This is an old post from when I wrote on Blogger. It seemed worth reviving, given the massive amount of football water that has flowed under the bridge since then. Did I quit watching football entirely? Well, not really. I quit watching everything but the Super Bowl as I have a longstanding tradition of inviting friends over. Otherwise yes, I have. I do not watch regular season or pre-season games. No following Brady, Belichik, no "Mr. Kraft". Of course, the reactionary and un-reflective politics of those guys have made it easy to step away. Now I am thinking I may just drop the Super Bowl as well and just have a party, instead.
The video above is about a boycott in honor of Colin Kaepernick that is gathering steam. I may join them. The statement below is only slightly dated, as it turns out.
Regular readers of Burbania Posts will know that there was a time when I watched a whole lot of football. I even religiously tuned in to the 24-hour infomercial that is the NFL Network. I wrote about it online. I made predictions. The first Sunday of our church year is called "Kickoff Sunday" partly because we are kicking off the new year...and partly because the new season begins that afternoon. The point is, I was almost a super fan. The only thing keeping me back was that I couldn't bring myself to engage in the frightening debates at the bottom of the "comments" section on NFL.com.
I got into it in a roundabout way. I live in a place where baseball remained king for longer than anywhere else (Go Red Sox!). It was as a youngish adult that I turned to the fandom of professional football. It began by hanging out with the Phys. Ed. majors in my dorm. I embraced it with the zeal of a convert. That is coming to an end now.
In fact, the end began a few years ago with the slow erosion of my trust in the institution of the NFL. I don't think I have to go into details, do I? There were a number of ill-conceived labor disputes culminating in the absolutely ridiculous lock-out of the referees. I took a break then, because I don't cross picket lines, even TV ones. Then there were the revelations around concussions. Perhaps most importantly, I (and others) had the creeping suspicion that the league and it's owners didn't particularly care about the health of players and former players as much as they cared about message control. About a third of the way through last year's season, I turned off the TV and didn't return until the Super Bowl.
"Protect the Shield" is the unofficial slogan of Commissioner Roger Goodell and it has made him very popular among his employers. The league does its best to project an image that is as pure and wholesome as eating apple pie at a church social, but reality keeps sneaking in. Do I need to mention that racial slur used as a "mascot" in our nation's capitol? The league keeps saying that it is respectful--even an honorific--to Native Americans even though pretty much everyone they aren't paying says it isn't. This week we get to hear that there are new rules around players committing acts of domestic violence. Why? Because the league just discovered that most fans view it as more heinous a crime than smoking pot. The two-game suspension of Ray Rice seems a bit too much like the punishment parents give out to kids when they secretly think their child can do no wrong. What world do they live in? Protect the shield. Always make sure the money keeps rolling in. That is their world.
Here is what I saw before I turned off the TV. In earlier times I had seen a pleasant diversion, an interesting metaphor for the struggle of life, even a certain regional pride as I watched my home team. In the last time I watched I saw something different. I saw a wealthy old billionaire high-fiving his billionaire friends while his employees permanently damaged their heads, spines, legs and backs in pursuit of...something. On the sideline was a coach. Theoretically he is worthy of respect. In reality he was the caricature of the sort of horrible, screaming, obscene middle-aged suburban dad most of us try not to become at youth sporting events. I asked myself if I wanted to be the sort of person who condones this. The answer, it turned out, was "no".
Look, I am not anti-football per se. You will see me at the annual high school Thanksgiving game and maybe at a couple more. What I am is anti-NFL, at least in its current incarnation. The game has problems. It has really, really big problems that trickle down to that high school field and need to be addressed in an open, honest, forthright manner. They need to be dealt with by the folks at the top. They need to be dealt with by the people who build (and profit from) the dream.
No pretending. No fakes. Deal with the issues and I will come back. Don't and I won't. I can go outdoors and spend time with my family on Sunday afternoons. I am quitting the NFL.
My Facebook feed is full of statements opposing the rise of white supremacy. Ministers tend to like words. We also expect to speak out on issues that we find important. There is no way in the world that one could look at what happened in Charlottesville and see anything other than a potential turning point in race relations. Which way will we turn? I do believe that among the many, many markers of the rise of the radical right this weekend will stand out. Therefore, I have been reading and talking and listening along with everyone else.
In fact, there has been a part of me that wonders if there is anything left for me to say that hasn't been said better by others. For a moment I even thought of letting this pass and to wait for another news cycle to bring a new set of offenses. However, speaking out is something we all have to do.
Besides, otherwise I am just walking around angry anyway.
So I thought I would point out a few markers in the internet sea that make the anti-racist/anti-fascist case better than I can. Each of them gets to specific concerns (among many) that I have and that many of you have as well.
