Clutching Christians

Clutching Christians

I was listening to the difference between Panic and Clutching with regards to sports.  In the story the author (Malcolm Gladwell) described the clutch of a winning tennis player that for some reason double faulted on the last point of the match, and then failed to execute several shots that would have won the final point for game, to then fall completely apart and lose the entire match.  If it had not been Wimbledon, no one would have cared, but it was and they did.  The author went on to describe both the match and the mindset of a clutch. It goes like this…  When a person is learning about the process of a sport or hobby there is a learning curve that is the same for all.  The systematic repetition of a swing.  Forehand, backhand, serve, etc the issue is refining and repetition with a coach for a while, then less frequently, then only for key issues.  It is this “muscle memory” that is being developed over time and repetition that is all “front brain” activity.

It is a given that the brain is split into right and left hemispheres.  Right being the place of the pictures, colors, sounds, spontaneity, and creativity,(although this idea is being tested).  The left is organization, numbers, logic, sequence, and plans.  But the brain also is about the front and the back.  It is the front that is the place for the “learning” and the back for the “natural” behaviors.  The front is where the repetition sets things in the right place and then repeats.  The power and angle of the forehand is set there.  After thousands of forehands it is then moved to the back of the brain and is said to be a natural feeling.  You don’t even think about it, it just happens.  When you drive the car and the right turn is coming, you don’t wonder about the amount of pressure on the brake or when to turn on the signal… you just do it…

So it is that when you clutch you revert back to a place of “over thinking” something that should be natural and fluid, turning it into a stuttering and over-controlled action.

Panic is different.  Panic is not the frantic running around and screaming panic, that is hysteria.  Panic is the systematic shutting down of non-essential functions in your body.  As the heart rate rises, your system has a list of things to do, and some of them are needed on this level and not at the next.  So your heart rate of more than 145 will bring the blood from the outer parts of the body to the center mass and your muscles will harden as a means of protecting your internal organs.  Over 170 and other things shut down.  It is this mid-range that is important.  When you are in the “zone” and the world gets small.  For a policeman in a firefight all they see is the narrow world of the assailant and the immediate proximity between them.  Or when the game winning shot on the basketball court is taken, the shooter may not even hear the crowd, until after the ball goes in the net.  This, then, is the difference from one to the other.  If the shooter starts to think about the roll of the wrist or the power of the arm, they are “clutching”, not panicking.  One is too much thinking, and one is narrowing the picture to the exclusion of all else.  Front brain, back brain.  Muscle memory and action, or hyper thinking and paralysis.

What I am interested in though is this.  As a “Christian” have I done my training, and now when there is a need for action will I have to “think about it” or will all else blur as I move into the behavior I have been trained to do.  Is it natural?  When I am confronted by a wounded friend, do I need to think about my response or is it so familiar as to be immediate and free?  I have seen both.  I have had the hug of a person that had had no training except obligation.  As well, I have been embraced by a compassionate giver of grace with complete abandon.  It is palpable for all that witness, either one. I know which one I relaxed in, and which one I wish had stayed home.  I often ask myself if I am very good at the fine art of freedom… and to some I suppose I am… and to others I suppose not so much.  To them I still need practice, and then more likely, I need to just try.  Like riding a bike when I was young, when I over-thought it, I crashed.  When I looked forward and away, with abandon I flew…  Perhaps I should do the same with these that are a struggle.  Just do.  Accept that there will be a crash or two, but do…  “Confess that which is not as though it is”, would be the starting point.  Sometimes it is that act of taking the training wheels off and going down the hill which is the leap of faith that tells me to go ahead and give the embrace or ask for the prayer, or carry the burden of one that may not really want the help. 

How do we, as a group then, incubate this freedom?  Where does it reside within us?  Think about it this way.  If you want to teach this idea you need to be able to quantify its parts.  One of them is the “fear factor”.  It is what would be the inhibitor of the rest of the items. But then you realize that fear is the opposite of peace, and peace comes from my acceptance of who God is.  So I can measure my fear as a measurement of my God picture.  Strong sense of peace equals a close and abiding walk.  Strong sense of fear and that reveals my distance or anger at God on some topic, action, or persistent part of my life.

