"No, Matt, no."
Maybe the only word-for-word sentence I remember from my senior year of high school.
I've forgotten faces, experiences, and a whole other host of memories from my teenage years. And most of what I do remember is polished with the comforting rag of nostalgia.
But I clearly remember this one sentence, and who said it. At the time, I didn't understand fully why he said it, but I do now...
"No, Matt, no."
My senior soccer season was unique not just because it was my last, but because it was my first one playing as a christian. The previous summer had been a huge turnaround for me spiritually and I'd roared into that senior season, eager to play the game I loved, and zealous to evangelize my teammates.
Brent Wood, my life-long friend through rec and school soccer, was one of our team captains, and a vital inspiration for me in learning to live out my faith. We led a bible study for the players throughout the season, and spent many hours together praying and discussing the power of the Scriptures.
Unfortunately, we played soccer for a high school known for its football team. We always finished last in our division, but each season we had a few games with the smaller, local schools as well, and that's where we earned a couple wins and some morsels of self-respect.
"No, Matt, no."
The day I heard those words, we were playing one of the few cream puffs on our schedule, a local high school in Waynesboro, PA. Except this year, they had put together a winning season and had a star player with some real skill. I don't remember his name, but I remember him being the kind of good player that unless he played on your team, you pretty much hated him. Part cocky and part talent, with a generous mix of dirty play, I imagine even the hometown fans, if they were really honest, would confess they had a hard time liking the kid...
We played in their stadium and the game was not going well. As the heavy favorites, we struggled to create chances and the home crowd surged with underdog momentum. Their star player played well...and played cheap and rough, and got away with most of it.
Sometime in the second half, they scored, and our team shifted from frustrated to desperate.
As for me, I was angry and embarrassed. Before the game, I'd had a vision of what the match would be like...their star player would dazzle a bit, but our clear talent advantage would win out. Yet my glorious dream didn't match the cold reality that they were beating us. We shouldn't be losing to these "scrubs!"
I began returning their rough play exponentially: slide tackling recklessly, and often leaving my position to try and get a few licks in on their star player, who in my well-honed sense of Athletic Justice, deserved every shin-shattering tackle he received.
The game drew to a close, and my memories are hazy at points, but I think they scored a second goal late and put the match out of reach. Realizing this, I decided to settle on trying to deliver my version of neglected comeuppance to their arrogant captain, rather than seeking a dramatic comeback win.
But then their coach did something that defeated my imagined scenario for a second time that day: he subbed out their star player to the roar of the home crowd. He wasn't an idiot, he knew what was happening on the field.
My already agitated state escalated from Angry to Enraged. Red-faced, with neck veins popping, I yelled at their coach...
"PUT HIM BACK IN! COME ON! PUT HIM BACK OUT HERE!"
And that's when I heard the words, "No, Matt, no."
I turned and Brent Wood stood in the middle of the field, shoulders slumped, face pleading with me.
His words, instead of reminding me about playing the beautiful game of soccer, just heightened my anger, embarrassment, and shame. So, instead of backing off, I doubled down on my warped sense of Justice and Rightness. I yelled at Brent, too.
"I DON'T CARE! HE'S A DIRTY JERK, PUT HIM BACK IN HERE!"
And in the tsunami of my temper, Brent said it again, a little softer, tears in his eyes, hands held up imploring me to calm down...
"No, Matt, no."
The combo of sports and my anger have spawned a million Take-Back moments in my life. Times I wish I would've calmed down, or shut up, or asked a coach to remove me from the game. But this one ranks in the top few...
Because in this one, there was somebody actually speaking truth to me. And he did it twice. Someone who cared deeply about the game of soccer, but cared even more deeply about the Kingdom of Christ.
Yes, friends, this is where the blog turns from sports story to spiritual relevance.
I think most of us agree that there's been severe damage to the public witness of the Kingdom of Christ this political year, and the damage has been done by Christians of all backgrounds, denominations, and spots on the spectrum. We've ignored James 1:19 and we've been quick to be angry, quick to speak...quick to be cynical jerks, quick to post antagonistic things...quick to judge things by reading headlines and not the articles, quick to paint entire people groups with broad brushes and in unflattering colors...and we've been super slow to listen...and super slow to do the main thing we've been commanded to do "politically" and that's pray for our leaders.
I confess all of the above, and especially that last one. Real intercession done from a place of compassion and hope has been a spiritually endangered species for me this year.
I hope we can all pause at this point, and do a bit of repenting that leads to change. But I feel compelled to press on with another observation from my ancient athletic failures...
It wasn't elitist of Brent to look at me, broken at my attitude, and utter the words, "No, Matt, no..."
It was the right thing to say...it transcended soccer and sprung from a place of perspective, understanding and wisdom...but at the time:
I couldn't hear his words because of my own anger, self-justification, and passionate defensiveness...which in hindsight I realize was born from a hidden shame and frustration that he was right. He. Was. Right.
Friends...there are things that are of Christ and not of Christ...
Matt Orth wanting to make things right by force and violence was not the way of Christ.
Matt Orth acting in anger and revenge was not the way of Christ.
Matt Orth justifying his actions because of the arrogant behavior of their captain was not the way of Christ.
Matt Orth doubling down on self-righteous defensiveness rather than admitting Brent was right was not the way of Christ.
In the same way that I loved soccer and Jesus, but acted in a way that betrayed them both, it's possible to love America and Jesus...and still betray them both.
In our current climate, it's hard to communicate a sincere thought without stepping on a million political and theological land-mines, but, in the spirit of Brent Wood, I'd like to try by saying to Christians that are defending Donald Trump as acting in a Christ-like way...or in the spirit of our Constitution...
"No, Christians, no."
Christians, feel free to applaud our President if you feel his policies are helpful to all the people of America and to the stability and betterment of the world, but please, stop defending his words and behavior as things that would honor Christ. Please stop acting like the words printed on the Statue of Liberty aren't there, or that We the People only means the people that look and think exactly like you...or that Jesus Christ rules by fear and force rather than truth and grace...
"No, Christians, no."
Please. And again, I know we all need to step back from the keyboard more and examine the planks in our eyes before we post or speak, including me. But please...
Stop attaching Jesus to Trump.
Only God knows the state of Trump's salvation. But as a long time believer, I know the fruit of the Spirit, and I know the Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes...and I know that the Gospel we so quickly claim is good news that runs through the old rugged cross, the place where humility submitted to empire in the name of love and for the sake of new life for all.
Donald Trump to this point has not demonstrated the Fruit of the Spirit, the blessings of the Sermon on the Mount, nor the humility associated with Jesus Christ, let alone the office of President of the United States. That's not fake news or media spin or a sentence from a sore loser whose candidate didn't win. It's a statement of Brent-Wood-clarity spoken from brokenness and compassion, with a whole decade's worth of evidence from Donald Trump's own mouth and keyboard backing it up.
I'm not saying you don't love America. I'm not saying you don't love Jesus. I'm not saying that everybody in that "comment thread" who dislikes Trump is communicating in a Christ-like way. And I'm not saying you should've voted for Hillary...
I'm saying as someone who knows anger, self-justification, and pride as well as anybody: that if you're a Christian, and you're defending the words and behavior of Donald Trump as something that springs from the Kingdom of Christ, that you're just as wrong as I was back on that Pennsylvanian soccer field back in 1991. And I'm saying to you like Brent Wood did to me in his honest, pleading, broken way...
"No, Christians, no."
My prayer is that you're a better listener than I was...
Because the damage to our collective witness isn't just the guys on the team or the fans in the stands...it's the entire world.