College football season is upon us.
For some of you, that isn’t news because you’ve been following NCAA headlines since last January.
For others of you, you’re not even sure what “NCAA” stands for. (It stands for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.)
For me, it’s not really big news either; I’ve never been much into sports, but I did attend a large public university that is known as a football (and basketball) school. As a result, I discovered throughout my undergraduate and graduate days (even while living in other states) that it behooved me to at least have a basic knowledge of how my school and its main rivals were doing.
But apparently, something else happened along the way as well.
The season opener this year was between my alma mater and my father’s; the two schools haven’t played in several years, and it was the first time my dad and I were in the same place together. So, we watched the game.
What amazed me was how instantly my language took the form of “we” and “you” (plural) when talking about the two teams. We just scored a touchdown. We often get a lot of penalties. We have a new coach. You need to score.You just got clobbered!
I’ve never played organized football–much less as a member of the university I attended. In fact, I didn’t play on any of the university sports teams, contenting myself with a little intramural volleyball instead. I haven’t set foot on the campus in over 5 years, and I haven’t been a student there in nearly 10 years. I’m not a sports booster and don’t have any real vested interest in how the athletics program fares.
And yet, WE won the game!
Where does this sense of corporate identity come from?
I recall using similar language while living overseas. When I told someone (in another language) that my university team won the championship, she asked me, “You play for your university’s team?” I somewhat sheepishly replied, “No, but I was a student there”. She replied gracefully with only a puzzled look and a shrug, undoubtedly chalking it all up to my odd American thinking.
I know I’m not unique in this manner of speech. I suspect many of you say similar things. We make associations with any number of communities, organizations, and institutions, some of which we are only very distantly involved with or members of.
While we (at least as Americans) don’t even think twice about someone making the attribution “my team”, we really don’t expect this corporate sense of identity to go very far. In areas of membership, sure. But in areas of responsibility? We tend to be a little hesitant.
When’s the last time you thought, “We (as a country) really messed up in that bit of foreign policy”? Or, “We (as a church) really are ignoring our community”? Or, “We (as a family) really are greedy/gluttonous/argumentative/prejudiced/etc.”? And then moved beyond that admission to make reparations?
We’re much more ready to accept a sports team’s victory (or even defeat) than we are to embrace the shortcomings of a community in which we truly bear some responsibility. In those cases, we’d much prefer to stick with I: “My sister is a pig, but I make wise eating decisions.”
I’m coming to see that there are many fewer spheres of life than what I might prefer in which my identity is just me. Do I bear responsibility for my own actions? Absolutely. Do I also bear some responsibility for the actions of a larger community? Several, I think.
I’ve spent time among a number of other cultures. Americans definitely lean on the individualistic end of the spectrum of identity. We each have our own dreams and goals. We feel responsibility (and freedom) to make our own choices, to try and bring about the fulfillment of those goals. We pay for our own mistakes (if we can’t pin them on someone else), and we don’t expect to be punished for the mistakes of others.
I’m always challenged when I read the Old Testament. There are several stories of thousands of people being punished (usually killed) as a result of one person’s mistake, perhaps a king, a leader of a tribe, even a priest. There are also several accounts of people making confession and begging forgiveness on behalf of the sins of the nation.
Do we see that in our culture? Not very often, because for us: my ID is me.
I can barely begin to imagine the impact if we could change that perspective.
My ID is we.
I’m not just a neutral, uninvolved observer. I don’t try to distance myself when bad things happen as a result of my community’s choices. I get in. I contribute. I take the victories, and the failures, as my own.
It struck me to read that God said there would be no poor among the people of Israel (Deut 15:4). In context, I think He says this because they are a people, expected to take care of each other. They are to live righteously together and to receive blessing together. There weren’t to be any distinctions of class based on economic status or personal holiness. They would stand and fall together, and God expected that they would prosper.
Whom do we stand with? With whom do we throw in our lot, for good or ill? We make vows along these lines at weddings. What about to our country? Our church? Our neighborhood? Our blood relatives?
I’m not sure what all the implications are yet, but I can’t avoid it: my ID is we.
And not just once football season is underway, even though WE won our second game of the season too!