July 1, 2010
I obviously am a glutton for punishment. During the Winter Olympics, I acknowledged (I won’t say “admitted” – that would imply that I was in the wrong!) my appreciation for the great sport of Curling, a statement that drew rather predictable comments from many of the “under-informed.” So here we go again – I’ve enjoyed what I’ve been able to watch of the World Cup of soccer, as we call it, the world-wide festival of the world’s most popular game. It is a truly global event. I’m hardly an expert – it’s been a lot of years since my own playing days, and it never was my favorite game. But I remember sitting in the Rose Bowl during the World Cup in 1994, and watching the beauty of the game unfolding below me. That is a perspective not easily translated to the television screen, but watching the Brazilians or the Germans handle the ball with such great skill is remarkable. And Landon Donavon’s winning goal over Algeria brought me off my chair cheering. Way to go, Redlands!
I know – I’ve heard all the uninitiated talk about the delights of watching paint dry or grass grow. But these same friends drone on about the delights of a basketball game that usually comes down only to the last two minutes when attention is really required, or to the delights of an interminably long baseball game (actually I enjoy watching both of those sports, and almost any others!).
But, unfortunately, this year’s World Cup has been marred by the refusal of officials to admit there is a problem. Referees have consistently made mistakes, calling back goals that should have counted or disallowing goals on infractions they refused to identify. The USA team was twice the victim of such episodes. FIFA (the governing body) refuse to discuss such blatantly wrong calls, and have until recently refused seriously to consider technological help, such as “goal-line technology.” In the meantime, they have suspended replays on screens in stadiums, since such replays only make the problem obvious and raise the temperature of the crowds. But pretending mistakes haven’t happened only undercuts the integrity of the game and cheats hard-working players. The entire process has become an object lesson to the entire world of how not to deal with obvious problems.
What does any of this have to do with anything really important? It is a powerful reminder how easy it is to look at something with a “three monkeys” mindset (“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”). Admitting that there is a significant problem is the first step towards putting it right, but it is easier to imagine that my marriage really is healthy, our children are going to turn out okay despite warning signs, my moral and personal habits are God-honoring, my financial choices are appropriate for a Christ-follower, and my spiritual life is robust. But the three monkeys are not the models we should be following. Digging in and pretending that things are just fine undercuts our moral and spiritual integrity and cheats those who deserve better from us. So, whatever you think about soccer and the World Cup, there’s a lesson here for us all.