There was a time -- before Curt Flood -- when players stayed with their teams, and fans spoke of loyalty. Fans today, look back to those times and think of them as the golden age of professional sports. Of course, there was a reason why a player stayed with a team for their career -- they didn't have any control over their destiny. Owners could trade them, but they had no ability to determine their fate. Then Curt Flood came, challenging the rule, and that made it possible for LeBron, Dwayne, and Chris to determine their futures, much to the chagrin of Toronto and Cleveland, but to the joy of Miami.
I'm not a Clevelander, so I don't have a personal stake in LeBron (I sort of hoped he would stay), but I understood that he wants to be numbered among the greats and that requires a championship ring. Michael Jordan was a great player, but would we remember him as we do without the ring? So, along with his friends, he was able to complete a triad of greats that in theory should lead to that elusive ring.
As we contemplate this big event (which became bigger because LeBron wanted to make a spectacle of it (again, it's not surprising since he's still a very young man who has grown up being fawned upon by adoring fans and enabling friends), there is I think a lesson to be learned from all of this.
Are we not all like this? Pastors move along, hoping for a bigger prize, a bigger church, a larger salary, more glory. I'm reading Jason Byassee's The Gifts of the Small Church, which speaks to some of this tendency. Where is the loyalty, we should ask? (Oh, and I left a smaller church for a somewhat bigger one, and I have my reasons for doing so!) And we leave smaller churches for larger ones, maybe because they have more programs or better music. If you talk to older members of smaller churches, you will often discover that their children go to the mega churches -- but then I did that too (in a small town sort of way in HS). I often hear people say the reason that they moved to a megachurch is that they weren't being fed in that smaller church. I'm not totally sure what that means, especially in a culture that tends to overeat in the physical realm, do we not "overeat" spiritually?
So, where is the loyalty? Where is the covenant? In marriage ceremonies we pledge ourselves "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer," and we mean it when we say it, but often life steps in the way. (As I write this, I can say that as of this day Cheryl and I have now been married 27 years!) The same is true of our relationships as church. We are, after all, in this nation a people that live under the premise that religion is a voluntary thing. We get to choose who we worship (or not worship), when we worship, and within reason (zoning laws) where to worship.
So what is the nature of the relationship. The Disciples, the tradition that I have chosen to embrace (I was born Episcopalian, but ended up choosing to be a Disciple), speaks of covenant relationship. Our relationship as congregations with entities outside the congregation, whether regional or "general" (essentially national, except that we have churches in Canada that are part of the denomination), and even ecumenical. It is a mutual commitment to live together as the body of Christ. Theologically, we understand that this covenant begins in God's decision to covenant with us, a covenant that God invites us to share in as communities of faith. But, there is no contract, no legal stipulations that can be upheld. You choose to join, and its pretty hard to get kicked out.
So, what lesson might learn as church from the LeBron James affair?