 Like a ph test there is a plus and a minus from the mid point.  What is the mid point and who gets to set that?  Good question, but it is the personal point of reference that is simply yours.  The trouble is when you think you are at that mid point and someone comes into your realm with something far better and you realize that you have accepted too low of a starting point, for your best achievements.  So it is, with this thing called growth.  It is not that you would be considered bad by most of your cadre of friends, but when some outsider shows up and reveals that you have far to grow, you are at first embarrassed by the low threshold you have chosen, and then either you grow or you throw stones at the one that revealed your weakness.  There is no other option.  Stones in the form of words, betrayals, gossip etc are still the same.  All an attempt to distance that knowledge from us that we know we cannot escape.  So too is the chance that pride would arrive on the knowledge that we are far superior to the group I became a part of.  Is it simply that I am among the uninitiated or is there something that sets me apart, at least on this topic?  You see, on the topic of astrophysics I am really not that well schooled, but in the realm of moving sand with a shovel and bucket on the beach I do quite well.  On the topic of grace or compassion perhaps I excel, but come the day to move your boxes, I am the last one called. Or perhaps it is the reverse…  That is as life is.  My question is though, are you working on the weakness?  Is it a point of development? The question is not “am I better than you” but, “Is it better than it was?”

I was looking at some pictures of World War 1 veterans that had been severely wounded and then had extensive surgery to repair the damage. (The Dr. was Harold Gillies, it is worth a look at the “Father of Plastic Surgery”).  One picture showed an old man that was somewhat typically an old man.  What looked like the normal progression of age was there.  What was amazing was the place he had begun.  First the photo of the recruit, then the battle weary, then the face with the chin removed below the nose.  It is at this point that the reconstruction and the changes took time and was the worst of disfigurement.  It took years to get the jaw back and the skin grafted and the nose working.  How do you make a tongue anyway?  It was hideous and painful and dramatic.  And I wonder about my own development through the years of the {not yet completed and yet more to do}.  I wonder about the surgeon, that while undoing the bandages of the last surgery knows that there will be another.  It is in this state of the current disfigurement that I reside.  Not quite healed from the last surgery, and knowing there is yet another (or many) to come.  And in the meantime I cannot play or run or go to the beach.  And, that when this is all over I may not ever get to do this “one thing” again.

So when you were wounded and needed a friend, what then?  Perhaps it was even I that was the source of the wound.  “Friendly Fire” is such a wrong title for something so grievous.  But it is me that came into the room.  I wanted to give you grace.  I know I am called to this high office, and must do so.  But the scars are not pretty, and they limit my movement so.  I wish this was not the case, but alas, it is just that.  I am better than I was. I am not what I aspire to be.  But, it is in this period of my time that I am doing my practice and therapy.  I have not the fluid nature of the natural.  I am not even like the well trained.  I have only the childlike steps of beginning the development.  A strong determination, and stuttering attempts may not be what you would have desired, but simply the best that I can bring, for now.  I am, as you see, a clutching Christian.  Over thinking.   Trying to remember what to do next. What I am supposed to say or do.  I wish to do well, to avoid causing more pain… and yet my movement is so restricted.

 What do you think of my scars? My lack of freedom of movement, my even being in the room filled with giants of the faith?  That they so easily, and with fluid-like movement, bring you that which I only dream of doing someday, that something that you actually needed, hope grace and acceptance.  It is then that the embrace will be as real as the tears, and both will be without the need to think of them at all.  It is what this Christian is clutching to, hoping for, and yes… needing.  The warmth of a friendly embrace.  A touch of the balm, called grace.  Someday, later, I will look as that picture of the old man.  I will then tell of the scars, and the time I was helped.  I will speak of hope.  I will then clutch and hold with the tender movements and the fluid actions of the gracious giver of the gracious gift.  And it will be natural.  And you will know.


  1. Here is a link to Dr. Harold Gillies. It is worth a trip in history to go...


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