The thrill and rush of a roller coaster ride is in part due to the dramatic ups and downs that the rider experiences. The slow methodical ascent, hearing the clicking of the gears as the cars crawl upward and the wondering if you are going to make it to the top of the peak. The momentary stillness and views at the summit before the stomach-flipping drop, rushing of wind, and racing toward the ground at startling speeds. The twisting and turning and slowing and speeding up again. These dramatic changes are the elements that make the ride so exciting and sometimes addicting.
Within this month it seems as though the people of Canada have been on a roller coaster ride of their own. In the space of one week the Canadian identity has been elevated and revered then plunged to the ground in shame and disgrace, only to then turn the corner and ascend to the heights once again.
On June 6 much of the world recognized the initiation of the 1944 Battle of Normandy, often known as D-Day and the role Canadians and the other allies played in what was a pivotal moment in World War II. This battle is considered the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime and its reign of terror over Europe. Landing on Juno Beach and advancing inland against the enemy as well as parachuting behind enemy lines to cut off the invasion area, the Canadian troops fought for the lives of many. Seventy-five years later our nation’s soldiers are still celebrated for their heroism and their contribution toward world peace. June 6th makes me proud to be a Canadian. Our national pride rises to the heights on such days.
On Monday, June 10, in a game that will likely go down in sports history, fans of the Toronto Raptors basketball team once again brought the name of Canadians to the lips of people around the globe, only this time in a negative way. The fans applauded when a star player of the opposing team, Kevin Durrant, was injured during one of the final playoff games of the 2019 season. In the National Basketball Association (NBA), Canada has always been a non-threat, but this playoff series was the chance to make a name for “The North” in this all-American sport. Toronto had been praised for being enthusiastic and supportive fans – the embodiment of team spirit. Yet, when the star of the opposing team went down, the fans were all too ready to celebrate. Winning had become more important that human decency and compassion. Our reputation plummeted on that day. Previously revered for our kindness and good nature, we have now become the “classless” ones.
News anchors and devotees have tried to minimize the severity of the fan reaction, stating that emotions were running high and so allowances should be made, that it was only the rich elite fans that were mean, or that the fans were really cheering for their team member for stealing the ball. Instead of acknowledging their error they try to explain it away. They have been caught treating human beings as commodities, of focusing on the win. This is reminiscent of those that attempt to excuse predatory behaviour with “boys will be boys” and “it was just locker room talk”. However, Kyle Lowry, a player for the Raptors who would be more heavily invested in the game than any fan remarked, “In this league, we’re all brothers. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and it’s a small brotherhood and you never want to see a competitor like him go down”.
When we begin to celebrate the calamity of another, warning bells should be sounding loud and clear. This kind of thinking is dangerous. It is only a small step away from actually doing harm to an opponent. Think of the Tonya Harding attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. An appetite for domination and a desire to win at all costs can lead to destructive attitudes and behaviour. It is the beginning of the cancerous spread of the “us vs. them” mentality that is the cause of so much evil in the world.
On Thursday June 13, 2019 the Raptors made NBA history, winning the championship, and putting Canada in the spotlight once again. What seemed like the entire city, showed up to party into the wee hours to celebrate this victory. However, along with the glory, fans of the Raptors need to incorporate some of the shame of their actions into their identity. Perhaps by owning their disgraceful behavior of June 10, they can do some soul searching and work to develop a similar attitude to Lowry, one of compassion, empathy and the connectedness of humanity.
I identify as a Christian and yet so much of the behaviour and rhetoric that comes under that banner is not what I believe. The misogyny, bigotry and racism that has been preached from the pulpit does not reflect my personal views or the value of the Jesus they proport to follow. I am called by the same name as these people and this makes me uncomfortable. I feel like a good Raptor’s fan that has now been lumped in with with the “bad apples” in the crowd.
In medieval times the Crusades were an attempt by Christendom to stamp out the “other” in their midst. It was a religious war to eliminate the enemy and destroy those who did not agree with their views in order to “win”. They used their holy passion to justify horrific and contemptible behaviour of all kinds. Today in the name of “Christian values”, the rights of women are taken away, the LGBTQ community is shamed and shunned and children are taken away from their families and locked up in cages. The “us vs. them” mentality has been perpetuated around the globe and we see the rifts and chasms it creates. The reputation of all Christians suffers in light of these evils of the present and the past.
I would like to think that I would not respond in the same way as some of the Raptors fans. But I realize that I have been trained to see reality as either/or, that there is only a winner and a loser, and when you contend with someone the aim is to win. Is this a characteristic of our North American society, or growing up in a white, middle-class, evangelical home? Why do I find it difficult to engage with those who view life differently, who look through a lens I am unfamiliar with? Could these attitudes contribute to viewing “the other” as an enemy? Why do I struggle to value another’s viewpoint, engage with it and part as friends rather than having to persuade, cajole or dominate in order to change them? Is it possible to leave behind the idea that I am right (which as I write this seems ludicrous) when I see how many of my interactions are tainted with this underlying belief? Is it possible to retrain my perspective to be inclusive of those who look, act, think differently, to view all as brothers and sisters who share the world?
It makes me wonder, similar to the fans in Toronto, if I need to accept the shame as well as the glory of the Christian tradition? Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “Is part of my job as a Christian right now to do penance for other Christians who did great harm in Jesus’ name? …. Does being a Christian require me to own the shame along with the glory?”[i]
In our faith community could we consider the myriad ways we have failed to be the embodiment of Jesus on earth and be spurred on to work at redeeming our soiled past? Perhaps we can work toward seeing those that do not share our views as worthy opponents and friends rather than enemies to be defeated. Could our views of winning preclude a loser and instead be a winning for all? Maybe we can move forward seeking to understand, to come closer, to find the common ground rather than focusing on the things that divide.
Perhaps we can decide to accept both the highs and the lows, while working toward a better future. We can invite one another to join us in the car and to enjoy the ride.
[i] Anderson, I. (2018, Summer). A Conversation With Barbara Brown Taylor. Image Journal, 97, 55-67.
PHOTOS: Daniel J Schwarz #1429270, Markus Spiske #1269203, Julio Casado #355162 from Unsplash