By Paul Koch –
In the great movie Tombstone featuring Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer, during the shooting at the O.K. Corral, unarmed Ike Clanton rushes towards Wyatt Earp pleading with him to not shoot. As Earp’s brothers and Doc Holiday engage the rest of the gang, he grabs the shirtfront of Ike and yells “Get to fighting or get away!” In other words, engage in the battle, go down swinging (or in this case shooting), or get clear of the battlefield.
I have always secretly liked to fight. I enjoy the thrill and excitement and simple violence involved in a fight. I’m not talking about a gunfight or gang violence but standing toe to toe with another person and trading blows. It’s not just that I enjoy combat sports like UFC (though I really do), but I actually like to hit and be hit. I don’t think I’m a tough guy, and I doubt I would win many fights these days, but still there is this deep desire that rises within me where it is all I can do to not punch a guy in the mouth. The truth is, at least in the world between my ears, there are a lot of people who could benefit from a good punch in the mouth. In fact, I’ve secretly feared that what might disqualify me from the office of the ministry would be a love for fighting.
“If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” I Timothy 3:1-3
For many years, I was able to conceal this desire in the great and wonderful sport of Rugby. I began playing rugby in college and played throughout my seminary days and for many years as a parish pastor in Southeast Georgia. Rugby, a hooligan sport played by gentlemen as they used to say, was simply awesome. I could hit and be hit. I would line up beside my teammates, and together we would bleed it out in the hopes of victory. With reckless abandon we would slam into rucks and mauls, trying to not only score but crush the spirit of our opponents. Afterward, we would drink deep at the local watering hole and tell the stories of our heroics.
But as I grew old, my knees began to hurt more and more. My recovery time was taking longer and longer after matches, and I could no longer keep up with the twenty-year-olds taking over the team. I spent more and more time away from the pitch and focused more and more on my vocation. But the desire for the physical fight was (is) still there. Yet I began to feel like I was no longer able to go down swinging, that instead I was expected to fall in line behind the bureaucrats and wizards of smart who set the game plan for a “successful” ministry and just get with the rhythm. But that spirit would never go away; I would study and read and argue the best I could but deep down I still wanted to say, “Hey, if you want, why don’t we take this outside and settle it.”
But I continue to learn that the fight is not over. Simply because I don’t get to punch the theological frauds in the mouth doesn’t mean we aren’t in a very real battle. I have struggled to refocus my angst and shape it into something useful. What I have found is that, as we move from the theoretical and hypothetical arguments to the actual application of God’s Law and Gospel to the lives of real people, the fight is certainly not over. The fight is real; it is ugly. There are winners and losers, and we need to join it.
St. John Chrysostom in his treatise on why he should not be a priest writes, “For the shepherd of sheep has the flock following him wherever he leads: or if some turn aside from the direct path and leave the good pasture to graze in barren and precipitous places, it is enough for him to call more loudly, drive them back again, and restore to the flock those which were separated. But if a man wanders away from the right faith, the shepherd needs a lot of concentration, perseverance, and patience. He cannot drag by force or constrain by fear, but must by persuasion lead him back to the true beginning from which he has fallen away. He needs, therefore, a heroic spirit.” (On The Priesthood II.4)
A heroic spirit!
That’s how I’m trying to refocus my love of the fight. This heroic spirit is what we are given in the gifts of Christ.
A heroic spirit is willing to fight for my neighbor. A heroic spirit is free from serving itself, for its own salvation is secure in Christ alone. A heroic spirit allows us to be sent into the lives of one another—to be the hitmen and midwives of God.
So sure, our knees may hurt. We may be getting old and tired, but the battle isn’t over. It’s time to get to fighting or get away!