Rector's Ramblings January 10, 2018
We’re not so sure about anything anymore. Our trust issues extend into every area I can name. I realized one more this past week while watching the Georgia-Alabama game and listening to some of the commentary afterwards. For example, it was clear that the officials missed some important things that led to some un-assessed penalties on Alabama. I don’t think any of them were intentional, mind you, but they were important in the outcome of the game. Was it the false start by an Alabama player that led to the movement of a GA player, the player the official saw on third down? Or was it the missed facemask call that would have resulted in a large penalty and could have boosted the drive to a touchdown? We will never know, and Georgia also has to own its own mistakes and miscues, all of which would also have changed the outcome of the game.
One radio commentator pointed out that our technology around sports like football has made it more difficult to get excited about the game. Catches, touchdowns, out-of-bounds are all subject to replay from almost every angle. Officials make mistakes, but their rulings were part of the trust in the way the game worked. This season the NFL has taken heat for its new definition of a catch, and the realization that catches that looked good weren’t, and vice versa. I’m not saying instant replay is all bad; it helps teams as much as it hurts them. But, it all adds up to a greater distrust of the authority on the field – the experts in the room – and it strips away some of the magic of a moment. Commentators are measured in their calls, knowing that a challenge is likely.
Distrust of those in authority is a growing problem in our culture. This comes up in discussion groups from time to time; where do we look for authority these days? Who has the truth? Who do we really trust? Politicians surely don’t have the respect they one had. That respect is tied to trust and it has certainly ebbed and flowed over the centuries, although the trust tide is pretty far out these days. We pretend to trust the leaders from our own party, but we all know deep down that the current modus operandi in Washington is protectionism (of party) and a growing sense of special interest influence over the will of the people.
The trust level in the fourth estate is also at its lowest level, followed closely by the more recently labeled fifth estate, those who report news and blog independently. Perhaps the worst things that have happened in recent decades in this regard are the rise of 24-hour news networks and the ease of communication via the internet of anything a person cares to share. Don’t get me wrong, the two also have benefits, and are first amendment case studies, but they have brought problems. News outlets often lean one direction or another, and all seem to have confused commentary with reporting. All the news channels devote the bulk of their air time to commentary and can’t help but let it bleed over into their news programs. Bloggers put out their shingle and say whatever they want, true or not, and find that they can go viral by hitting the right nerve. All that means that we live in echo chambers of outlets that tell us what we want to hear, demonizing the other echo chambers, and failing to recognize that our distrust of one should cause us to distrust the other.
The Church used to have a greater sense of trust and respect as well. Granted, it wasn’t always earned, but that’s why it’s fallen in its value as well. Institutions that sought power and protection for that power have made choices that weren’t good for the communities they served, and at times have contradicted the very things they hold up as religious ethics. Some public Christianity of the sort that gets its own television hour conveys a self-centered religion that flaunts money and luxury and assigns God’s blessing to it. Other religious institutions have been slow to accept scientific insight about the world or medicine or psychology, adhering to ancient biases and assumptions that are no longer true, ultimately undermining their authority as we learn that such things must be challenged. As churches have become more irrelevant through decline and scandal, fewer and fewer turn to the church for truth.
The men’s study group is currently reading a book on technology and religion, authored to help faithful people understand how the two influence each other and shape each other. In our first chapter, the author, Noreen Herzfield admits that not all technology is “good”, but that we need a way to critically assess it. Such assessment has to look at both the individual technology and its usage as a tool, and also at the society that uses it. As she says, “That, in turn, will require a clear grasp of who we are as individuals and societies and the values we want to live by. This is where religion, a chief source of our cultures and values, plays an essential role in our discussion of technology. Our religious communities preserve the wisdom of our forebearers on questions of who we are and what we value.” I’m not sure what we do if there is not trust enough to look to the Church as a religious institution that interprets and passes on such culture and value, but I know what we do in the meantime. We keep passing it along!
I’m not sure what the ultimate answer will be. I know that the church’s core message about the love of God, redemption for our sins, the peaceful way over violence, and the call to community over self are timeless messages that the world desperately needs. As we lose touch with those messages, we lose touch with why community matters and how it can lead to the kingdom that God assures us is possible on this side of heaven. It won’t be based on incontrovertible facts; it can’t be, because of the nature of the faith. But it will be effective to the extent that the message and messengers are aligned with God’s purposes and the Truth of God’s revelation. As long as those messages take into account our experience and allow us to reason when we come in conflict with new information, we will continue to thrive.
I’m not sure that this stance of and role within the church will ever make it easier to watch the botched calls in the Georgia-Alabama game. I’m not sure they will solve the problem of the distrust of officials, or the desire to place our hope in technology over human authority, but it will be a factor in how we process it. It will help us remember who and what we value. I imagine that Bulldog fans are even more fervent in their following now, and I think we still revere the game itself, despite its flaws on any given Saturday, or Monday, for that matter. We have to trust that the team will do what it does, build off an incredible year, and go on winning. Along the way they’ll be on the winning side of bad calls and the scoreboard. Hopefully we’ll be gracious along the way, too. I hope we can trust ourselves on this, even if we can’t trust others.
Most gracious God, we thank you for the gift of sport and camaraderie that comes with it. We thank you for the ways they can draw us together and help define communities, bringing diverse peoples into a common purpose. We specifically give thanks for an incredible season and an incredible finish for the Georgia Bulldogs, even though the end did not bring what so many had hoped for. We know that you forgive us and share your mercy when we have done wrong knowingly and unknowingly, and so we know you forgive bad calls by officials on the field during play; our hope in humanity causes us to give them the benefit of the doubt. Help us to remember our ownership of our choices and our own shortcomings, so that we might walk with humility and pride at the same time. Bless all those who labor on our behalf to entertain us; keep them safe and healthy, and allow them to find a livelihood as a result of their efforts. We praise you for your many gifts, the seemingly insignificant details of this life that bring us life, and acknowledge them now, even though we often take them for granted. Bless us with hope in goodness, hard work, and open your ear to our cries of Gooooooo Dawgs, Sic ‘em, woof, woof, woof, woof. Amen.