Marriages are full of compromises and mine is no different. One tradeoff we make is that he agrees to attend things like theater productions, ballets, and concerts and I agree go to college football games. It's not like we don't enjoy each others' activities, they just aren't things we are naturally drawn to. I try to balance the frequency as to not get in too many of my own, but have learned that musicals count double.
It's not that I hate football, it's just that I can tire of it very quickly. What I do enjoy is being outside in the crisp fall weather, being surrounded by the energy that collegiate sports exudes, and being part of a community that all support the same cause.
This year, however has been a bit stressful due to our specific crowd. Having season tickets means that we consistently sit with the same group of people. There's something sweet about it on one hand, as we have moved from being complete strangers at the first game to "high-fiving" and celebrating each great play with each other by the end.
The stress however came from the fact that our neighbors are really into the team. I mean REALLY into the team. Now granted, they are all probably native to the area and no doubt alumni. We however are implants, are alumni of often opposing teams from another state and although we enjoy being a part, we simply don't have the emotional connection our section-mates have.
My husband, who is very passionate about college football, is more of a natural cheerleader than I am but that didn't stop us from enduring frequent doses of shame from not cheering enough to satisfy our neighbors. A big group of us typically just ignored it, but the message was clear. A specific group of fans surrounding us were often very disappointed in what they saw as a lack of support. They clearly wanted us to step up our game.
What made an impression on me was the experience at the last game of the season. One young man behind us was clearly frustrated at various points of the game because it was tense and the possibility of loss became a threat. Over and over again, he expressed his aggravation with the lack of cheering from our section. Many times he was even so bold as to blame the momentum swings of the team on the apparent lack of ruckus coming from our small area of the crowd.
His constant finger-pointing became tiresome and then it hit me. He wasn't cheering either. He was so busy being angry, frustrated and critical that he wasn't even participating in the specific ways he wanted us to. It wasn't until the clock started to run down and fans began to get nervous before the crowd got more involved. Once everyone started to behave the way he thought was necessary, he joined in and the criticism stopped. The fact that we won didn't hurt either.
I wondered to myself what would have happened if he would have simply supported the team the way he felt was right, even if those around him didn't seem to have the same convictions. Would they have eventually joined him? Would they have seen his passion and become invigorated by it? Where criticism fell short, would a display of his individual commitment rally the group?
It reminded me of the concept that Brene Brown writes about; you can't effectively change people's behavior with shame. The way to change behavior is to show them a better way, a more successful path. It takes courage to be true to what you believe and follow through at the risk of no one joining you.
As I thought more about this experience, I saw that I have done the same thing. I've expressed frustration with others who claim to follow Christ but don't seem to act the way I would like them to. I have been frustrated with the "church" for not following through on the passion I think they should have. I may not always criticize out loud but I certainly have to myself and to God.
I've often thought how the "church" needs to be more outspoken about biblical standards, how they need to step up and help the poor more effectively, that they need to not be so hindered by culture and race, how they need to help those who are hurting, and how they need to be a better overall witnesses of Christ. I've been full of "They shoulds."
But after the football game, I wondered how much I have been like the unhappy fan. Do I tend to point at what I think everyone else should be doing when I'm not exactly doing it myself? Am I counting on rallying them so I can then in turn be convinced it's safe to move forward? Am I consistently judging others for not doing what I think should be done because I often don't want to do it either? Is it the old trap of "don't do what I do but do as I say?"
It's been sobering and humbling but the answer to those questions is often not what I want them to be. As I read through the Bible I see that some of the instruction God gives us is intended for the "church" or Jesus followers as a whole. But, the majority of them are very personal and individual. We are supposed to listen, learn and apply them to ourselves in order to affect the group at large.
This idea has certainly been a part of my thinking during this difficult election period in our country. We have lots of ideas of what other people should or should not do to "fix" the country. We judge and criticize "them" for not doing what we think they should do, while often we don't want to get involved.
But what if we started to do what we want "them" to do?
What if we loved our neighbor as ourself? What if we stepped out to help someone in need? What if we stood up for the marginalized? What if we started to behave more responsibly, honoring with our words and with our actions? What if we committed to pray for our leaders instead of condemning them? What if we got involved with social issues we find important?
I've thought about how the discouraged fan would have been so much more content during the game if he knew that he was at least doing his part. He could have rested in taking the focus off what wasn't being done and focus on securing the results that he could control; his own actions, while hoping it will inspire others to do the same.
One of my favorite songs is "The Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson and it has been on my mind a lot the past few days. I am a huge Michael Jackson fan and even though I have taken a lot of flack for it, I stand firm. Regardless of what "crimes" he did or didn't commit, I admire his singing, songwriting and most of all his dancing. The chorus in this particular song is powerful and very appropriate:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
It has to start with us. Change doesn't come through ridicule, anger, or shame. It takes us being willing to do what we think needs to be done. And then, maybe when those around us start to get nervous that our team isn't winning, they will join in. It's up to us to take the first step.