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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

The Sunday Morning Soccer Wars
distributed 2/13/04 - ©2004

Back when I was doing parish ministry, the parents in my congregation had a problem.

Lots of them had kids who were enrolled with the multitudinous soccer teams in town. For the most part, parents and kids alike were glad for this organized athletic activity, and the benefits that it brought in play, exercise and teamwork.

The problem voiced by the adults had to do with practice times for the teams. With so many leagues, and a limited number of playing fields, the kids were forced to practice at all sort of odd hours. Parents were constantly shuttling their youngsters to practice.

For a long time, we heard background grumbling from the moms and dads. Frazzled parents missed some church meetings, and some kids missed their confirmation classes. (Which led to some grumbling from the pastors about misplaced priorities.)

Heading into a new season, the soccer leagues attracted even more players, and the practice schedule got even more crowded. To fit in all the teams demanding time on a field, the league organizers scheduled some practices for 10:00 on Sunday mornings.

That invasion of "church time" was the final straw for a few of the parents. They were willing to sacrifice weekday afternoons and evenings to the team. They knew that all day Saturday, and any time on Sunday after noon, was considered fair for scheduling games. But when those last available hours of the week got gobbled up, when soccer overwhelmed any other consideration in the week's schedule, it was just too much.

As I recall, their protests didn't make any difference. But they did protest. For them, a decisive line had been crossed, emotionally and practically. Their low-level grumpiness was suddenly transformed into anger.

The Sunday Morning Soccer Wars remind me that the forces which drive social change are not tidy, linear or predictable. Stresses and tensions can build for a long time, and suddenly, one small new detail will flip the situation into a whole different category.

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Almost two weeks ago, hundreds of millions of people around the world saw a little bit more of Janet Jackson than they wanted. For about 1 second at the end of the Super Bowl's half-time show, a section of Janet's jewelry-adorned anatomy was displayed on international TV.

As many commentators have noted, it was a sight that would not even raise an eyebrow on some cable TV channels. Movies, magazines, and -- God knows -- the Internet have been known to be far more graphic. Many have said that it wasn't that big a deal.

But the motivations for change are not linear. Clearly, this is one of those events that pushed just a little bit too far, on top of an already simmering discontent. Suddenly, anger and outrage are all over the place.

The resulting tempest is reaching out far beyond the one brief display of breast. Now that the anger has been opened up, all of the underlying issues and tensions are out on the table, too. Janet provided the trigger, but the issue up for debate now has to do with much wider questions of morality and media.

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Many of the regular readers of Eco-Justice Notes are committed and intentional advocates for social change. They are people whose faith commitments call them to work for peace, justice and the integrity of creation. And, from what I hear in lots of conversations and correspondence, many of them often feel frustrated and discouraged. The sorts of transformation that we so deeply hope for do not stimulate a strong response from the general population.

The dynamics of the Super Bowl halftime show keep me both hopeful and wary. I'm reminded that an explosive demand for change can come from the right sort of triggering event. Low-level discontent can switch suddenly into passionate energy for change. I see that happening in some important areas, whether for good or ill:

  • The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on homosexual marriage pushed an emotional button for many people who had not been passionate about the issue before.

  • The recent report from former chief US weapons inspector David Kay that Iraq didn't have those much-hyped stockpiles of weapons seems to have been a dividing line in the US. Simmering questions about Bush's credibility have turned into active distrust. The President's ratings have been dropping fast since Kay's comments.

  • Out here in the Rocky Mountain West, odd coalitions of ranchers, suburbanites, hunters and environmentalists are coming together in the face of new federal energy policies that promote intensive drilling for natural gas all over this region. A diverse batch of people feel like they have been pushed too far, and they're fighting back.
Those flash points are largely unpredictable. But the dynamics of sudden change are not all that mysterious. We, as advocates for change, can be aware and ready.

We need to keep our ears open, so that we're tuned into the background layers of discontent and uncertainty in the broader community. We need to be careful not to create a trigger for those who might become our passionate opponents, and we need to nurture those who might become our allies.

And when an event comes along that can motivate our less active friends, I pray that we'll be able to help them find effective outlets for their anger and frustration.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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