The New England Patriots have announced their desire to create a Hall of Fame celebrating their team's players and accomplishments. While eleven former players are considered Hall of Fame members for their contributions to the sport, their "hall" has been six pages in the team's media guide. With three Super bowl victories to their credit in the past five years, the Patriots are ready to establish something more permanent. Plans are being developed for a Patriots museum, a place at which the team's artifacts and memorabilia can be displayed, and past heroes can be fully honored.

But here in lies the new challenge. Who will be included in the Patriots Hall of Fame? Those already chosen crossed the threshold from star player to sports legend without meeting any predetermined criteria because no criteria had been established. Now, facing the broader reality of having to decide who else gets in, and why, choices must be presented and decisions made in a whole new light. It's a different ball game when your team has become so popular that you have to set up rules and regulations to include the few and exclude the many.

Does the idea of picking and choosing sound familiar to you? Perhaps you recall your school gym classes in which sides were chosen by team captains selecting player after player, until one poor soul remained. Or maybe there was a party you hoped to be invited to, but the invitation never came. And, later in life, there may have been a job for which you felt you were strongly qualified, but someone else got the call back you anticipated.

Deciding who plays for which team, attends a social event, or even who gets the job, are decisions that are out of our hands, even if we can determine how those decisions were made. If you couldn't play basketball to save your soul, you probably reconciled yourself to being the last one standing a long time ago. High school social events are usually about popularity, as much as adult functions are about building success. Sometimes a party is just a group of people spending time together because they want to. Jobs often go to people of moderate skill or talent, but with great positive attitude that will carry them forward. In short, judgments are made every day to include some people and those decisions automatically exclude many others.

One would hope that faith decisions would not fall into this category, but that would be false hope. We in the faith community are quite adept at making choices based on our perceptions of how we think God wants us to interact with one another. While we include people who agree with us, we exclude those whose own faith or worship practices are different than our own. Using the label "Christian" to describe our music, films, vacation destinations and books defines our preferences, but also limits our understanding of God's expansiveness in the world. Not everything God has a hand in creating has the word "Christian" in front of it. Even when we are supposed to be aiming to create churches that embody God's Word and Spirit, places that are supposed to encourage and equip people to identify and use their God-given spiritual gifts, we frequently have a need to truncate God's spiritual activity because it may change the status quo. We talk a whole lot about God and Jesus Christ changing our lives, but we are not always so pleased with the idea that God works with other people's lives too, and that God still has work for each of us as well. The phrase, "God is in control," has emerged as the calling card for many people who are quite comfortable in believing that they have their faith, and their God, firmly under their own control.

Looking back over Jesus' three year public ministry, two things are evident: Jesus was Jewish, having never left the Temple, and Jesus died a martyr, a political prisoner because he challenged people to be inclusive. While the Romans were not happy that Jesus stirred up the crowds during his public preaching and teaching, the real issues erupted within his own faith community because he stirred people's souls.

Jesus knew that many Jewish prophets and religious leaders had been killed before him. The Jewish faith had, and continues to have, a long memory, shared through an oral and written tradition, of how God worked among them to lead their nation every step of the way. Jesus was well aware that his time was limited, and the breadth and depth of what he accomplished in such a short time could be considered his greatest miracle. He didn't waste time wondering if he had offended someone while speaking God's truth. He didn't label his work or mission as Jewish. Although it is fair to say that the majority of his listeners, and all of his disciples, were Jewish, Jesus didn't exclude anyone from his ministry. He also didn't consider himself better than anyone else, or for that matter, closer to God. He lived his faith and did the work to which he was called. Romans and Samaritans are clearly a part of Jesus' audiences. He met them face-to-face and included them in his conversations and his teachings. No matter how much the crowds and the disciples tried to deny people they didn't deem worthy access to Jesus, Jesus always paid attention to the people who most needed his attention, and he gave them what they needed from him. Jesus included everyone - the blind, the lame, the lepers, the tax collectors, the women, the children - whether his followers or his own religious leadership were comfortable with what he was doing or not.

While parts of our faith culture seems very comfortable labeling certain groups and behaviors as Christian, and are equally comfortable feeling inclusive in this practice, it is the least Christian of behaviors possible. Christian programming, books, media and vacation resorts are only as Christian as the people creating, leading or participating in them. If such definitions extend to dictating the behavior of the participants based on the leadership's personal beliefs, claiming any connection to the Biblical, historical or risen Jesus Christ is over. Jesus never made decisions of faith or behavior for anyone but himself. If any of us surrenders that personal choice of faith to another human being we have chosen to exclude ourselves from God who created us and chooses us over and over again.

Who are the chosen? The New England Patriots are working that out as we speak. Regarding our faith in God, we are all chosen. We always have been and always will be. But we must also always bear in mind that, while easier to include ourselves or others based on criteria other than God's love, mercy and justice, it is rarely, if ever, Christian.

Author's Bio: 

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay with a double major in Communication and the Arts and Social Change and Development and a minor in Women's Studies, was ordained into the ministry of the Moravian Church in North America after completing her Master of Divinity degree studies through Moravian Theological Seminary. Over twenty-five years of experience in individual and community ministries gives Rev. Kemp an informed perception about faith, its implications and struggles in everyday life. Rev. Kemp focuses her work on helping people understand their faith and how faith can become transformational in their lives. Bring authentic, meaningful faith into your daily life by visiting www.creatingwomenministries.com.