Aprill 4, 2005
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank


Dear Marketplace Friend, 

      Reminds me of the "old days," back at Woodrow Wilson Elementary. I had no idea - as a third grader - who Woodrow Wilson was, but I sure liked his school. My dad wasn't into sports, so the only serious "ball bidness," for me, happened during recess and lunch. Fall was Kickball Season (inspired by the NKL, I guess).

      Leadership emerged early, though I didn't realize it at the time. You may remember those "survival of the fittest" days; that was before the more enlightened era of "protect their self worth" thinking. How brutal can you get: we did The Apprentice - in reverse - every day during recess ...

      How so? Well, it was a small school yard, with only one available diamond (the "big kids," from 4th to 6th got the main lot). Bobby Benjamin and I were - I guess - the Alpha males in the mix. We were the "captains," without ballot or confirmation. Our job: pick teams. "I'll take Jimmy." "I got Tom." "Ricky, com' 'ere." "Timmy's mine." Back and forth we'd go ... and the "last kid picked" natural selection was, once again, demonstrated. The ultimate pecking order; Trump says, "You're fired!" We said, "You're picked!"

      From then to now, I've always been intrigued to find out how people get picked for stuff. Too often, there seems to be a complete lack of cogent, intelligent intentionality. More often, factors of secondary importance seem to make the primary difference in naming nominees. Honestly, Benjamin and Shank were pickin' favorites; the score never varied much, based on who got first round draft choice. We just decided to play with our buddies, whether they were World Class Kickballers or not. Is that fair?

      Over the last few days, the whole world has been plunged into the center of the Catholic community's grief in the death of their much-loved Pope. Karol Wojtyla - the Polish priest-turned-cardinal who was the dark horse pick of the College of Cardinals in October of 1978 - will be respected and remembered for the next two weeks, while the red-capped leaders charged with assembling to select his successor prepare for their daunting task.

      Just moments after his fellow cardinals elected him in '78, John Paul II took a moment to marvel at the fact he was chosen. He asked one of his key supporters, Cardinal Franz Koenig of Vienna, "How did it happen?" Koenig replied, "Holy Father, we're bound by secrecy." In a modern version of that same secrecy, the 117 Cardinals will convene to pursue the identity of their next leader. Though allowed by code to choose any Catholic male in good standing (even a layman!), tradition over the last thousand years will limit the pool to the princes of the church who are in the meeting. Their deliberations are so privileged that their vow to confidentiality carries excommunication as the penalty for a leak. No one will know "God's choice"... until the white smoke emerges from the chimney over the Sistine Chapel. Watch for the smoke ...

      Kickball selection. Papal succession. Divine election. Time after time, we're faced in life with having the same question come up, in different places, involving different participations. Who's on the team? Who gets to pick? How will they decide? What about the people who wanted it, who didn't get it? What if the person picked didn't want it? Is the whole deal really fair? Isn't there a better way?

      When it comes to the guest list for heaven, there's an even more significant outcome at stake. Kickball lasted through recess; the papacy lasts for life. Eternity lasts forever. Who gets to pick?

      When you get to heaven, you'll be as amazed at your welcome as Karol Wojtyla was when he was announced in '78. You'll say to Peter, "How did it happen?" He'll say to you, "Beloved brother, we're here by His election." Paul calls believers "... brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (II Thessalonians 2:13-14)

      In some incredible way, God picked you to be saved ... but didn't tell you about it until you picked Him to be the captain of your team. More mystery than the Cardinals pickin' a Pope? It's God ... pickin' you, and pickin' me. It made no sense; we hadn't earned it. We picked Him; He picked us. We'll get it straight when we get there. Till then, we'll keep singin' Amazing Grace ...

Bob Shank


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