Like many Americans, I sat down to watch the opening game of the NFL season last night between the Pittsburg Stealers and the Tennessee Titans. During all of the pre-game pageantry, NBC made time to interview both coaches. During the interview with coach Tomlinson of the Stealers, something caught my attention. Tomlinson, when asked about the out come of the game, said, “The most violent team will win.”
Those words made me pause. He did not say the team with the best offensive plan, or defensive scheme will win. He did not say the team with the most preparation and focus would win. No, in an almost excessively honest moment, he told an underling truth about the game of football. However, is this just limited to football?
The more I think about this statement, the wearier I am. Maybe the reason is that this underling truth just might be a pervasively held assumption in our world and in our culture, and I just may be awakening to that fact. An easy example of course is what happened 8 years ago on this day in NYC, D.C. and Pennsylvania . Another example occured the other day as I was driving home from work and noticed the bumper sticker on the car in front of me. It read, “I love Water-boarding.”
Another example, it seems the loudest, most confronting people in this summer’s town hall meetings across the country have made the biggest impact. Kind of like in a church that is experiencing conflict, sides form, trenches dug and the “war” progresses. What is that saying…the squeaky wheel gets the oil.
I used to live in Uganda and saw first hand through three coup d’etat that the more powerful and violent army won the war. Then I came back the states and learned first hand about corporate “takeovers” and the “collateral” damage that ensued as I and many of my colleagues lost our jobs.
I could keep going on with examples but I guess my real question here is, “What exactly is it that we ‘win’?” I mean sure, we might win a game, a position of power, or money, or the respect of those that fear us (fear is a close colleague of violence), success, perceived safety, or better yet perceived control, but what is it really that we “win” by buying into the assumption that the more violent team wins?
Maybe all we “win” is a chance to treat someone else as less than ourselves, a chance to dehumanize someone, so that it does not really matter what we do to him or her or how we act towards him or her. The funny thing is that by doing this, we are actually dehumanizing ourselves.
When I reflect on this, I think about how God through Christ “humanized” humanity—restored the image of God in humanity. Not only did God become human in Christ, but God also healed and reconciled a broken dehumanized humanity back into the fullness of God’s intention for humanity. This is the gospel! We are whole in Christ and can live in relationship with God and others as if we are whole, as created, our identity rooted in Christ not in our efforts to “win” some meaningless victory. We live this way because our calling is to incarnate this gospel.
So why is it that we, as Christians, continue to live by the underlying assumption that the most violent will win? Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky write in their book Leadership on the Line, “Our colleague Robert Kegan teaches the difference between assumptions that you hold and assumptions that hold you. The assumptions that hold you constrain you from seeing any other point of view. But we have a special and righteous name for them: We call them truths. Truths are assumptions for which doubt is an unwelcome intruder” (Heifetz 2002: 234).
Perhaps this is an assumption that holds us. It is easy to understand why when you look at the world and the picture of life portrayed. However, Christians are not to be a people of fear, but of joy, hope, peace, and love. Our identity is rooted in a Triune God that is the very definition of love, and we know that love conquered all.
You know, the word “violent” has multiple definition. 5 different definitions by my count.
Seems like you’re using one definition and the coach is using a different definition. I don’t think the coach was using a definition that necessarily implied the infliction of injury. Context is important.
It’s generally a true statement that the team “acting with great force or emotional intensity” (violent) will win the game…
Yeah, I caught that quote from Mike Tomlin, too. Obviously, in a game like football, where people physically battle against each other for space on a field, there is violence required to win. It was an unfortunate choice of words, though. Most of the time, a coach will say “whoever is the most physical will win.” This, of course, means the same thing but implies something different.
I don’t think Matt is berating Mike Tomlin here, however. I think he’s saying that Tomlin’s quote made him think of the repercussions of our society which is so biased towards achievement at someone else’s expense. In football, you don’t want the other players to get injured, but you do want them to lose. Football is a winner-take-all event.
But a Christian life should not be. Any decent, human society should not be. For instance, the idea that people should go without the medical care they need in this country because “we are entitled to what we earn” is a violent, winner-take-and-keep-all proposition. It says that only people who are able to take enough resources to afford health care deserve to have it.
Jesus takes a explicitly different point of view on that subject:
Adding to Matt’s last paragraph, Christians are to be a people who show the world that a new Way is possible. I completely agree that this winner-take-all, kick-them-when-they-are-down attitude is pervasive in many areas of public and social life. I also would suggest that actual physical violence has become a tolerated, practical necessity in our world, even by the Church. We fully believe that sometimes violence is necessary to achieve some end, be it territorial gain, retaliation, pre-emptive measure, or national security, and we do not see how this contradicts our calling and commissioning from Christ to love our enemies and turn the other cheek! We gave into the myth a long time ago that violence is a necessary evil, and that accomodation has allowed us as the Church to fully support “just” war or military endeavors strictly from a pragmatic rationale. In the end, however, the Gospels tell us a different story. We are not called to be a people who repay evil with evil – even when it makes the most sense or protects ourselves. We are called to be a people who witness to the Way of Christ, a Way of self-sacrifice and non-violence as an alternative community demonstrating to the world that the Kingdom of God is at hand.