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The Art of the Jump Shot: what’s God got to do with it?

We kinesthetics do a lot by feel.

We move in the space to “see” how big it is. We step outside to test whether we need a jacket today. When asked how long the table is, we spread our arms to demonstrate the size. How heavy is it? Oh, about like picking up _______ (something we have lifted before). No quantities for us. Our measure of a quality is its physical comparison with a previous interaction. We have this knowledge stored as a physical sensation. It is a memory retrieved from the body we bring.

So it just makes sense then that when it comes to deciding whether to put our faith in something or someone, we scan our physical recollection concerning this one or this thing. How does it “feel” to us? What do our “Spidey senses” tell us? Trust or distrust? Like or dislike? Engage or disengage?

Yep, Spidey senses aren’t just for comic book characters; they are for our character. We begin developing an internal sense of our outer world from the day we’re born. The more we interact with it — touch it, try it, and test it — the better sense of it we have. Not just by sampling, mind you, but by diligently applying ourselves to experience how things work and how we work with them. Not just with our minds but with our whole bodies.

Since it’s Final Four season and we’re feeling inspired, let’s work on our jump shot. Here is our process:

  1. Aim at the basket
  2. set the ball in our hands
  3. gauge distance and force required
  4. jump and shoot
  5. miss to the right.
  6. (retrieve the ball)
  7. Re-aim at the basket (with direction correction)
  8. Re-set the ball in our hands
  9. Re-gauge distance and force, if necessary
  10. jump and shoot again. (repeat)

Each time we shoot, the ball’s path provides feedback about our efforts, and the basket tells us whether they have been successful. Each miss gives us opportunity for correction. Each make gives us positive reinforcement. Our objective with practice is to bring our shot closer to our target until we make every shot. A natural by-product of our practice is a closer connection to our body’s physical sensation. We develop better feel. We become a better shooter.

But only if we have a target. Simply tossing a ball any which way against a backboard may provide ample exercise but it won’t improve our technique or our shooting percentage. To develop a “feel” we need an object of our effort and a measured intention. We need a goal and a reason to strive toward it.

No wonder the apostle Paul declared, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14) 

If this is a random running, we have little hope of success. We may put in a valiant effort, sweating hard with heaving chest and gasping breath, but effort for effort’s sake doesn’t win us the prize. We need to be focused on our target, the specific goal set before us. It is in the shooting, missing, correcting our aim and shooting again that we draw closer.

We kinesthetics do this, like we do most things, by feel. It’s how we’re made. But the process is part of all of us. Thank goodness, God is patient.

The curious thing is, if I really want to be my very best, solo practice won’t do it: I need an opponent. The one who wants to deny me actually makes me into the best player I can be — the one who can take it confidently to the hoop, no matter the score, the shot clock or the game situation.

What if we considered everyone and everything that stands between us and our goal God’s gift of perfecting us?

Thank you, Bennett, For the Way You Played the Game

There’s nothing quite like playing a game with a kid. Pull out the equipment, explain the rules and you’re off!

When they’re small, you may need to correct them, re-route them, or help them a bit. As they grow, you may show them a few tricks and, every now and then, have to caution them when they get too rough or bend the rules in their favor. But somewhere along the way, if you’ve played your cards right, they start teaching you new ways to play the game. That’s when the game becomes theirs.

Two years ago our church experienced a terrible tragedy in the death of  14 year old Bennett Rill. Two weeks ago we christened a basketball court in his memory. Of course, you don’t christen a basketball court with a bottle of champagne, you cut the ribbons and play 3 on 3, as hard as you can, then shake hands, and go have some refreshments.

IMG_9008A bunch of us sat on the hillside to watch and cheer the competitors. Benny t-shirts were everywhere. Derick, Bennett’s Dad, was working the crowd, shaking hands and slapping high fives while Mom Carolyn was receiving congratulations and thanks for a day of community basketball that was truly a celebration of their son.

I’m wondering how this family does it. They have experienced something no one should ever have to go through, and they’re honest about how it’s going. “Bennett is still gone and our pain remains as sharp as ever,” Derick offered in his opening remarks.

Each day is hard and it isn’t getting any easier. They’re not pretending otherwise. Thank God! This family is living their mourning among us in order to help us all deal with this loss. Most especially the young friends of Bennett’s as well as his teachers, neighbors, and teammates.

The Rills, in their great compassion, have created a living, working, playing place where they can gather and remember Bennett in the way he would have wanted. playing ballBy playing the game he so loved, in the way he loved to play it — as hard as you can until you’re completely spent and then go have a cold drink and remember the three-pointers you drained, and the lay-ups you can’t believe you missed.