Paul Krugman, in his column "When the President is Un-American" opens with a reminder of Sarah Palin's "real America" phase. You will remember the concept. It isn't difficult as many people right, left, and center, fall into it's trap. "Real" America--according to many--is populated by a strangely simplified form of "rural" or "working class" whites. We raise them up as examples of what we perceive as American virtues. The problem is that when we do this (whether we mean to or not) we have instantly labeled everyone else as less "real" and therefore less worthy.
Liberals do this, too, by the way. Right now there is a lot of talk in the Democratic party about "reclaiming the base". Along with this effort, there is little thought given to the risk of romanticizing the crueler part of whiteness that--as we have seen this week--simmers beneath the surface. Perhaps they (we) do it unconsciously and without reflection. However, when we ascribe greater authenticity to one group, we give them greater power. Their narrative then controls the conversation.
My faith tells me that all humans--and that would include all Americans--are equally "real". This is a bedrock of the theology I preach. However, it is a challenge to assert that position when so much of the noise around us tries to tell a different story. That is why speaking out is important, even if it feels like our position has already been said, and said with more art than we can muster.
But I digress: Krugman's article is an indictment of the President, who has inhabited the "real America" narrative of his base. Donald Trump has increased the noise in what at best can only be called a failure of leadership. In many ways, the stoking of this narrative has led directly to society's apparent new comfort with white supremacist language. The results of that should be obvious.
On the same day and in the same paper Michael Eric Dyson wrote "Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy" I don't feel the need to add much commentary. He refines the point that Krugman makes until it cuts with surgical precision. He quotes LBJ saying "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you are picking his pocket". To me that is an accurate--if somewhat dated in its language-- description of how myth of "realness" functions.
Dyson concludes with a call to people like me. "Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as most white folks are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well." This article has reminded me once again that I need to finally get through his book "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America".
Finally, I have one more item. This is an old film first shown in 1943 and then edited and rebroadcast (as far as I can tell) in 1947. "Don't Be a Sucker" is many things. I see it as a classic noir PSA. The narrative of America it provides us, though, is still a powerful antidote to the rhetoric we are hearing from the alt-right, the fascists, and many in the conservative establishment,
Many folks have been linking the tw0-minute clip. If you can stand it, however, I suggest you watch the whole thing below. It is jumpy and the beginning feels like a non-sequitur at first. That said, I am glad I stuck with it. It made me uncomfortable in parts. However, it made me ask why...
Oh yeah... and the American Nazi? He talks about "real Americans" too.
No, really... Have you?
Every once in a while someone asks me about what being a minister is actually like. People are curious. Some people are even interested in exploring it as a career. I must confess that at least sometimes (okay, most of the time) I probably sound discouraging. This is because I care about the people who ask me these questions. Also, I care about the ministry so I spent a great deal of time thinking about its future. Parts of that future can sound pretty bleak.
In conversations with prospective clergy folks, I usually point out that we have no solid idea of what organized religion will ultimately look like. In many ministry settings there is a great deal of anxiety, conflict, and dysfunction brought about by the larger challenge and by local ones. I also tell folks that if financial rewards are part of one's concept of success, than the ministry will only bring frustration. In the future (as in the present) we will be in the position of re-making the profession. In your early settlements you will struggle to be solvent. In your later ones you will probably never "keep up with the Joneses". In the material world we live in, you will always feel a little bit behind.
HOWEVER, I would like to set the record straight about what the profession has meant to me personally. I absolutely love being a minister! There are hard times, sure, and some of the specifics can stink. Still, in general I have never felt the need to question my call. So if you--dear reader-- have ever considered taking the plunge, here are some reasons to do so.
1) You Are Called to Directly and Consistently Help People: This is a big deal. Many, many folks go to jobs in which "helping" basically comes down to convincing someone to buy something. They find other ways (at least most of them) but their impact is lessened because of those hours doing something else. The ministry is not like that. Sometimes one can get overwhelmed with the number of ways to help and the number of individuals needing assistance. That said, if you want to make a difference in the lives of friends, enemies, frenemies, and strangers, the ministry might be for you. You may not always feel like you did enough, but you will pretty much always go to bed feeling like you did something to change people's lives for the better.
2) You Want To Impact Your (Our) World: Maybe you want to do more than comfort individuals. That's fine, part of the ministry is about standing up for the oppressed. Have you heard of the "Religious Left"? Google it. There are religious leaders of every faith tradition providing moral, intellectual, strategic, and practical support to what is sometimes referred to as "The Resistance". If you want to never be in the position of being unable to speak out against the evils and sins of this world, then grab yourself a pulpit! Join one of many justice ministries or start your own. Be a chaplain to young people, old people, the sick, the well, to activists, students, the military, and many more groups besides. If you want to be relevant in the conversations and debates of this dark time, the ministry may be the place for you.
Now, of course, these two first points call people to a great many professions. I know. Trust me. I am married to a clinical social worker. My congregation, my extended family and my collection of friends are filled with other people who--like clergy people--would be classified by The Rev. Mr. Rogers as among "the helpers" that folks in need should seek out. That is cool. None of these are unique to the ministry. Still, it take all kinds and the pastoral approach is unique and essential.
