Thursday, September 24, 2015

Experimental theology: religious football

Somewhere between one third and one half of Americans believe that God / Jesus cares enough about the outcome of sports contests to intervene, typically in favor of those who pray most fervently. I propose to put this belief to the test with the new game of Religious Football.

The game is very simple. It is played on a conventional American football field with a standard ball. The game begins with the ball at midfield on a tee, and two teams of eleven prayers line up on opposite sides of the field, five yards from the 50 yard line. Each team prays as hard as it can for the ball to move towards the opponents' end zone. Prayers can be spoken or silent, according to each team's ecclesiastical tradition.

If a team manages to pray the ball across the line, they score a point, the ball is re-centered, and the process begins again. After 60 minutes, the game ends and the team with the most points win.

This is a game where the "twelfth man" is exceptionally important. Supporters are allowed, even encouraged, to pray along with their team to help move the ball. (Conversely, the 13th man will be hung from the goalposts at half time).

There are a few other rules and penalties, to maintain order. The major ones include:
  • Offsides: The players must maintain five yards from the ball at all times, so if one team's prayers cause the ball to move, it can advance and the other team must retreat. Approaching closer than that incurs a five yard penalty.
  • Illegal touching: touching the ball in any way, or causing it to move with anything other than the power of prayer, is a ten yard penalty. 
  • Out of bounds: any reference to an opponent's mother, sister, or other female relative is completely out of bounds and will be penalized ten yards.
  • Roughing the pastor: any contact with the opponent's spiritual leader on the sidelines results in a 15 yard penalty. 
 I propose that we launch this game in Texas where, I'm told, both Jesus and football are popular.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

What we really talk about when we talk about transgendered people

A confession: back in my early-20s, there was a guy who worked in my office who disappeared for a few weeks then returned as a woman who worked in my office. For narrative purposes I'll call her Helen (not her real name). In retrospect, apparently I was among the few who didn't know this was going to happen, but in my defense we rarely intersected professionally and didn't move in the same social circles, despite being about the same age and at similar points on our career arcs.

And also in my defense, in my early-20s I was largely oblivious to and indifferent about anything that didn't directly impact me personally. But that's a long story for another day.

Anyway, this was my first conscious experience with a transgendered individual. While it's certainly possible that I'd known transgendered people before without even realizing it -- see above re. obliviousness -- Helen was the first person I actually knew before she became, well, Helen. It didn't bother me at all that she made this change -- again see above re. obliviousness -- but one thing did strike me as odd: the way she acted.

When Helen still had the body of a man, she was almost stereotypically male: very loud, pushy, assertive, what modern Americans might call a "bro", the British a "lad". If the boys were going to a pub or to crash a party or to get drunk and walk noisily down the middle of the street singing rugby songs, she would be right in the middle of it. In the office she would talk over people in meetings, push to the front at presentations, and if a sexist email joke was doing the rounds (yes, we still did that back in those days), she'd be in on it.

And afterwards, when she returned to work with long hair and makeup and skirts... she behaved exactly the same. And I remember thinking to myself: why doesn't she act more like a woman? But I shrugged -- it wasn't my problem -- and got on with life.

Shortly after that, I left the company in question for a better opportunity and never really thought about Helen again. It was only about a decade later that it suddenly dawned on me: perhaps the problem wasn't with how Helen acted. Perhaps the problem was with how I expected men and women to act.