The World Cup, Diversity & our Life Together

I had planned to write a blog on the World Cup yesterday, but the hours got away from me:  it’s not easy being dean [cue music & Kermit’s voice…].  Anyway, I’m so glad I waited, because this morning, I read this fabulous piece in The New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/11/opinion/david-brooks-baseball-or-soccer.html?_r=0

Seriously, even if you stop reading the blog right now, read this article!  [Nutshell:  it talks about how life is more like soccer than baseball; that is, it’s not about a bunch of individuals playing their best, but rather a situation that depends on a network of individuals functioning well together.  The point is, in soccer, a highly synchronized team of mediocre players will beat a team comprised of the best individual players in the world, if those players can’t play well together.]  I’ll come back to the article shortly.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I have loved, loved, loved the World Cup, and that’s not only because I love, love, love futebol, which I do, but also because it has been so wonderful to feel in a very visceral way part of the world community:  cheering along with people in Argentina, the Netherlands [that semi-final was rough for me], Mexico, Nigeria, etc., etc., etc., and learning something about their countries and histories with names and faces attached.  Oh, I know–I’m supposed to live like this all the time, and, to some small degree, I do:  I pay attention to what is going on in Germany, where my beloved goddaughter and her family live, and where I spent a fabulous year of my life; in Sweden, where my all my dear cousins live; in Japan, a country I fell in love with when I visited two years ago; in India, a country that has a deep hold on me culturally and religiously; in Papua New Guinea, where I spent a summer teaching with my first theological mentor–you get the idea.  I have a decent list of places like this, places where I have a personal connection and a vested interest, but it is by no means exhaustive.  There are plenty of countries around the world about which I know nothing, and which, if I’m honest, I’d even be hard pressed to locate on a map [Benin, anyone?].

But, for three glorious weeks [my long-suffering husband aside, I still say glorious!], I have lived in a truly global world–right here in Gettysburg.  I have cheered and sighed with people many time-zones away, in real time, and I have fallen in love with their heroes, like the Mexican goalie Ochoa, and learned something about their character and their backstories–the individuals, the teams, and the countries–and it’s been amazing.  I’ll be sorry when it ends on Sunday.

All of this reminds me why diversity is so important.  I live much of my life in academic and ecclesiastical circles where much of time–or at least, some of the time–“diversity” can feel like a dirty word.  In hiring new faculty, for example, or accepting new students [or even seeking new congregational members], some people balk at the idea that diversity should be a priority:  you know, because what we need are the “best” candidates/people, and that has nothing to do with skin color or country of origin.  I find this argument specious, because it seems to be predicated on the idea that what we’re really looking for is a brain, and brains are all the same regardless of the kind of head that houses them.  It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?  We’re not just brains–or “souls” or “hearts”–whatever that would mean [and I could go off on a great tangent here about Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy, which I have been re-reading lately, but I’ll spare you]:  every aspect of who we are is enfleshed, and therefore every aspect of how we think, how we view others, what we read, and whose voices have authority are deeply rooted in where we were born, how we were raised, and the cultural milieu that surrounds us.

And, here’s the important part:  when we come together as a community, we enrich the whole with our differences; and each of us as individuals become more than we were before with these different engagements and friendships.  Here is the paragraph from the Times piece that I especially liked.  

“There is also a developed body of research on how much our very consciousness is shaped by the people around us. Let me simplify it with a classic observation: Each close friend you have brings out a version of yourself that you could not bring out on your own. When your close friend dies, you are not only losing the friend, you are losing the version of your personality that he or she elicited.”

I think this is a true observation for more than just close friends:  I think this happens for us in many relationships we have over time in our lives.  Thinking about it that way, I realize that I want to be the kind of person that has all kinds of “versions”–facets that have been brought out by friendships with lots of different people; and I want that not only in my personal life, but in my professional life as well–and in my church life, for that matter.  Differences are important–they matter–and just like in soccer, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; and I’m challenged and changed in ways I could never have imagined without someone inviting me into a new perspective, a new picture, a new corner of the globe.

Come Sunday, I’ll be rooting for Germany, no doubt; but I have to confess, I’ve really come to love Messi over the course of these weeks, and if Argentina wins, I’ll be happy for him.  And either way, I’ll celebrate the beautiful game, and the way it brings together the whole world, even for just a short time, making us feel just a little more connected.

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