Lessons from Coaching, Part Deux: Keeping Score

Almost daily here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, I draw strength from past experiences. Some of the best memories are with my children, particularly coaching their sports teams. Today's remembrance is again from my illustrious basketball coaching career at the Woodway Family Center. There was a rule in the younger leagues that we could not keep score. As my teams were usually pretty good, I complained about the rule being 'wimpy' and 'Un-American'. I never called it pure grace, which one season it truly was.

On a particular brutal Saturday, a parent approached me at half to make sure I was aware we were down by 8, which of course I knew. Trailing by 8 points at half when the players are 8-year-old boys is like losing by 40 at halftime in college. The situation was painfully obvious and the remark unnecessary and unappreciated. The second half was slightly worse.

On our way home after the game, I was not particularly pleased. As my son Walton had not taken a single shot the entire game, I decided to make this a teachable moment. I started the conversation with a simple question, "How many points did you score today?" His face turned serious, as he pondered this statistical query. Finally he answered, "6." Walton had played a decent game, and he loved it, not because of the score, but because it was a game. As far as he was concerned, he had scored enough, which was 6 more points that were on the scoreboard. He got it, while the coach had sadly missed it.

For most of my life religion has been about keeping score, as I've attempted to make my faith transactional. Sure, I was saved by grace, but if I did certain things: attend church, read my Bible, tithed, prayed; or if I believed certain things, God would do something for me. If not here on earth, certainly later I could barter my way into a heavenly reward--maybe a bigger mansion with a pool. I'm certainly not alone in the practice of transactional religion, I've seen it subtly preached and lived in countless Christian churches and even here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp.

Most western Christianity likes to take transactional Christianity even one step further with the doctrine of substitutional atonement. The doctrine says that for us to be "at one" (thus the word atonement) with God, a blood sacrifice was necessary to "pay" for our sins. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice was an animal. Some believe that in the New Testament the substitutional sacrifice was Jesus who "bought" our salvation with his crucifixion. That kind of lifeless transactional approach to salvation ignores the life of Christ which was based on relationships of love, giving, compassion. I believe Jesus came to show us that God doesn't want a transactional sacrifice. God's not selling anything; God is love. Salvation/Love is relational, so score keeping is not necessary.

I like Richard Rohr's explanation of this when he writes, "We all need to know that God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good. Nothing humans can do will ever decrease or increase God's eternal eagerness to love." Our egos like to know the score, and too often we let our egos limit God instead of letting God's infinite love expand our limits.