Let's call him Billy Smith. That's not his real name, of course. He was a kid I knew in days long gone.
Back then he wore thick, black-rimmed glasses and had buck teeth. He was a bit overweight, and had really bad acne. Billy was a bit of a klutz, and never really fit in socially. And in the late '60s, when most of us guys wore long hair, Billy had a crew cut.
When it came to gym class, I was always glad Billy was around, for when the time came to pick teams and choose sides, his presence usually guaranteed I wouldn't be chosen last. You see Billy wasn't the only klutz in the class - so was I.
Rev. Dr. John H. Danner
It usually happened like this. The gym teacher was also the head football coach, and he had no regard for those of us with little athletic ability. He always chose his star football players to captain the teams, whether we were playing baseball or volleyball or even soccer. They, in turn, started choosing the rest of their respective teams. The best players and the most popular kids were always picked first. Then the ranks were filled out with the so-so players, and finally it would be down to the last two or three.
It was usually pretty obvious: neither captain wanted to pick any of us, but they had to. That's how it worked. So, reluctantly, one would call out, "O, Danner if I have to," and finally, "C'mon Smith. I guess you're on my team." Sometimes it would reverse; I'd be las. but it didn't really matter. The damage was done, either way. And Billy and I were humiliated once again.
Twice a week, whenever we played team sports in gym and chose up sides, we'd feel like real outsiders.
I don't know why the gym teacher did it the way he did. Maybe he was trying to reward his star players. Maybe he thought it was fair. Or maybe he thought it would toughen us up, and provide a good life lesson. After all, he might have reasoned, people are always choosing sides.
Throughout life somebody is picked first and somebody last. There are always going to be outsiders. Somebody's in and somebody's out.
He wouldn't be alone in that thinking. You find it everywhere. In business, in politics, and yes, maybe especially, in the church. We who are Christian sometimes forget that Jesus welcomed one and all to be a part of his work. Yet we argue over theological fine points and rule some folks as acceptable and others as outsiders. Instead of working to make church as inclusive as we possibly can, we choose sides.
Don't misunderstand. I am an avid Red Sox fan, and when it comes to ball games, I certainly choose sides. Especially if the Yankees are in the opposite dugout! But that's the fantasy world of baseball, and in many ways not real life.
In real life, we are not called to draw lines; we are not asked to decide who's in and who's out. There really isn't time for that, for millions are starving in our world, and millions more are homeless. Millions are struggling against addictions, and millions have inadequate health care.
No, there isn't time to choose up sides. There isn't time to worry about the niceties of doctrine. There isn't time to fret over how liberal or conservative someone's theology may be. There isn't time to determine who's in and who's out. Instead, we need to get down to the business of serving our neighbors, for their very lives are at stake! For while we stand around choosing up sides, our neighbors in Africa are still dying of AIDS; our neighbors in Fort Myers and Miami are still getting shot; our neighbors right here on Sanibel are worrying about their next mortgage payment. There isn't time to choose up sides.
In the end, this isn't baseball, schoolyard or pro. It is real life. And in real life, we who are Christians - and indeed all people of faith - are called to join hands with all those who seek in love to make this a better world.