I grew up in the south. While I love the south for so many things, its slow sweet generosity, its sweet iced tea and long sweaty talks on the front porch, its loud country music and luscious living barefoot, growing up there in the 1970s found me in a wrestling match of ideologies. Of Bible belt and bigotry. Professions of faith and expressions of intolerance. Love thy neighbor and fly the confederate flag.
One such unusual contrast that I remember well happened each week of the summer right before our city swim meets. The whole team, aged 5 through 17, would gather in the girl’s locker room, the smell of apple-scented shampoo in the air and the squish of standing water under our feet. After a pep talk, our coach would call us all in for the Lord’s Prayer. Hands in, heads bowed, we would all murmur, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Then, still huddled together under the glory of the Lord, someone would start chanting. A mere whisper at first, and then growing louder and louder with each repeat until the sound echoed deafening off the concrete walls.
“kill, kill, hate, hate, murder, murder, mutilate! Kill, Kill, Hate, Hate, Murder, Murder, Mutilate! KILL, KILL, HATE, HATE, MURDER, MURDER, MUTILATE!!!” Over and over again until every cell in my body was vibrating with vitriolic adrenaline and I was ready to complete decimate my enemy (who would remain in an entirely different lane throughout the entire competition.)
And as a child, for some untold reason, I failed to question the logic. We simply bowed before God and then we killed, maimed and mutilated some poor chap from a neighboring city.
As an adult, I don’t want to be that person anymore. Someone who raises a standard of faith based on love, forgiveness, mercy and peace and then slices down with a sword anyone who comes in my path who isn’t “like me.” So I have very active antennae out for moments in which those who profess love to be their God instead start chanting “kill, kill, hate, hate, murder, murder, mutilate.” And that’s been happening ever since last Sunday.
What happened, if you’re unaware, is that a really fired up guy with some hurt feelings (sorry I’m a therapist, and I think he had hurt feelings) said “When you try me with a sorry receiver, that’s the result you’re gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me!!!” And because of that outburst I’ve heard him called so many ugly names by people who repeat the Lord’s prayer regularly. He’s “despicable”, he’s “stupid,” he’s made the Seahawks unsupportable.
Wow. I’ve sat in my office with lots of people. People who both claim to be Christ followers and those who don’t, and they have said a lot worse things about people than, “Don’t you ever talk about me.” They’ve called people worse than “sorry.”
Seriously, think about your own internal “locker room chants.” Think about what you might actually have screamed at a TV on a Sunday afternoon. We may possibly keep a better lid on it than Mr. Sherman, but it’s there. In all of us. Ugly is in all of us.
So, while everyone is debating professional football etiquette, I guess my concerns about etiquette is for the fans and not for the players. Especially for fans who claim to be Jesus followers. Who know that the sinner gets as much love as the stalwart. Who know that there but for the grace of God go I.
Personally, I think we should start by thanking God that a microphone isn’t in our face after our co-worker drops the ball on a big task, or when our husband fails to get home on time, or the moment we discover our kids have smeared lipstick on the walls. We should express some gratitude that the camera’s not rolling when we’ve crossed a line that we should never have crossed, a line that could have cost us our relationship or our family. I believe we should thank God that we’re lucky enough to be so insignificant that we’re not on live TV the moment our ugly jumps out.
Then, after we’ve shown some gratitude for our insignificance which isolates much of the world from our uglies, we have to face the question: When the ugliness in the world is unavoidable, right out there in my face, what is my the best response?
My best answer: Grace. Grace is always the answer to ugly. Bono sings some of my favorite lines, “Grace, she takes the blame, she covers the shame, removes the stain. Grace finds goodness in everything.”
I don’t know Richard Sherman, but I bet that I could laugh with him. I bet he’s had moments of generosity and joy. Times when he has been there for his friends. Moments when he’s cried, when he’s struggled, when he’s been shut down. Times when he’s forgiven and times when he’s raged. I bet that he’s human.
Like me. I’ve done some things in my life that if you knew about them, you could chalk me up as despicable, classless, stupid, moronic and unworthy to cheer for. But I’ve leaned into grace, and I have fans. Fans who had grace and took the time to learn more about me than my classless acts.
So, if you are a football fan, and you are also a Jesus follower, please, we can’t just like the guy who praises the Lord after a touchdown, we have to love the guy who loses his cool. Otherwise we’re the ones who need a lesson in class.
It makes us a bit like those kids in the locker room, saying the Lord’s prayer and then chanting, kill, kill, hate, hate, murder, murder mutilate.