Author Archives: wlebolt

Broken like a record: 400,000 lives need us to carry them into a new day

There I go again. No matter how I turn, turn, turn, I seem to keep ending up in the same place. Same grumbling. Same shaking my head. Same temptation to just keep dialing into the doom that feels nearly overwhelming in spite of my best efforts to haul myself up and onto the happy train.

Four years ago, while I was traversing the Capitol Mall on my way to attend the National Book Festival, I got a look at the 2016 Inauguration preparations. Pedestrians were only allowed to cross on designated pebbled pathways which were bounded on either side by tall chain link fence. Looking through the links I saw, in one distance, the Capitol building and in the other, the Washington Monument. Between them, what is normally a grassy expanse was instead covered in white plastic tarp, dotted at regular intervals by thousands of black sandbags. It looked to me like a huge cemetery.

How prophetic this feels today as tomorrow’s inauguration looms, now with 400,000 lives lost in the US alone to this deadly pandemic. I’m mired in gloom as I watch current preparations underway, standing as I am with metaphorical feet mired in today’s muddied grounds. I, free of Covid infection so far, am instead wracked by the virus of anger, unprotected by my antibodies of indifference, distracted continuously by division and rancor, all the while fretting in fear. Stone cold stuck in a furrow of my own making.

All of this angst fueled the very capable side-planking exercise I performed early this morning. 60 seconds to the right side: 60 seconds to the left. Stable and strong until I then tred to elevate one leg. Ha! it shouts, taunting and merciless. The mind says go, but the muscles say no way! Those hamstrings ain’t what they used to be, but at least they’re truthful. Better than my core which is now suspiciously silent.

Funny how a bit of daily sturdiness can trick ya into thinking you’re moving right along when actually you’re stuck in the rut of your regular routine. All that time you thought you were making beautiful music you were just a skip in the record, repeating the same refrain, over and over and over.

Time to pick up the arm of that old Victrola and set the needle on the next track to play a new song. Gently.

Today, this January 19th of 2021, the vast lawn of our National Mall is being draped, one might say planted, with 400,000 flags, each one representing a person who will not attend this inauguration because of Covid-19. Today, this hallowed ground will, in fact, be a cemetery. The image, though desperately sad, is incredibly moving. Ironically, from this brokenness, we can be inspired. Inspired not just to set up camp and mourn for the lost, though we have to and we will continue to, but rather to pick them up and carry them with us into a better day.

God will provide that day.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

privilege has its consequences

In high school I walked the halls freely. I was a good student; everyone knew that. Student government president, valedictorian-to-be. Hall passes were required to walk the halls, but I didn’t need one. Everyone knew I was doing school business or a teacher’s business. No one would stop me. I was above reproach. Until…

Until one day a teacher — a shop teacher or a vocational skills teacher, one I barely knew — stopped me and asked for my hall pass. I was incensed. How dare he? I would never be skipping class. I was on my own recognizance. Free this period and had important work to do. And I didn’t have a hall pass.

I was incensed. to be asked. to follow the rules. everyone else had to follow. for the safety of our school.

This teacher was not deterred. Everyone in the halls needed a pass, no matter who they were or where they were going, no matter what business they were doing. He sent me back to get a pass and I complied. Grudgingly. Angrily. Seething against the wrong just committed against me. I was above reproach and he should know that. I was entitled to special privileges because of my good behavior, because of the trust I had earned, because of the reliability I had demonstrated.

No I wasn’t.

Today I read that some members of Congress are refusing to walk through magnetometers (metal detectors) upon entering the House Chamber. Something I must submit to upon entering secure buildings, museums, houses of worship, national shrines, and government buildings all over the world. To walk those hallowed halls I need a hall pass. Some members of Congress don’t think they need one. They have never been asked; now we’re asking and they’re crying foul. I am beyond reproach! Going about the nation’s business! Have important work to do! You have no right to stop me!

They are incensed. to be asked. to follow the rules. everyone else has to follow. for the safety of our democracy.

A small price to pay, really. But a hard lesson to learn. I’m feeling particularly grateful today for that teacher who taught it to me when I was young. It’s so much harder to learn when we’re older and there’s so much more at stake.

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:11

how we respond to ‘thou shalt not’ says a lot about who we are

“I’m proud of him for standing up to that ref! That was a terrible call,” the man said as lifted his soccer chair, slamming the two arms together. Shaking his head and muttering to those around him, or perhaps mostly to himself, he added, “I’m really proud of him for standing up for himself. He has the right to do that.”

