Category Archives: self discipline

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

You are of inestimable value

Tip-toeing along the forested trail with an early morning group of birders, I marveled at a ray of sun peeking through the canopy and illuminating the brush below. Binoculars at the ready, our small band had stopped to look and listen for the sounds of the small creatures around us. I became instantly aware of my own smallness in the midst of the magnificence of the natural world. There was only silence, but in that silence, I heard this:

You are of inestimable value, but you must diminish in self-importance.

I have to admit, this struck an immediate chord. Even among this little troupe I felt the need to be knowledgeable and capable; thus to demonstrate my value, I suppose. This became particularly and painfully evident to me among these experienced birders who knew much and didn’t feel the need to defend or withhold what they knew. They spotted and identified, not for show, but in order to point it out so that others could see it and learn to recognize it, too.

Bird identification, I have found, is quite a difficult skill. But it is one that can be learned over many hours of practice with a helpful mentor or teacher and a good bird book or two. The fact that you took an ornithology class with Dr. Byrd many years ago at William and Mary is nice but simply has no standing.

Still, in this moment of self-realization, I am also utterly assured of my inestimable value. Can I tell you I teared up a bit at this? It was okay to be less than; in fact, it would be necessary in order to claim my full value.

Shifting gears, here, but stick with me….

Upholding this new perspective on my return from the birding expedition, I felt inclined (nothing to lose!) to email the nationally known cookware retailer from whom I had purchased an expensive Christmas gift but which turned out to have a defective mechanism. We had only now (in May) had the opportunity to try it out and I no longer had the sales receipt, but I felt sure that upon hearing from a valued customer that this expensive item was defective they would surely make it right.

Well, a dozen emails later, including those with photos attached (per their request), the credit card statement indicating the date of sale, purchase price and the sales transaction number (also, requested), they ultimately and summarily declined to replace, repair or credit me for the item. Without a receipt, “they could not help me.” Their final word:

“I wanted to reach back out to you after I was advised by a member of Leadership on your situation. Regretfully, as was relayed to you previously, without proof of purchase we are unable to issue a replacement or a refund. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause. This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but I trust you understand that your request far exceeds our guarantee and return window. Thank you and please feel free to contact us with any other questions. ~ Warm regards, Heather M., Customer Service

Warm regards, eh? But yes, I was asking them to forgo their usual policy in a gratuitous act of kindness and generosity they were not prepared to offer. I did now own $145.00 worth of beautifully hand-crafted Italian wood salt and pepper shakers that are completely useless. They made it clear that I have no right to ask for special exceptions; I am not that important.

And fortunately, having just embraced both my inestimable value and my need to diminish in self-importance, I was able (barely) to quench my desire to shoot back an email to this customer service representative threatening never to shop at this store again and to tell my friends the same and to post this on FB and twitter and perhaps contact the Better Business Bureau. As you can see, my dark, self-important side gave it a good run.

The truth is: the store was within their rights to deny my request. The bigger truth is: doing what you have the right to do isn’t always the right thing to do.

The newly humbled me did send a conciliatory email reply, thanking Heather M for looking into this for me and assuring her that next time I would try out my purchase right away and be sure not to misplace the receipt. Killing them with kindness didn’t get me a refund either.

But whoa, this interchange sure offered me an up-close look at my relationship with my own self-importance (aka pride) and how it can control me. I am not so important that I can make demands or expect special consideration. My ability to spend does not earn me extra attention. My status does not earn me exemption from the rules or excuse me from honoring the stated policy.

And while we’re at it, the One who established my value seemed to say, you are not too important to clean toilets or change diapers. Nor to do the dishes and take out the trash. Nor to teach special needs children, nor university students nor be President. Your value is, and must by rights be, separate from all these things. My sole responsibility in all circumstances is to do my part. My opportunity: to live the life I’m capable of. My calling: to do it all without drawing attention to myself. God is good with that.

When I am keenly aware of my inestimable value which cannot be diminished by any earthly thing, I don’t waste time buffing up my importance or defending it to others. I am nothing and that’s the starting point for everything.

Now I have a pair of useless salt and pepper shakers as a daily reminder. Maybe I’ll take them apart and see if I can get them to work right. Got nothing to lose.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11

kicking and kicking but going nowhere?

I’ve never been much of a flutter-kicker. More of an arm-stroker. But when the masters swim workout calls for 100m freestyle kick, well, you kick. And it feels like an eternity to the other end.

Some people seem to have the gift of flutter-kicking, propelling themselves along like a speed boat powered by an outboard motor. Me? I’m more of a putterer. Not for want of effort, mind you. I’ll churn up a wake like nobody’s business and go NOWHERE!

Which is a bit embarrassing, especially if the people who share your lane are either piling up behind you or catching you up and tugging on your feet so they can pass.

Fortunately, today I had my very own lane. So when the workout called for a 100 meter kick, I aimed my kick-board dutifully toward the opposite end of the pool and set off with a mighty push from the wall. Momentum is underrated when you’ve an entire pool ahead of you and a kick like mine.

Now, I’d like to say that today I surprised myself with my torpedo-like speed, but I did not. No, I was much more like the Little Engine That Could. In fact, at times it was only the changing colors on the lane rope that convinced me I was moving at all.

Four navy, three black. Four navy, three black. Four, three. Four. Three.

Isn’t that how days feel sometimes? Like we’re kicking and kicking and going nowhere? Funny how something as simple as a friendly lane rope — which really is going nowhere — can reassure us that we’re actually making forward progress. And that, in the end, is all we really need to know.

….kick on, my friends. Before we know it, we’ll be there.

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