Buddha, Basketball, & Being An Everyday Christian

Have you noticed how A & E has no problem letting you know what it believes about Phil Robertson? Ditto for every song writer and every film maker when it comes to expressing their worldviews. I am seeing this trend more and more.

One of the books I am reading is Eleven Rings by former NBA coach Phil Jackson. Jackson led the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to a combined eleven championship seasons. No one doubts his expertise and his book has been quite insightful. Jackson is a Buddhist. Actually, he is a bit of a syncretist, merging parts of several belief systems. Throughout the book he references his beliefs. Here is one excerpt:

As we prepared for the playoff, I thought it might be useful for the players to have a refresher course on selfless basketball, but this time from a different perspective--that of the Buddha. So I devoted one of our practice sessions to talking about the Buddha's thinking and how it applies to basketball. I probably lost some of the players early on, but if nothing else, the discussion took their minds off the pressure of the upcoming post-season.

In a nutshell, the Buddha taught that life is suffering and that the primary cause of our suffering is our desire for things to be different from the way they actually are. One moment, things may be going our way, and in the next moment they're not. When we try to prolong pleasure or reject pain, we suffer. On the bright side, the Buddha also prescribed a practical way for eliminating craving and unhappiness .... Eleven Rings, p. 219

As I reflected on the way Phil Jackson dialogues about his beliefs, I realized Christians have much to learn from him about living out our faith, which is what God calls us to do in 1 Peter 3:13-17:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

Here are four lessons we can learn from Phil:

  1. Think through what you believe.
  2. Jackson is no "arm-chair theologian." To his credit he reads, reflects, and acts on what he has gleaned. It's real because he has lived with it and thought through it. In chapter 15, he shares the eight-fold path for hoops, his application of Buddhist thought to the game of basketball. This is what Paul does in Acts 17:16-34, when he applies what he knows of God to the people of Athens. It is what we are called to do too. Am I a thinking Christian or am I content to live Sunday to Sunday on what the pastor says? Click here if you need a little help.
  3. Practice what you believe.
  4. Phil quotes eastern philosophers and mystics. He also takes time to meditate and work out aspects of those readings in his own life. Am I thinking and praying through how I am to implement what I read in the Word or hear on Sunday or discover in my devotions or glean from a blog post?I must put into practice what I believe.
  5. Share naturally about what you believe.
  6. Jackson doesn't seem to try to squeeze his beliefs into his book, they are simply the natural overflow of what he believes at his core. If I'm gripped by Jesus, if I'm reading his Word, if I'm enjoying the friendship of the family of faith, if I'm seeing answers to prayer, if I believe the gospel message, then sharing it with others should be the natural overflow. Don't try to force it out, just naturally let it out in conversations and interactions.
  7. Don't worry, not everyone is going to "get it."
  8. I was intrigued that Phil Jackson shared some of his beliefs with his players knowing that some were going to dismiss it out of hand. Christians, of all people, should have the same approach when it comes to living and sharing Christ. Paul reminds us, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). He writes elsewhere, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV). It is my job to share, God's job to save. He is the only one who can open the eyes of unbelievers.

Phil has the platform of his NBA resume, bolstered by an impressive eleven championship rings. That's pretty cool, but you and I don't need that to make our case for Christ. On the other hand, everyday Christians should do what Phil does . . . think, live, and speak what we believe.

Where will you start today?