But somehow I got the impression that feelings of competition were not appropriate for a Christian. When I wanted to do something better than others, I certainly felt I should not mention it. I had learned deeply that to compete with someone made that person an object, dehumanized him or her. Competition, albeit a natural inclination, was “a way of the world.” Mature Christians should be moving to embody “the ways of Christ.” I should eschew competition in favor of collaboration, I thought.
Looking around, I now discover that competitiveness has been represented negatively in much Christian theology and Christian education. It was cited, for example, as one major reason to move away from memorizing Scripture in Sunday School classes. Successful recital of the text might be showing off, winning against other students. I remember hearing the irrefutable axiom: “To have a winner, you have to have a loser.”
Careful and profound theologians seem to maintain this negative attitude toward competition as well. Edward Farley in “Deep Symbols: Their Postmodern Effacement and Reclamation” contrasts his ideal world with the current one, in which individuals live as if “Others are there in their world, but only as competitors, occasions of use, or targets of anger.” This from one of the best theologians in North America. (Oops, there I go, considering theology a competition.)
But what if we reclaimed the word “competition?” May we seek its restoration to an appropriate place in the panoply of pastoral feelings? The word, after all, comes from Latin competere (to seek, or to strive, together). Its first cousin, “competence,” still enjoys respect.
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