Soccer, world peace and a few observations

I am not really a soccer fan. However, I am a huge fan of my husband, and he is a huge fan of soccer. I play along.

A couple of years ago, we went to see two Premiere League teams (that's Britain's top soccer league) play in Ann Arbor, at what we Michiganders refer to as the Big House (either affectionately or with venom, depending on whether you are a UofM fan or a State fan.) I've never been to an American football game there, and we went with friends, a dad and daughter. We had a great time.

One of the best parts of the experience for me was sitting with people of every race and creed who were just having a blast watching their favorites teams. Everyone was kind and friendly, joking with each other about the players. Small children were given a bit of leeway in close quarters and a few elderly fans were given gentle patience.

We just went to the same exhibition game yesterday, although one of the teams was different. The whole experience was a vast contrast for me though. People were rather cruel.

One man behind me joked to his buddy that "those idiots" (one of the team sponsors) didn't know how to spell "tyres," apparently unaware that English has variations in other parts of the world.

We were sitting quite close to the tunnel where the players from one team entered and exited the field. People in the stands literally trampled each other to get to the railings so they could snap photos and maybe get an autograph. An older lady was getting hurt. When her family members asked the man who was getting very close to her to please be careful, he turned on them: "F*^% you! I paid for my f*&^$(* tickets and I'm gonna get a picture..." You get the idea.

People moved from seat to seat, trying to get closer and closer to the field, only to be asked to moved by stadium workers, who politely told them they needed to sit in the seat they had purchased. They had nothing but contempt for this "request." The same went for the young men who moved to sit on the steps rather than their seats. They would move, just until the worker was out of sight, and back they'd go.

One man, for whom English was not his first language, was befuddled by the seating: section, row, seat. He and his two young sons couldn't find what section they were to be in. A man behind me not-so-quietly scorned the family, because he just "knew," they weren't American.

And we had the game interrupted three times by "well-lubricated" men with the maturity of 9 year olds who decided (at different times) that they would make their mark in the world by delaying the play of some of the elite athletes of the world, so they could run around for 30 seconds until they got some pretty metal bracelets and a trip in a police car. The teen by behind  us was incredulous (at least he still had some sense of outrage within him) that these guys got arrested. "They're getting arrested?? What for??" I told him that their would probably be a host of charges, all with hefty fines and at least the night in jail. He asked me, "What did that one guy have written on his chest?" Really?

I don't know why the experience was so different two years ago than today. People were uglier and angrier. To me, it seems as if the whole experience was a reflection of our culture and society right now. We are an angry people. Sometimes we are angry about an injustice, other times we are angry that there MIGHT be an injustice and damn it, we are going to cut it off before it starts. We don't need to show respect to anyone, because, hey: who the hell is respecting ME? You don't like me stepping on your toes (either literally or figuratively)? Get the hell out of my way!

I saw virtually no kindness yesterday, except on the pitch. The players were respectful of each other, even in the heat of play.

Soccer is probably the most universal sport. It is played on dusty patches of earth in Africa by barefoot kids, on luxuriously groomed fields at wealthy schools, at club pitches where 5 year olds play on Monday, 10 year olds on Thursday and Mexican workers on Sunday afternoons. It is a sport that requires very little equipment: a goal, a ball. In many parts of the world one learns to play without boots and shin guards; they are a luxury. The Scots are passionate, the Mexicans mad for it, and men like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo are spoken of in voices reserved for the gods who walk among us.

Our world is in a shambles. I don't generally see it as up close and ugly as I did yesterday. It was frightening - one could see how mob-mentality could sweep across so many people at once. I realize some people take their sports very seriously, but yesterday's experience went far beyond that. The whole atmosphere around me felt like "I'm here to get mine. I don't give a rat's ass what your experience here is like."

Sports, like music, have long been a venue where the world comes together. Yes, we root for our team, our school, our nation, but we also strike up a conversation with the folks next to us and commiserate about how badly a player is hurt or the officials aren't making good calls. Sports, and especially soccer because of its global appeal, are supposed to bring us closer together. What I experienced yesterday was an ugly reflection in our cultural mirror. And the longer I looked at it, the more sad and upset I became. I don't expect the months between now and the election to be any better, either in the political arena or anywhere else in the public square.

Peace, Lord, Peace!

I think we are all exhausted. The endless stream of shootings, fallen police officers, guns, political pukings .... I know I want to turn it all off. I can't - my job literally requires me to be on social media all the time.

I cannot recall a time (in my lifetime) of seeing my nation so divided. I have a small banner under my computer screens at work: peace, paix, salam, paz, shalom. It is my constant prayer, yet it feels like a distant echo.

