Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who You Are Is What You Wear

What identifies you? Are you labeled by the logo on your clothes? In sports, we become part of the nameless mob of thousands attending a game. But if you put on that jersey of your favorite player, you are now identified as either old-school- sporting throwbacks, naive- wearing a jersey of a player just traded to the hated rivals, loyal- wearing a jersey that doesn't need a name on the back, band-wagoner- wearing the best-seller, or an out-of-towner- wearing the jersey of the opposing team. In a heated rivalry, that last one can get you in trouble. Bryan Stow was identified by his Giants jersey at a Los Angeles Dodgers game and was beaten nearly to death for it. He was not identified by his name, his career, his family, or even his race. He was judged merely by the shirt he was wearing.

Yet as heated as the Dodgers-Giants rivalry goes, it does not begin to compare with one of the oldest rivalries in soccer (er, football), the Old Firm in Glasgow, Scotland between the Celts and Rangers. In that rivalry, the kit you wear does not just identify you as a fan of either team, it labels you as Catholic or Protestant, Irish or British. The 100-plus year rivalry is marked by employment discrimination (the Rangers would not employ any Catholics until the 90's), sectarian taunts, mob violence, and most recently mail bombs. Sure the competition is heated which contributes (Last year's final match between the two was postponed until the Rangers clinched the Scotland Premier League title so that less would be at stake. The two teams have occupied the top two spots in their league every year but one since 1995.) but the hatred goes far beyond the final score.

Yet despite the rift between religions, the dispute isn't about the Pope, views on homosexuality, or any real doctrinal issue. Here, religion identifies your background, your nationality, your culture. It doesn't matter if you never even attend church, if you cheer for the Celts you are Catholic, Irish, and an immigrant. Funny how much you can learn about someone just by the team he roots for.

So Catholic/Protestant has been reduced to cultural identifiers more than religious. I fear the same is happening in this country. Call yourself a Christian in certain parts of this country and that instantly means you're white, Republican, homophobic, and anti-science. If you challenge the assumption and say you vote Democrat, then you're Social-Gospel and progressive. More broadly, just based on the numbers, if you even call yourself an American then it's safe to assume you are also Christian. Of course our doctrines, politics, and behaviors are more nuanced yet "Christian" has become more a cultural definition than any statement towards one's beliefs or activities. Just like wearing a jersey to a game, I can assume a lot about you by calling you a Christian.

But about that label; it's not political, it's not racial, it's not even doctrinal. The name identifies you with Christ. Wearing a Giants jersey does not make you part of the team. Yet calling ourselves Christians does identify us with Christ. It is that identity that should matter most. I don't only root for Christ, I'm on his team.

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28)

Here's the irony of the bomb threats in the Old Firm rivalry: the next time they play is Easter Sunday.

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