3a) You Are Interested In Your Own Spiritual Growth and Religious Tradition: One of the most important facts of clergy life is that it occurs for the most part in community. That community-- even if some members are more interested in the topic than other members-- is dedicated to the spiritual dimension of our identity and walk through life. As clergy, part of our job is to develop our own spiritual lives. That is, we practice what we preach to the best of our ability. This kind of religious discipline may not be for everybody, Yet I have found, both as a church member and a church leader, that I have grown spiritually and religiously from the work that I do. Sometimes this is through my own efforts. Sometimes it is through the in-breaking of the spirit. Sometimes I learned through my failures or through the advice of someone else.
That regular practice is important. It is also part of the job. Whenever I end up in the thicket, I know that I have the obligation and the tools to get back on the path.
3b) You Are Interested In Other Religions: It is popular these days to think of religious groups retreating into their own corners and sniping at each other. Certainly there are plenty of examples of this! However, the opposite is also true. In many circles, in fact, opportunities for cooperation and dialogue are growing rapidly. As a minister I have had many chances to discuss theology, spirituality, justice, family and current events with representatives of other world religions. See that picture at the top of this post? Those folks meet monthly for lunch. We genuinely enjoy each other's presence. Clergy of all stripes tend to end up hanging out together. We influence each other. Who else would we talk to? We are interested in the world around us and in each others' perspectives about that world.
4) You Want To Delve Deeply Into A Variety of Subjects: One of the great parts of my job is that every week I am expected to stand in front of my congregation and talk about something. Sometimes these issues are explicitly religious or philosophical. Sometimes (as you may have gathered) they are about how we should act in the world both as individuals and as a society. Every week I set aside time to study. Sometimes the topic is one that excites me. At other times it is one that my congregation is excited about. Most of the time both of these statements are true. In any case, I always find the process of learning and exploring these topics to be a fruitful one.
This opportunity for study and for delving into an issue exists outside the pulpit as well. I lead and attend workshops, classes, and seminars for adults and children on a variety of topics. I also learn by participating in community and by conversing with others. Many people go to church in part to keep their hearts, minds, and souls strong. As a minister I get to be part of that.
5) You Get To Exercise Your Creativity (And Encourage Creativity In Others): One of the things that people expect from their ministers (parish or otherwise) is that they bring their own passions and interests to the community. For me, this has meant a number of things. Elsewhere on this webpage you can find references to the church's ukulele-based music ministry (the "Ukestra"), it's garden, and it's justice and outreach work (among other things). I have also mentioned the Dungeons & Dragons Club I run for our youth (and for the youth of a local learning community). In worship we try to be creative every week.
This is a cooperative process. I have ideas and projects and so do others. Much of the time we work and grow things together. Since I have arrived at this place we have made and re-made the congregation every year. It is a workshop and a family. Our core, our spirit, is always the same. How we manifest that spirit keeps up with the times and with our interests.
Of course, there are ways to be creative in the broader conversation. The great advantage to being a minister at this time is that the old rules and ways are failing us. We get to explore the ruins and build the new faith communities of the future. Who wouldn't want to do that? If you are worried about joining profession that is old, fusty, boring, and wearing the chains of conformity, don't be. Every day clergy are striding into the temples and turning over the tables. We would love to have you join us!
6) You Get To Hang With The Most Interesting Folks: Now a lot of those interesting folks are, in fact, the lay people you will work with. That said, I want to say something about my colleagues. I could not ask for better, more interesting people to spend my time with. Most of my friends are clergy people, their partners and children. They are all writers, artists, poets, academics, deep thinkers, and eccentric individuals. They are never boring. They always have something to say or do. They all tell great stories and play great music. They support each other with an openness that the rest of the world would do well to emulate.
Clergy also provide each other with accountability. Yeah, we have rules "for the good of the order" but I've never found them to be a burden. Instead they are a gift. After all, we try to structure our lives in the way that we encourage others to live their's. My community of religious friends helps me to do that.
I could go on, but I promised myself that why would only share six reasons today. We are in a time of transition. The whole culture is. Our religious institutions need to decide where they (we) will stand. My desire is that we will stand for inclusion, justice, forgiveness, and hope. To do this we need people of all kinds to form faith communities. We also need professionals to help these people realize their dreams.
As many of you know (I just mentioned it after all!), I am a Game Master for a variety of role-playing groups. At the table we GM's try to be in conversation with the other players. When they have an idea (or we have an idea they like) our job is to say "yes...and". This attitude helps us to collaborate in building the world we are imagining together. So I ask you again, can you be a "yes...and" person for faith communities? If the answer is yes (or yes,..and) then please give a clergy career a closer look. It is as much a way of life as a job.