I overhear this as I wait to take my place on the sidelines to watch the next game. My 12-year-old daughter’s team is about to take the field. There still is a buzz in the air. No handshakes being offered or good-game wishes. Officials are conferring and consulting with one another. The previous game must have ended badly.

I’ve seen this happen before leaving angry team parents red in the face from yelling about the call that “cost them the game.” They swear under their breath and disparage the ref, the play, the other team, the other coach, the outcome. Sometimes this escalates into a shouting match on the sidelines with opposing parents lobbing epithets and even threats at each other. Occasionally, things even get physical.

But in this moment is different and I’m stunned. Never before have I heard a parent uttering glowing praise for their kid who was just issued a red card for dissent toward a referee.

Dissent is a red-cardable offense according the rules of soccer, which are officially called the “Laws” of soccer. It is one of just a few transgressions considered so egregious that the penalty is ejection from the game. The player cannot be replaced, and their team must complete the game with one less player, known as playing “one man down.”

Outright red cards are quite rare in youth games in my experience. Typically, they are shown when a player is engaged in such persistent fouling that they have been called twice for yellow card offenses. ( 2 yellows is an automatic red) Regular fouls, punishable by a yellow card and a free-kick for the opposing team, happen fairly regularly. They are run-of the mill transgressions: shoving, tripping, illegal tackling, handling the ball (other than the goal keeper), obstruction, reckless play. Generally, they occur because kids are just a bit overly enthusiastic or perhaps a bit too aggressive, and even then, the player is usually warned before they’re booked with a yellow. Persistent misbehavior earns a red.

Apparently, this kid persisted.

His proud papa has me thinking about why we need referees. I confess that, in my capacity as player, coach and parent, I have sometimes disagreed with a referee and occasionally said so. Loud enough for that referee to hear. But I hope I have not done so in a way that has disparaged that person and certainly not with the intention of overriding or negating the established laws of the game or the ones pledged to uphold them.

The game needs a ref: in fact it must have one. If two teams are going to compete fully and at their best, we need someone who knows the rules and will administer them fairly, in an unbiased fashion, equally toward each side. It’s a tough job. Refs get paid to do it, but not much. The good ones see it as a chance to teach the players how to compete well according to the rules. They cannot tolerate dissent. If they do, things quickly devolve.

Sides resort to whatever tactics work and if enough is at stake they play with complete impunity.

Downward this spirals. 
Anything to win.
Morality and ethicality out the window.

"Out on you! Our ball!"
Too late.
Catch up, loser.

I'm only cheating if I get caught
I'm only lying if they can prove it
And even then, if I can talk my way out of it, I'm a celebrity.

Yes, without rules and someone upholding them, things usually get ugly.

True, sometimes the ref misses a call. Sometimes they don’t see the foul, or they let things go, or they may even seem to be leaning in favor of one side over the other. They are, after all, fallible. But we cede authority to them because we need to for the sake of the game. Once we don’t, we’re lost and all is lost. We may as well not even play because in the game played without regard for rules, the one most willing to break them is the winner. In effect, the worst team always wins.

Today, in the aftermath of the storming of the US Capitol Building by individuals in complete disregard for the rule of law in our country, I am wondering about manmade law and its place in our lives. About the boundaries and regulations law-abiding citizens agree to observe. About the authority under which we place ourselves for the sake of security, community and the common good.

What’s clear is this: left to our own devices, we are not that good. We need a referee.

And for this we may need to go back to the basics. Back to the decrees and laws declared at the first, when Moses was appointed referee. Back to thou-shalt-not…

  • have other gods
  • bow in allegiance to idols
  • use God’s name in vain
  • murder
  • steal
  • give false testimony about your neighbor (lie)
  • or covet what belongs to your neighbor.
  • And thou shall:
  • observe the Sabbath and
  • honor your mother and father.

Today, this years-ago boy and his showering of praise for his red-carded dissent has come back to mind. Probably 12-13 then, that would put him in his late 20’s now. Just about the age of many we saw ravage the halls of our Congress yesterday. I wonder if that boy has grown into a young man that father is still proud of.

Dear Lord, 
Today, I pray for our country. 
For this Republic and the bold experiment it represents. 
Thank you for our founders and their foresight, 
for the rule of law and for those who uphold it. 
Protect them and bear them up on your powerful wings. 

Today, I pray for our country.
I lift up to you those who have lost their way.
Those who have forgotten the thou-shalt-nots, 
those who never learned them and especially 
those who have lost their fear of them. 

Today, I pray for our country.
Help us to renew our commitment to each other as we rededicate ourselves to You.
Cleanse from us anything that would hinder your work in our lives.
Help us to trust so we can obey with willing hearts and clear minds.
 
Amen
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