Mixed Messages at the Ball Game

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Through the Looking GlassMy mind has been torn by football players kneeling at games during the national anthem to express their displeasure with certain aspects of our nation’s culture. I respect their right to self-expression, and I’m only mildly put off by the “insult” to a song or piece of cloth.

What bothers me is that our culture seems to have fewer and fewer rituals or symbols that we can all agree on and use in a way that denotes our unity as a culture or country. People long for unifying connection. An interesting example of this is a current phenomenon in which atheists are founding “churches” so they may gather with like-minded people. They offer all the best aspects of church but with no religion, a stated goal being to help people live life to the fullest.

The flag and the national anthem are unifying symbols that call us together in support of something bigger than ourselves. Not only that, they are celebratory in nature. As we sing the national anthem or salute the flag at a ballgame we are essentially saying that, in the face of the upcoming competition, we are really all one, and a good “one” at that. The kneeling players are saying, “Yes, but we’re not perfect.”

Well, guess what guys, we never were perfect, we’re not perfect now, and we’re not going to be perfect in the future. Human beings are not perfect and neither are the institutions they create. Some of us are very, very good, but no one is perfect. This doesn’t mean we should passively accept our own shortcomings; of course we should always be working toward improvement. But pointing out the need for improvement perhaps should not be done while we are celebrating our virtues and looking forward to a few hours of fun. It’s somewhat like having your parents announce that you got a D in science while you are blowing out the candles on your birthday cake.

Timing is everything in life and it seems obvious that if you have a socio-political cause to support, you would want to do it at a time when your audience would be receptive to you. It seems such a little thing to bend a knee during the national anthem, but evidently some of the audience felt it as a slap in the face. Slapping people in the face does not usually convert them to your point of view.

Timing and balance are not easy things for humans to learn. We raise our children to be nice to each other and share their toys. Then we set them out on a soccer field and tell them not to share to ball but to try to keep it to themselves as they move across the field. Fortunately, children are prone to connecting behavior to situation (recent studies have shown that children learn language in this situational manner) and it is not a problem. They learn instinctively that behavioral rules can differ depending on time and place.

As Ecclesiastes puts it, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. . . .”

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