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24th & Glory

24th & Glory: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Omaha's Greatest Generation of Athletes24th & Glory: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Omaha's Greatest Generation of Athletes by Dirk Chatelain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A engaging, moving read. The story of significant American social movements told through the lens of one neighborhood in a Midwestern city and the prominent characters who lived there. A essential read for Omahans that will be enjoyed by many others.

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Taking a Knee

A recent Christian Century editorial took a good theological perspective on the much discussed issue of NFL players taking a knee.  An excerpt:

one of the most vivid images of players’ humanity comes when they take a knee. During the game, this is one of several ways that players “down” the ball, avoiding being tackled by ending the play. Between plays and on the sidelines, players take a knee for various reasons. Lexicographer Ben Zimmer has traced the phrase back to a college team’s 1960 tribute to a deceased coach. It gained traction in reference to players stopping to rest. Later the posture came to signify solidarity—an expression of prayer or encouragement for the anxious or concern for the injured. In each case, taking a knee highlights the vulnerable humanity football teams are made of.

That’s what makes the NFL player protests against police brutality and racism—begun in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid—so powerful. The sight of black players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem evokes solidarity, empathy, and remembrance of the dead. It’s a posture that represents a player stepping out of his role in the game and embracing his more fundamental identity as a person.

Trump & the Olympics

An interesting point being made on how the Olympics has hurt the Trump campaign:

The Olympics is about the worst thing that could have happened to the Trump train. Here’s a candidate whose message depends entirely on convincing Americans that they’re living in a failing nation overrun by criminal immigrants. And for the past two weeks, tens of millions of Americans have been glued to a multi-ethnic parade of athletes, winning easily. “Make America Great Again” has never felt more out-of-touch than it does against the backdrop of tenacious, over-achieving American athletes driven by their own journeys in pursuit of the American Dream.

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Orwell on sport

I'm reading through a collection of Orwell's narrative essays and in one entitled "The Sporting Spirit" he debunks the idea that sport should lead to greater cooperation among nations.  In fact, he things it generates more animosity.  

And how could it be otherwise?  I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield.  Even if one didn't know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive.  You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win.  On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and the exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.  Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this.  At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. 

He is also concerned with "how and why this modern cult of sport arose."

Religion & Sport

In an article on religion and sport in the Washington Post, an interesting claim is made.  Not the larger claim that Americans are more devoted to sport than religion these days, but the reason why--competition has declined in religion.  They write:

In short, sports are succeeding by the measures that have traditionally defined success for religious institutions: regularly immersing people in a transcendent experience and keeping them ardently committed over the long term. It could simply be that faiths do not stir the same competitive passions they once did. Tolerance for other religions and acceptance of intermarriage have risen sharply since World War II. Both trends correlate with flagging religious attachments among many groups.

This may be a salutary change. Religious adherents once hung heretics, discriminated against dissenters and tangled with those of other faiths. Methodists defined themselves against Episcopalians; Catholics defined themselves against Protestants; Christians defined themselves against Jews; and vice versa. We are better for having put such interfaith hostility behind us. But religious institutions may not be.

As faith attachments weaken, sports fill a psychological and cultural vacuum. Rooting for the Sabres, Lions or Broncos — and against the Bruins, Bears or Raiders — allows us to display unwavering devotion. Team attachments license us to love and hate in the most dedicated ways. And happily for sports aficionados, these antagonistic feelings are largely contained within games. St. Louis Cardinals fans who saunter around Chicago’s Wrigleyville should expect some badgering, but not physical harassment or abuse.

Just last Sunday I preached about the need to create a strong community, yet one that remains universal in its outlook.  I do think that one of the challenges in the contemporary church is creating this sense of community identity.  

One of the advantages of the Open and Affirming church movement is that it did help to create this sense of counter-cultural identity and that your faith community served a particular purpose.  As the larger culture now follows our lead, ONA churches will need to find other ways of structuring this sense of identity and mission.  I believe that is one reason that the UCC shifted so much focus to the environment in 2013.

"The Humanities Crisis"

Gary Gutting writes about the crisis facing the humanities; it is an economic one:

This talk of “a subject they love” brings us to the real crisis, which is both economic and cultural (or even moral). The point of work should not be just to provide the material goods we need to survive. Since work typically takes the largest part of our time, it should also be an important part of what gives our life meaning. Our economic system works well for those who find meaning in economic competition and the material rewards it brings. To a lesser but still significant extent, our system provides meaningful work in service professions (like health and social work) for those fulfilled by helping people in great need. But for those with humanistic and artistic life interests, our economic system has almost nothing to offer.

He then offers some ideas for helping to solve this--a K-12 education system which attracts the brightest from the humanities and pays them well, ending the reliance on adjuncts in the university system, and investing more of societies funds on the humanities, in the way we currently do with athletics.  On this final point:

Fair treatment for writers and artists is an even more difficult matter, which will ultimately require a major change in how we think about support for the arts. Fortunately, however, we already have an excellent model, in our support of athletics. Despite our general preference for capitalism, our support for sports is essentially socialist, with local and state governments providing enormous support for professional teams. To cite just one striking example, the Minnesota State Legislature recently appropriated over $500 million to help build the Vikings a new stadium. At the same time,the Minnesota Orchestra is close to financial disaster because it can’t erase a $6 million deficit. If the Legislature had diverted only 10 percent of its support for football, it would have covered that deficit for the next eight years.

Socialist athletics!  What a great point.