Touchdowns for Jesus Play Book: Pg 1, Core Formations
“I have some thoughts on your chapter titled ‘White Lines’ that I would like to share and hopefully get feedback. …I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I started reading it last night and finished about an hour ago.”
Those are the bookends to an email I received yesterday from Jacob Kiper, who lives in Owensboro, KY and is an avid sports fan. In between these sentences Jacob asked some excellent questions and shared some important insights on how race and privilege have functioned and continue to function in the NCAA investigation at the University of North Carolina.
Jacob and I then exchanged emails in response to his questions and observations. It was a blessing to be in conversation around these issues that matter in American culture today with someone I had just met. The greatest gift of the conversation was that Jacob’s questions took the conversation to an even deeper place, they added information and insight to my perspective, and they invited more thinking and more conversation.
I am beginning to hear from more people now that Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse, is actually out. It was released a few weeks earlier than expected from Cascade Books and people are starting to react and respond. While responses have been overwhelmingly positive so far, I am not naïve enough to think that everyone I hear from will be as constructive and inviting as Jacob. I have already heard from people (all of whom have not read the book, but have just heard about it) who are angry and who make some inaccurate assumptions about me and the book. Those reactions are helpful, even though hard, exchanges, too. They help me find clarity about what constructive discourse around these controversial topics looks and feels like.
My prayer as this book makes its way out into a larger world is that the conversation around big-time sports will deepen as it expands. My prayer carries with it willingness, on my part, to engage people where they are even when they are not as gracious and inviting as Jacob.
Unveiling some of how race and privilege function in big-time sports is not a popular conversation or an easy one. There are people who have a lot to lose. There are things that are hard to see, hard to stomach, hard to accept. And my book engages several other issues in sports today with an invitation to explore things from a perspective that may be very different than the ways we have collectively tended to look at them.
Sports are a touchstone of who we are in American culture. And engaging in constructive conversations around this object of our passion and attention is critical to our shared health and well-being. The conversation, however, can only be constructive when different perspectives are shared in ways that can translate across boundaries and across conflicting perspectives. So, I am praying for emerging norms of discourse to become clear to all of us as we explore these issues together.
One thing is for sure, we can hear each other more clearly (even when it is hard to hear) when we acknowledge the wisdom of the experience of the person with whom we are engaging. I can say that I have already noticed how much more easily I can receive new information, even information that may be very different than my perspective, when the person sharing that information acknowledges that they have heard me, too. When the first things I experience in a conversation are guns blazing, it is hard not to squint and brace myself. That makes it harder to receive and to see something new. When I feel myself starting to assume that posture I try to recalibrate and ask to hear more about where the person is coming from. Sometimes that creates more space for conversation; sometimes trying to create that space takes more work.
I look forward to this deepening and widening discussion. And I commit myself to constructive dialogue and to doing my best to practice an open and non-defensive posture in our conversations together. I invite you to reach out, to tell me about your experience, and to do your part to take the conversation in a life-giving direction. And I invite you to extend me the gift of honoring my commitment to connecting with you in life-giving ways.
I will assume good will from you. I hope you will assume the same from me.
I will extend grace to you when the issues bring up pain and difficult feelings for you. I hope you will extend the same grace to me.
I will listen to you and hear you out even when what you are saying is hard to hear. I hope you will exercise the same forbearance with me.
And I will share my truth with you even when it is not the easiest thing to do. And I hope you will risk the same thing with me—sharing your truth.
And may our efforts and our connections be life-giving as well as truth-telling. And may we leave this conversation better than it was when we joined in.