February 7, 2017
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. John F. Kennedy
Meditation: One of my neighbors wrote on face book this morning: “Now we have not only lost the November election, we also lost the Superbowl!” Our Atlanta football team last won the Superbowl in 1999. That was in the last century! And yesterday it had the chance to win a century game. People travelled far to see the game. Others bought new TVs, cancelled everything during those hours, bought red T-shirts for the whole family and many took an extra day off. It was like preparing for a ceremony, for a religious event, for the celebration of the century. And it looked hopeful for most of the game. The windows in many houses were fogged up. Cars were piling up in driveways. People came together. Nobody wanted to celebrate alone. And then, in the end our team lost, or shall I say: “They came in second”. Oh no, in our culture, there is no such thing. There is only losing or winning. There is no such thing as playing well, coming in second and still being mentioned. You are only worth mentioning and making history if you are first. If you lose, you are history, which means you will be forgotten. You don’t count.
In our Western culture there is only “either-or”, no matter how well you played, no matter how long you were leading in the game. Only the end result counts. The word “loser” is one of the most painful words for some, as it eradicates their value, no matter how hard they worked, no matter how well they did. If there is one person better than them, if there are a few points more, the anticipated celebrated and worshipped potential winner becomes the “loser”.
Stepping out into the dark after the game was over, my neighborhood was quiet, all lights had been cut off immediately. Atlanta fell into grief, some even felt despair… It had been a religious event. Redemption had been hoped for and it did not happen.
When I walked my dog in the morning (thanks to the game I had a day off), I expressed my condolences to a male neighbor standing in his driveway. He said that it was clear, the coach was to blame. Continuing on my walk having my dog pull me along, I wondered how human this is. We need somebody to blame. The thought of “losing” is too painful. The beloved football team losers? No, we need to defend this thought somehow. We need to make ourselves feel better by blaming somebody. Anybody.
Really? Does blaming really comfort us in any way? I wonder how a culture that gets stuck in those two categories can become unstuck, other than despairing or blaming?
Our Christian faith offers us at times amazing counter-cultural ways. Jesus tells several stories about the theme of “being first”. He tries to offers his disciples an alternative way of looking at things and at responding. Instead of knowing for sure who is a winner and who is a loser, and instead of judging and blaming, Jesus questions our certainty of knowing what makes a loser and what makes a winner. He said that our categories, our judgment might be very different from God’s. And so we read in Matthew 20: 16“So those who are last now will be first, and those who are first will be last.” Jesus tries to liberate his disciples. He shakes them up, saying “there will be many surprises in God’s realm”. Heaven’s value system is far different from earth’s value system. Those who are esteemed and respected in this world may be frowned upon by God. The opposite is also true: those who are despised and rejected in this world may, in fact, be esteemed highly by God. Don’t get caught up in the world’s way of ranking things; it’s too prone to error.
So, what does this mean for us today? We can still grieve the loss of not being first. But let’s also remember our Christian counter-cultural values. Let’s celebrate our team and hold them in esteem. Let’s not fall in the trap of blaming. They gave their best. Let’s not forget that we value them and that we are proud of them, even though they came in second. And let’s keep the future open.