m thinking out loud here. I’ll open some wine. Please come join me in the garden, and let me tell you a story…
This week I watched Queen of Katwe. On a plane. Needing to be entertained for the long flight, instead I was invited to show up in my own life. This life. And lead with my ideals and my whole heart. Go figure.
Queen of Katwe is the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a junior chess champion from an exceptionally poor neighborhood in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. We see not only African poverty, but of the patterns—the scripts—that reinforce hopelessness and despair. We see those on the outside, looking in.
We find nine-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) living with her widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) and two younger siblings. (A fourth, her eldest sister Night, has taken up with an older man against their mother’s wishes.) Phiona is illiterate, having dropped out of school to hawk vegetables on the street. One day, she sees a game being played on a board with strange pieces. Her curiosity takes her to a local church where missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) has set up a chess club. Phiona proves not only curious, but prodigiously good.
The students called Robert, Coach. Coach sought competition opportunities for his students, but the private schools were unequivocal, “no slum dwellers allowed.” Yes, some say there are winners. And there are losers.
Coach’s persistence wins out. (“You have a lot of no’s,” he tells the headmaster, “We’ll have to find a yes in there somewhere.”) And the students (who have never been outside of their shantytown), find themselves at a tournament held in a private school for other elite schools.
It is no surprise then that this group of young boys and girls, out of place and out of sorts, a bundle of anxiety, wonder if they even belong. They are sure they do not. Why? Because their internal script tells them so.
Their script tells them that hope and success is for people not from places scorned. (In another scene, Phiona is incredulous learning her Coach’s story, saying, “Coach, I think you didn’t come from here.”)
Now we’re talking. Because you don’t need to be from the “slums” to know this feeling. We all know the feeling of not belonging. On the outside looking in.
Here’s my take: When we are beholden to a narrative that defeats us, (whatever disparages or belittles or shames), we are afraid. And when we live afraid, the script shackles us. We live defensive and angry. So we don’t recognize that we have power inside to say how the story moves forward. (Not what. Because circumstances do happen. But we can say how. And sometimes we need the reminder.)
In the school before the tournament, Coach sees their anxiety, and tells them this story…
The other day in the streets of Kampala, I saw a skinny hungry dog chasing a cat. He chased and chased and chased. Finally, no luck, and the skinny dog collapses from exhaustion. I asked the skinny dog why he stopped chasing. He told me, Because, I was only running for a meal. The cat was running for its life.
The story we carry inside will determine our resolve.
Are you going to write about the inauguration? A few SM readers have asked.
No, I said. But I will write about what is real and what is next. And here’s what hits me: Too many people are disheartened by the political rancor of our time. Too many feel alone or afraid or anxious. Too many communities are split. Too many people feel on the outside looking in. In the Sabbath Moment community there are many who found jubilation and hope in the marches. And I’m glad to live in a world where that is possible. There are others who did not march, and who wondered about all the fuss. So, where do we go?
On her first day at the church, Phiona sits at a chessboard and a young girl (maybe 6) explains the game. “See these pieces. Here’s how they move. Now use your mind, make your plan, and you will all find safe squares.”
I see two lessons here… this is the story I want to carry…
First lesson: It takes courage to create safe places.
Where there is disquiet and uncertainty, we need safe squares. Places to be real. Place to disagree without vitriol. Places to step up and lead with our whole heart.
I can promise you that I will not sit still. I will choose to create sanctuaries where we can care for one another. Care for the marginalized and the vulnerable, those who are powerless and have been abused, those at the mercy of pain, and those on the outside looking in. This we all have in common: at some point in our life we speak from pain or sorrow or disappointment or regret or nakedness.
Pope Francis wrote that he prayed that Mr. Trump’s decisions as President would be “guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide.”
“Under your leadership,” the pope continued, “may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.”
“Because fear,” Francis said in an earlier speech, “makes us cruel.”
Second lesson: The script we carry does not get to say how the story ends.
That’s why I love Phiona’s story of courage and redemption. Story that transforms pain into gifts. Now we can be unapologetic that we are in the business of healing wounded hearts. (I might even put it on my business card.)
When feeling insecure about her chess power, Coach told Phiona, “You are a grandmaster. Sometimes the place you are used to, is not the place you belong.” It is time for a new script… This is not just optimism or pretending. But drawing on internal reserve and fortitude.
I want to live in the land of the merciful and the kind. And I need to be reminded that I can still give each one of those things to those around me.
So I will write Sabbath Moment every week. For my own sanity.
I will fight for sanctuary for the broken and the lonely.
I choose to be a voice for compassion and mercy and second chances and healing and hope and grace and sanctuary and inclusiveness and restoration and kindness and bigheartedness.
I will remind us that…
We’re planting today in the garden. In the rain. We can’t complain as weather has taken a toll in parts of our country, and our prayers are with families there.
In the garden here, it’s time to take up the Bearded Iris bed, thin it out and replant. They will be resplendent in May. I love early garden season (or as it’s better known, ibuprofen season). Because every ache and pain comes with a very big smile and a very glad heart.
Note: The movie is based on a book by Tim Crothers, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated
Quotes for your week…
At any given moment, we have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Victor Frankl (Auschwitz Survivor, author Man’s Search for Meaning)
POEMS AND PRAYERS
For The Children
The rising hills, the slopes,
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
St. Francis of Assisi