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My Rival, My Friend

Jeff Rasche

MacArthur Generals 1In Decatur, Illinois, where I grew up, the MacArthur Generals and the Eisenhower Panthers were high school sports rivals. I went to MacArthur High School and played in the marching band. We cheered for our team and played the school song for every touchdown. During basketball games, we screamed at all the misguided people on the other side of the gym:
       “We’ve got spirit; yes, we do.
       We’ve got spirit; how ’bout you?”
One of our group’s favorite (unofficial) football cheers was
       “Blood makes the grass grow.
       Go, Generals, go!”
We loved to hate the Panthers.

A few years later, I married one of them. I learned that not all the Panthers were misguided thugs who unjustly beat up our players when the referees weren’t looking. Our rivals didn’t all wake up in the morning thinking of ways to deprive us of our pursuit of happiness. They had their own lives, their own homework, and their own dreams—as we did. They were ordinary students. We clashed only when our sports teams played.

Panthers2Rivalries occur in many arenas: the Generals and the Panthers, Democrats and Republicans, our nation and other nations, dogs and cats, sisters and brothers. Who is your rival? Who gets in the way of your pursuit of happiness? Whose opinions clash with yours?

The question is this: How should Christians deal with their rivals? Sometimes people raise the level of conflict and call rivals “enemies.” Sometimes we demonize our rivals: “They all cheat!” “They’re all idiots.” “They’re just plain evil.”

A kinder, more constructive way is to acknowledge that life includes conflict and that the people on the opposing side may have a point worth listening to. We need wisdom and courage to learn how to have a reasonable discussion instead of a fistfight, to listen to people who have ideas different from our own, and to play fair in victory or defeat.

Think about the good that comes from rivalry. What if the world had only one computer company, with no rival company trying to make a faster, better, less expensive computer? What if one political party had all the truth and power, while the other side never had a chance to express an idea? What if MacArthur was the only high school worth attending in Decatur, Illinois, and our teams didn’t even have to practice to beat our hometown rival? (On second thought, maybe that would have been OK—but don’t tell my wife I said so!)

 

DIG DEEPER

Read Matthew 5:21–24 and 5:43–48. How do these sayings of Jesus apply to the way we treat rivals?

A bumper sticker says, “You’ve heard the rest. Now listen to the best.” It shows a picture of a preacher in the pulpit and lists church worship times. How is rivalry between churches expressed? Is it healthy or destructive? Would you put this bumper sticker on your car?

One person in a church opposes every international mission project; another frequently leads mission trips. The first says, “We have people in our country who are needy; why send money overseas?” The other person tries to raise funds for the next mission trip. They often clash in church meetings. What would you advise them to do?

PRAY: Lord, help us to be kind and to listen until we understand opposing points of view. Help us to live in peace with everyone, including our rivals. Amen.

Jeff Rasche , a United Methodist minister and writer from Illinois, first encountered rivalry when his siblings were born—first a sister, and then a brother who moved into Jeff’s room! Today, they are all friends, proving that with prayer (and lots of forgiveness), rivalries can be overcome.

—from devozine (September/October 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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