My spiritual adviser said, "We need to be a nation on our knees," yet even among people of faith it feels as if we are praying for vastly different things. One prays for the protection of children from things like gay "marriage" while another prays that all gay unions be recognized for being equal to the marriage of man and woman. One implores God for an end to abortion; another shouts for its expansion. I will let God sort it out...

Peace, Lord, peace.

I am worried about my own health. I try to follow the example of saints, offering up my pain to Christ: let my suffering be one with yours, O Lord. I'm not very good at it.

I am burdened with the death of a friendship. A woman with whom I have shared faith, friendship, struggles, a love of music, the Eucharist - all I can say is that it is like watching a major conversion in reverse. She admits she lied to me and many others. In what seems like the blink of an eye, her marriage is a broken mess, her faith swept aside and she says she is now her "true" self.

God is faithful, even when we are not. The whole earth is groaning out for Him. Can you hear it? Can you feel it? There is no peace without Him. We cannot manufacture it. We cannot elect it into office, or bargain it into being. Peace is not achieved through negotiations by ambassadors, high-level meetings or bombs.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the Lord - for he proclaims peace.
To his people, and to his faithful ones,
and to those who put in him their hope.
Near indeed is his salvation to those 
who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from
heaven.
The Lord himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his 
steps.

Dammit. Did it again....

"Pushing Back the Darkness" - artist Gwen Meharg
I did something stupid yesterday. (I did a lot of stupid things yesterday, but I'd like to focus on just one.)

I saw this funny meme on FB. I have a friend who would also think it funny. It gently poked fun of his particular Christian denomination.

After I posted it to his wall, he replied. A friend of his then jumped in with a rather snarky comment about one of the popes.

And then I did something stupid.

I rose to the bait. I wanted to win. To be right. To show her! I had Truth on my side.

In the last few weeks (longer, really, but most especially the last few weeks) it has seemed like the world is imploding. Political battles across the globe, hashtags reminding us to pray for yet another city mired in violence or terrorism, just plain meanness. This is not the world I want to live in, nor is the world God intended.

Yet what did I do? I jumped right into that nasty world with both feet, eyes ablaze, sword lifted high. Duh.

Writer Ann Voskamp prays, "Make me speak praise, not poison ... Make me do doxology, not destruction." Yes, Lord. Let me speak praise. Let me avoid poison. Keep me from destruction.

And I would add, Lord, save me from my stupid, sinful self.

Culture Care And the Work of Makoto Fujimura

"Twin Rivers of Tamagawa" - Makoto Fujimura
One of the perks of my former job was the opportunity to meet amazing, talented, faithful people from all walks of life and all over the globe.

One of those is a gentleman, Makoto Fujimura, an American of Japanese descent. I met him through Acton University, where he was one of our keynote speakers, and then through ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

Mako (I get to call  him by his first name...) is not just an amazing artist. He is also a profound thinker, and a Christian of deep and abiding faith. He is very concerned with the place of art in our culture - a line of thinking he refers to as "culture care" - and the important role all artists play in society. Art can heal. In his acceptance speech for the 2014 Religion and the Arts Award, he said:

I pray that artists will no longer have to be on the defensive as was Mary in that aroma-filled room while disciples grumbled that her perfume could have been sold to feed the poor. "What a waste," they said.  What a waste.  Is our art wasteful, too?

Art is gratuitous. Art is extravagant.  But so is our God.  God does not need us; yet he created us out of his gratuitous love. Jesus astonished the disciples by giving Mary the highest commendation anyone receives in the pages of the Gospels:  

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Mark 14:6 -9)

I pray that in the days to come, this aroma will fill the air whenever the words of Gospel are spoken, that outsiders to faith will sense this extravagant air and feel it, particularly for them. I pray that when our children speak of faith, this gratuitous, intuitive aroma of the love of Christ will be made manifest in their lives.
I cannot begin to describe his art. It is deep: it requires patience on the part of the viewer. He works with delicate materials while attempting to plumb the depths of faith, emotion, culture and ultimately, God.

Do yourself a favor, and view his Artsy page. And remember to pray for our artists, who bring beauty to a world sorely in need.

Work Notes


I neglect my little blog here. Mostly, it's because I have a blog that I'm solely responsible for at work. And sometimes, it's just because I'm lazy.

Today, I'm being lazy. Please go to my work blog and read a couple of things. The first one might get you prizes: Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Giveaway! (And if you could urge your friends to do the same, I'd really appreciate it.)

The second one is just a cool story. What's the craziest thing you've ever done for the Kingdom of God? I'm betting Justo Gallego has you beat.

Read on, friends!

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