The court was built with some of the funds donated to the Bennett Rill Memorial Fund for Student Ministries, the rest of which will support 6th – 12th graders at Floris to bring in speakers, sponsor events, send them on trips, and support them in mission work. But the court speaks fellowship. It beckons kids of all ages to come play on it, come enjoy each other’s company, and come get to know why it was built in the shadow of a church.

That’s the thing about a game. It invites you to play.

Bennett courtThis court, with the number “21” painted in the far corner, memorializing Bennett’s favorite spot to shoot three-pointers, isn’t a sad place to remember loss, it’s forever game day, to remember victory and a remarkable young man who left us way, way too soon. But not before he showed us his love for God, family and friends and his fearlessness to share that. He was the “real deal.”

cutting the ribbonAs I watch Derick and Colin cut the ribbons that bar the entry to that court and welcome it’s first “official” competitors to the championship game with high fives all around, there’s no sadness on any face, just pure delight. They’re here to play “Holy Hoops,” as Derick would say. He has opened the gate.open the gate

The Rill family hopes that court will get lots of use in the days to come and become a place for kids to congregate, get to know each other and themselves better. They’ll play some games of “H-O-R-S-E,” which on this court is re-named, “J-E-S-U-S,” and in the process they’ll come to know Him in fun, fellowship and the spirit of competition.

I can just imagine Bennett, who’s spirit is surely more alive here than ever, asking his buddies if they want to come shoot some hoops over at his house and giving them the church address to meet up. Bennett would probably greet them in the parking lot, usher them down the hill to this treasure of a court and then beat them with a shot from “his” 21-spot at the imaginary buzzer.

After they’d exchanged high fives, Bennett would smile and wait for the inevitable question. “So, Benny, where’s your house?”

“Right there,” he’d say. “That’s my Father’s house. Wanna come in for a drink?”

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love
endures forever;
his faithfulness continues
through all generations.
~ Psalm 100: 4-5

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way!

Have you seen this?!! Paul Pierce’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer wins it for the Wizards. https://youtu.be/oDg3cuFF4k4

But who is that fan who runs out into the celebratory huddle? OMG -I know him! That’s Will Smith. He even made the Washington Post.

Will is the son of upstanding members of our church community. I know because I had Will in a Confirmation small group I facilitated a few years back. He’s a good boy. Well-mannered, always participated, never gave me any trouble, except what you’d expect when you get a dozen 13 year old boys together in church class and a bit of youthful energy gets the best of them.

Now he’s a college freshman, newly home from school, and he was lucky enough to get floor seats for that post season game. But what in the world was he thinking running out onto the court like that?

“Well, we (he and two buddies from high school) had floor seats on the baseline,” he told me by phone. “When I saw the shot go in, I didn’t hesitate. Five seconds later, I’m in the pile…”

Until he got shoved out of the way by the ESPN photographer. That seems to have brought Will to his senses. He suddenly realizes where he is and what he’s done and slinks off, security guard in tow, hoping no one else has noticed. Except thousands of people did, and now have contacted him about his fifteen seconds of fame.

“Seeing the replay,” he tells me, “I realized the audacity of what I did.”

What made him do it? He’s not sure. Will calls himself ‘outgoing’ and ‘maybe a bit impulsive’. Well, I’ll say! The kid’s got spunk. Let’s call it passion. He’s been a Wizard’s fan “forever,” his mom tells me. They’re his team. It’s only natural; the moment Will saw that shot go in, he was on his feet and celebrating with his teammates.

You just have to love that about youth. They don’t always consult their brain before they act on their emotions, and sometimes it lands them in some pretty crazy places…like center court at the Verizon center.

Honestly, I love it! It reminds me of Peter, yeah that Peter. Not when he refused a foot washing, or when he denied Jesus three times, but when, seeing the Lord on the shore, he “wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.” ( John 21:7) Heart over head moment: swim for it!!

The Lord was not mistaken when he named Simon Peter and declared, “On this rock I will build my church.” That Peter was an outspoken and ardent disciple of Christ. But that’s how love and devotion act. How impulsive!

I confess a bit of envy at the nerve of my young friend Will. As I get older I find myself thinking long and hard before taking action. I consider the consequences, weigh the costs and benefits, and am too often guilty of staying put and applauding politely for my team in victory. Deep down, I wish I had a bit more Will, or a bit more Peter, in me: more teammate, less spectator.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, Pierce’s 3-pointer didn’t beat the buzzer in game 6. They needed you, Will Smith. We all need you. Every team needs a passion like that.

St. Peter would be bursting his buttons, if he had any…

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