Thursday, July 5, 2012

Taking sides: in sport, politics and faith

Well we've just had another State of Origin series and New South Wales lost yet again. It only came down to one measly point. But there's a lot of importance in that point. It meant that Queensland won and New South Wales lost. And in the end, how close they were, and how well they played, doesn't really count for too much at all.

As usual, at the end of the game, there were a lot of comments about how well the losing side played. But I don't think any of those New South Wales players were thinking 'Oh well, it doesn't matter that we lost. We played well and it was a good game and who cares what the end result was.' They lost. The other team won. Everything else is irrelevant.

Not everybody watches the State of Origin games. But of those that do, most have a particular team they want to win. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say 'Well I love rugby league and I love the State of Origin games, but it doesn't matter to me whether New South Wales or Queensland wins.' When you watch State of Origin, you go for a team - and it matters. Often it matters big-time. Grown men cry over their team losing footy matches.

I took my son to another rugby league game this week, the Raiders versus Dragons game. Usually, I would go for Raiders against Dragons. But I also really wanted my son to have the experience of seeing his team win. So when I went, I actually thought I wouldn't really care either way. And it was not the same as watching my own team play. I didn't have too much invested in it. But I ended up cheering for St George quite a lot more than I thought I would. There's something about being at a footy game that makes you take sides.

So what does all this tell us? Are we humans predisposed to see things in terms of sides? We barrack for a certain side, see the other side as the opposition, and hope that our side wins?

Last week, I was talking to my son about some of the polarising issues in Australia today, including the carbon tax and homosexual marriage? The first question he asked me was, 'Well, where do you stand on those issues?' Yes, I have a stance on those issues. But what I really wanted to get through to him is that these issues becomes polarising because we automatically pick a side and hope that our side wins. We treat these issues as if they're footy matches.

But it shouldn't just be about scoring points over the opposition. For issues this important, we need dialogue and understanding. We also need compassion for people who think differently to us. In the end, there should be no 'winner' and no 'loser'. And while ever we think in terms of 'winners' and 'losers', we're not going to be prepared to give an inch of ground to the other team.

What's scary is we often think in this way about faith too. Christians are the team we're barracking for. The other teams include all other religions and those with no religion. We see faith in terms of Christians vs Atheists or Christians vs Muslims or Christians vs Secularists, Christians vs Homosexuals and even Christians vs Environmentalists.

There's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser. And all Christians should make sure they're going for the Christian side. And often there's the presumption that God is on our side. So if we do happen to see things from the other (opposition's) point of view, then we're not backing our team (or God) the way we should be.

There were sides in Jesus' time, too. There was the Sadducees vs the Pharisees, the Jews vs the Samaritans and the Israelites vs the Romans. When the Sadducees asked Jesus a question about whose wife a woman would be in Heaven, if she had married seven brothers sequentially, they were really asking which side Jesus was on? The same with the question about paying the imperial tax. What they really wanted to know was, 'Who are you barracking for, Jesus?'

But Jesus refused to be drawn into barracking for a certain side. Instead, he saw the wider picture. Life was not just about who wins and who loses. It was about so much more than that.

Taking sides is all very well in football games. And maybe we do naturally pick a side and hope that they win (whatever the game or the issue). But in the really important stuff, the issues related to life and faith, maybe we need to start looking beyond 'sides'. In football games, how well people played might be irrelevant. But in life and in faith, it's more important than who scores the most points.  Maybe we need to realise that while ever there is a winner and a loser, no-one really wins at all. 

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